How to Read an Electric Meter

How to Read an Electric Meter

Learn how to read your electric meter, determine what type of meter you have, and how meter multipliers work.

Thad Warren By Thad Warren

Whether you’re in a home or business, you’ve probably got an electric meter on your building. Have you ever wondered what the purpose behind this mysterious glass box might be?

As an energy consumer, you should feel empowered about your energy bill. But, when the bill comes every month, it can feel confusing and overwhelming to decipher the numbers. Fortunately, you can take back control of how you pay for energy by understanding how to read an electric meter. 

How to read your electric meter

If you’re looking at a traditional flat-rate meter, you might feel confused or even intimidated when you try to read the numbers. Learn how to read your electric meter so you can better understand your usage and save more on energy. 

1) Know how to read the dials

To start, practice reading the numbers on each dial. Every flat-rate meter is different, but you should see 4-6 dials on your meter. Every dial should be numbered from 0-9 and have a pointer. 

Look at each dial starting from left to right. Record the numbers in order from left to right, based on what number the pointer lands on. It’s very similar to reading an analog clock: If the pointer is between numbers, record the number that it’s already passed. 

For example, this diagram would be for 6-1-8-3-1. So 61,831 kWh. As mentioned before this readout does not take into account your meter multiplier and only coordinates to the last meter read date. It does not necessarily correlate directly to your billing cycle etc.

Example Electric Meter

H3: 2) Do a little math

If this is your first time taking a reading, come back in a week. You’ll want to compare numbers to better understand your actual usage.

For example, one week your numbers might say 1,234 kWh. A week later, they say 1,567 kWh. You will want to subtract these two numbers to see the difference, which would be 333 in this case.

The utility company will bill you for that difference of 333 kWh. If you want to calculate your bill, use the rate per kWh set by your energy company and multiply it by the difference to arrive at your bill.

3) Check the fine print

Despite having sharp math skills, you’ll likely have a higher bill than your kWh usage. That’s because utility companies are businesses — they have policies and fine print that can increase the price of electricity.

Always know your utility provider’s policies about meter readings. Do they round up? Do they reset the meter every time they visit? Know their practices so you understand why they charge what they charge.

What are electric meters? 

Your electric meter is located on the outside of your home or office, typically found where the building joins the grid which is also near your electrical panel. 

An electric meter records how much electricity your home or business uses over a period of time. Keep in mind that this electric meter is on your property, but you don’t own it. Most electric meters belong to your utility company, so remember that they always need access to your meter. 

Now, there are several different types of electric meters out there. Know which of these four types you have to start double-checking and reducing your energy costs. 

1) Flat-rate

This is the most traditional type of electric meter and it’s common in most homes. It uses an electromagnetic spinning disc to measure your energy usage and displays it with a series of complicated-looking dials.

For this type of meter, the energy company sends out meter readers every month. They read your usage to see how much energy you’ve used since they last checked the meter. They’ll record the data, subtract the difference, and bill you accordingly. Put simply, you’re billed based on differences between your readings. 

A Note on Meter Dials:
Meters will not have the same displays all the time. Therefore, they do not always match your current month's usage and only reset when they are read. Some utilities have multipliers so your actual usage is based on the meter reading times your meter multiplier. These multipliers help determine the billable kilowatt-hours given your voltage and other important factors.

2) Interval

Interval meters are a little more advanced than flat-rate ones. These readers record your data at fixed intervals electronically — instead of with a disk. It can record your energy use as frequently as every 30 minutes, showing it in a digital display instead of hard-to-read dials. Whether your interval electric meter collects 15-minute data or 30-minute data, this information is invaluable in identifying how to lower your energy consumption and bills. 


3) Smart

Smart electric meters are mechanical devices that are also known as advanced meters. These automated meters are still pretty new, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, you can connect the smart meter to your phone to monitor usage in almost real time. Plus, your energy company doesn’t have to read your meter every month in person; everything is measured remotely. 

4) Solar

Solar-powered homes get a special type of electric meter because they operate differently. Usually, you’ll have an in-home solar meter that displays your usage and energy production so you don’t have to go outside to fetch the data. Solar metering, or net metering, offers credits to energy customers in exchange for excess solar energy that is sent back to the electric grid. 

Why you might want to read your electric meter

It’s important to recognize that reading an electric bill is not always a simple undertaking. That’s why it’s helpful to know what you are looking for before taking this on. Are you trying to determine if the power is, in fact, on? Sometimes businesses neglect to turn on what are often a pair of electric meters required to keep everything running properly. Taking a look at the meters to ensure they are both on can go a long way in feeling confident about its efficiency. 

In other cases, reading an electric meter might be necessary to find out if something is wrong with your billing statements based on the usage that an electric meter can share. Residential consumers could benefit from working with an energy consultant while businesses could call on us at EnergyBot to help pull usage history reports to gauge the right fees at the best rates. Another reliable resource for checking on your home energy usage in Texas is Smart Meter Texas, a collaborative effort among a number of Texas-based utilities to provide consumers timely access to smart meter data. 

Learn how to read an electric meter

Be an informed consumer by knowing what your electric meter is, which type you have, and how to calculate your bill. If you’re on the fence about a certain meter for your home or business, look carefully at your utility company. When in doubt, use EnergyBot to stay informed and empowered. Get started now to select the most transparent and affordable energy provider in your area.