Reading Electric and Gas Meters

Recently I received my utility bill and it looked a little funny. It’s been a mild month, and I know I haven’t run the heat or A/C all that much. My wife likes to bake, but she doesn’t bake THAT much. Yet, the bill looks like something from the middle of the summer or the middle of the winter when I’ve running full-out cooling or heating. So, how do I verify what the utility company is telling me? What it boils down to is I need to check my meters and make sure that the utility company has read my meters correctly.

Sometimes you’re lucky and your meter looks like this:


Not too difficult. In this case, the meter is very easy to read with a digital readout. The utility company can probably remote read your meter, so there shouldn’t be errors in the meter readings. Strangely enough, many water utilities seem to have figured out that meter reading accuracy is important. Below is the water meter at my work. The meter in my home is smaller, yet the exact same kind.

20120710-094523.jpgThe little black box sitting just to the left of the dial enables a remote, digital reading from a truck in the street. In addition to that, the dial is incredibly easy to read for any lay-person to check their readings. Again, because of the remote, digital readings, there shouldn’t be errors in the reading.

But, maybe you’re not one of the lucky ones and your meter looks like this:


I’ll have to admit. Even I’m confused at times and write down the wrong numbers when looking at one of these meters. This is one of those cases where form follows function. Mechanically, the dials on these types of meters are incredibly simple. Behind the face there are just a series of interlocking gears with 10:1 ratios. So, as the dial on the far right turns around once clockwise, the dial just to the left makes a 1/10th turn counterclockwise. Each dial rotates in the opposite direction of the one adjacent to it.

There are two hangups when reading this kind of meter:

First is the dial rotation direction. The first time reading the meter above, you might look at the second dial from the right and, thinking like a clock, see it as just past the 5. Not so fast! It is just past the 4.

The second and trickier hangup is when the dial is right on a number. Looking at the meter above, you see the 4th dial from the right is very close to the 2. It is pretty obvious on this meter, that the dial has not quite reached the two, however. You can also confirm this by looking at the dial just to the right. That dial is between the 6 and 7, so you know that 4th dial is still approaching the 2. As that meter gets closer to 2000 kWh, the 4th dial will get closer and closer to the 2. When the meter is reading 1,999 kWh, it will be very easy, with a quick glance to believe the meter is saying 2,999 kWh. It is important with this sort of meter to confirm if the dial is still approaching a number or just past a number by checking the dials just to the right.

Anyone want to venture what the correct reading of the electric meter above is?

Quiz time: Below is a gas meter with a very similar dial arrangement. I’ll send a Milky Way candy bar (my favorite) to the first person who gives me the correct reading with the correct units.  The answer will be different than you think.  Anyone know why?


4 thoughts on “Reading Electric and Gas Meters

  1. I’m going to guess it’s 39,950ish cubic feet of Natural gas. I almost guessed an order of magnitude higher until i noticed under each dial it says “per rev” which would make a full revolution of the far right dial 1,000 ft3, but each division is then 100 cubic feet. the 50ish is a guess based on the location of the dial between the 9 and the zero. The answer is different than I initially thought because of the “per rev” thing, but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re hinting at or not.

    • Good catch on what each dial represents. It’s not very intuitive when it says “per rev.” I was hinting more at, however, when you first glance at the meter, you might just read 499.5 ccf. This is how NIPSCO actually read my meter last month showing that I consumed 130 ccf of gas when I actually only used 30 ccf. This is a $53 mistake on my bill. If you look at my bills over the last year, there have been 3 times where they’ve had to correct the readings because of this sort of error.

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