Learn To Read Your Own Electric Meter and Save!

Back several years ago, a friend taught me how to read my electric meter at my house. By doing so, I was able to compare the amount of kilowatt hours the power company claimed I used with what I actually DID use. Bam! The first month I did it, I found a discrepancy. “Aha!” I thought, “They’re ripping me off!” Come to find out, there’s a lot of estimating going on with the power companies and there are a lot of advantages to knowing what they’re up to and now I was motivated.

electric meterMy electrical utility didn’t actually send someone out to read the meter every month, but instead guessed estimated my electrical usage. They always overestimated, but I called them on the carpet every time and was able to get my bill reduced by up to 10% some months. I wasn’t going to let them bust MY budget!

Reading my own electrical meter paid off.

Here are the basics of reading your own meter:

The basic unit of measure of electric power is the watt. One thousand watts are called a kilowatt. If you use one thousand watts of power in one hour you have used a kilowatt-hour (kWh). Your electric company bills you by the kWh. The standard electric power meter operates like a clock, driven by the electricity moving through it. As your home draws electrical current from power lines, a set of gears move inside the meter. The little dials you see on the face of the meter record the number of revolutions and the speed of those revolutions depends on the amount of current drawn — the more power consumed at any one instant, the faster the gears will rotate.

Call your power company to get your billing cycle dates, then prepare to read your meter and record the data for comparison on your next bill.

When reading your electric meter, write down the numbers as shown on the dials from right to left (opposite of what comes natural in the West!). Not only that but the dials change from a traditional clockwise rotation to a counter clockwise rotation … twice. The electric company and meter manufacturers don’t seem to want consumers to understand their meter, do they? Record the numbers shown by writing down the value of the dial to your extreme right first and the rest as you come to them, moving left. If a hand on a dial falls between two numbers, use the smaller of the two. I would read the above meter as 6574, possibly as 6573 but I would go ahead and round up to the 4.

Newer electric meters use digital displays instead of dials and are much easier to read. The difference between one month’s reading and the next is the amount of energy units (kWh) that you’ve used for that billing period.

Now, do a little subtraction and compare what your meter says to your new electric bill. If there’s a discrepancy, don’t hesitate to call and find out why. If it’s insignificant, I wouldn’t worry about it too much since it will probably even out over the course of the year, but if it IS significant (more than 5%), don’t hesitate to ask for a meter reading. It’s YOUR money.

Meter reading tidbits

  • Read your meter at 7AM, then again the next day at 7AM just to see how many kilowatt hours you use in a day.
  • Got teenagers? Take readings when they’re there and when they’re not.
  • Get some power strips and compare your energy usage before and after using them.
  • Try reading it as you leave on vacation, then again when you return.
  • Read it on weekends and compare your daily usage to weekdays.
  • Read it before you host a big party and then again after-wards.

Okay, these ARE a little geeky, but if you can pinpoint ways to save a few bucks by knowing the amount of energy you’re using, it will be worthwhile. Meter reading might even make it into my list of sneaky savings strategies!

photo credit: jim orsini

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