Simplify Your Electric Bill: Learn How to Read Your Electric Meter

6 minute read Graham Lumley Last update December 2023

Electric power meter measuring power usage. Watt hour electric meter measurement tool at pole, outdoor electricity for use in home appliance monitor the home's electrical energy consumption.

If you’re like most homeowners, chances are you keep track of your energy consumption by reviewing your monthly bills after the fact. But what if we were to tell you there’s a way to monitor your usage and cut down on your utility costs in real-time?

For homeowners looking to keep track of their energy consumption and get a better deal on energy plans, learning how to read an electric meter is essential. In this quick guide, we’ll cover the basics of what your electricity meter does and how to read an electricity meter on both analog and digital models.

What is an Electric Meter?

Before we delve into how to read electric meters, let’s cover the basics of where to find your meter, what it does, and how it measures your energy consumption.

Your electric meter reader could be located either outside or inside your home. External meters are typically positioned where the power lines enter your house — usually somewhere near your porch. If that’s not the case and the meter has been installed internally, you’ll generally find it in your basement, laundry room, garage, or attic. Digital meters look like a square/rectangular-shaped box about the size of an A5 piece of paper. Most are white and have an LCD display. However, analog meters can be either round or rectangular, and are glass or plastic-fronted with several small dials that look like clocks on the main display.

Analog electricity meters in an older style, which use a series of clock-like dials instead of rotary numbers or digital displays.
Analog electricity meters in an older style, which use a series of clock-like dials instead of rotary numbers or digital displays.

Electricity companies use electric meters to monitor your home’s energy consumption so they can bill you for the correct amount each cycle (typically once per month). Usage is measured in kilowatts (kW), so when you’re reading a meter for electricity consumption, the numbers you see reflect how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) you’ve used. One kilowatt hour equates to 60 minutes of thousand-watt electricity usage. In other words, if you run a 1,000-watt appliance like a coffee machine for a total of one hour in any billing cycle, that will account for 1kWh on your electric meter reading.

How an Electric Meter Works

A set of small gears inside the electric meter rotate as your home draws current from the power grid. The speed of the revolutions depends on the amount of current drawn. The more power you use, the faster the gears will rotate, the higher the total number of revolutions you’ll see on the dials or digital display and the higher your resulting utility bill will be.

How to Read an Electric Meter

Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s take an in-depth look at how to read electric meters so you can track your usage. As we’ve already established, there are two types: analog and digital. Follow the step-by-step guides below to learn how to read electric meters of either type.

How to Read Electric Meters with an Analog Dial

Some analog electric meters have four dials, whereas others may have five. In either case, taking an electricity meter reading follows the same six step process:

  1. Stand with your electric meter at eye level. If it’s cold or raining outside, it might be easier to take a photo and continue your calculations inside where you can concentrate better.
  2. Note the direction of each dial. Some rotate clockwise, and others counter-clockwise. Many meters have arrows indicating the direction of rotation. Otherwise, look at the top of each dial to see if the numbers run front to back or back to front. Sometimes, you’ll even be able to see the dials moving, which can help.
  3. Read the numbers from right to left (this makes rounding down easier).
  4. Round down when the dial is in-between digits, which happens often. Remember you’re rounding down by number, not by the direction of dial rotation. So sometimes the lower number will be on the left, other times on the right, and the zero figure can represent both 0 and 10.
  5. If the previous dial reads zero and the next dial sits directly on a number, you should round down. For example, if the first dial you look at (the one on the far right) reads 0, and the second from the right dial is directly over the number 3, you should round that dial reading down to 2.
  6. Write down your meter reading. The number you have represents the total energy consumption for your home since the meter was installed. Your meter won’t reset every month, so to work out your consumption for the current billing cycle, you’ll need to deduct the previous month’s reading. For example, if your meter reading was 5,150kWh last month and is 6,650kWh this month, your monthly usage is 1,500 kWh – which is normal for an average electric bill in Texas.

How to Read a Digital Electric Meter

Reading a meter for electricity from a digital display is more straightforward. This method also applies to rotary displays — a meter that doesn’t have dials or a digital screen, but rather rolls of numbers that rotate. Rotary displays are technically analog, but you read them the same way as a digital meter.

A typical contemporary electric meter with gauges behind weatherproof glass, in front of a sunny bokeh background
A typical contemporary electric meter with rotary gauges behind weatherproof glass.
  1. Write down the number on the display as it reads from left to right.
  2. Ignore any decimal points, which are usually displayed in a different style or another color. Decimals account for such a small percentage of the reading that the difference they make to your bill will be insignificant — and they’ll probably change in the time you complete your reading anyway.
  3. You might have two separate numbers to record because some utility companies charge different rates for energy use during peak hours. On some meters, both numbers will be displayed separately, whereas on others, the number flashes to display each alternative reading every few seconds.
  4. Compare the number(s) you’ve jotted down to the reading(s) on your most recent energy bill — which should be lower. Calculate the difference between the previous figure(s) and the reading you’ve just done to determine your electrical usage for the current month. For example, if your peak vs non-peak readings on your last bill were 3,250kWh and 4,900kWh, and your readings for this month are 3,750 kWh and 5,900kWh respectively, your total energy usage for the month is 1,500 kWh.

How Natural Gas Meter Readers Work

Many homes in Texas are heated by electricity, but some homes have natural gas piped to them for heating and appliances (like stoves). If your home has both an electric meter and uses natural gas for heating, don’t worry: the method for how to read an electric meter doesn’t change based on the energy source. However, it’s worth noting that natural gas meters work slightly differently. A natural gas meter is driven by the force of gas moving within your pipes. As the flow of gas increases, the dials move faster. The overall effect is the same as with a standard electricity meter, but the units of measurement are different. Natural gas is measured in cubic feet rather than by watt, so you’ll be billed for every thousand cubic feet (MCF) or hundred cubic feet (CCF) you use, rather than in kilowatt-hours.

Choose Straight Forward Energy with BKV

Learning how to read your electric meter and monitor your energy consumption helps you keep on top of your finances, find ways to conserve energy, and spot discrepancies between your reading and your monthly bill. However, the best way to gain more control over your energy use and utility bills is to choose a reliable and straightforward energy provider like BKV.

At BKV Energy, we’re committed to providing honest electricity at competitive rates. We aim for stable, fair margins, and share the surplus with our customers — ensuring your meter readings never come as a surprise. You can even make your bill more predictable by securing a low fixed rate that doesn’t change with the seasons, or averaging out your bill to the same cost each month. We give you the flexibility to choose.

Our straight forward energy plans come with a 30-day risk-free trial, allowing you to cancel for any reason with no termination fee. And unlike the less reputable companies in the industry, we go out of our way to make energy straight forward by ensuring there are no hidden fees, explaining vague terms, and not tacking unexpected surcharges on your bill.

Contact us today to learn more and kickstart the process of lowering your utility bills by powering your home with honest energy fueled from local Texas sources.