Ways to Keep Track of Your Use of Electric Meters

Reading an electric meter provides valuable insights into your home energy usage, helps maintain billing accuracy, empowers conservation and cost savings, and allows you to spot energy waste or leaks. These easy-to-follow steps will help you understand how your meter works and how to take accurate readings.

Meter Dials

Whether you’re trying to determine why your electric bill is so high or want to understand better how your home uses energy, it’s important to know how to read your meter. Luckily, the process is not too complicated and can be done without the help of an electrician. First, you will need to find your meter. It’s typically located in a circuit box, which can be found anywhere in your house — some homes have them in garages, while others have them in hallways or above stairway landings.

Once you’ve seen it, please turn off the power to the meter before reading it. Dial meters can be tricky to read as the dials rotate opposite directions. Recording the smaller number is best when a dial points directly between two numbers. For example, if the pointer is now on dial 3, and the dial to its right hasn’t passed 9, you should record the number as 3.

Digital meters are much easier to read, displaying the number in kilowatt-hours. However, they can be hard to understand initially, so learning how the digits are determined is important. For digital meters, you must start at the leftmost side and work across the display, ignoring any numbers in red or those with spaces after a decimal point or space.

Toggle Sequences

But, really, what is an electric meter? Your electric meter tracks your electricity usage in kilowatt hours (kWh), much like a car’s odometer counts the cumulative total of miles driven. When your utility company reads your meter, they subtract the number recorded at the beginning of each month from the last reading to arrive at the total number of kWh used in that billing cycle. If you are curious about how many kilowatt-hours your family uses each month, learning how to read your electric meter is easy.

If you have an old-fashioned dial meter, you can easily read your consumption by looking at the pointer’s position on each dial. If the tip appears to be pointing directly at a digit, write down that number. If the lead is in between two numbers, count the lowest number – ignoring any dials that are red or have a red background. Digital meters are even easier to read. The display itself will show you the kilowatt-hours consumed.

You may need to press a button to light up the collection and copy down the numbers from left to right (ignoring any red or red backgrounds). The two rows of numbers on your digital electric meter represent day and night usage. Learning to read your meter gives you the information necessary to take control of your energy consumption and reduce your environmental footprint.

Time of Day Reads

Most meters measure in kilowatt-hours, or the 1,000 watts used in a single hour. It is more difficult, but it allows you to measure your usage more carefully and find discrepancies between your readings and your monthly bill. You can calculate the kWh you’ve used by subtracting your last reading from your current reading. The first step is to locate your meter, which should be outside your home, close to your building or near your breaker box in older homes.

It may also be inside, in crawl spaces or basements, but try to find it at eye level. Take a pencil and paper and stand in front of it. Ensure you are at eye level and can read all five dials. Begin recording the numbers on each dial from right to left, paying attention to whether or not the hand is directly on a particular number.

If a dial’s pointer falls between two numbers, always use the smaller number. For example, if the needle in a specific dial points between 4 and 5, record only 4. The next month, read the meter again, taking note of any changes in the numbering. Record this reading to get the kWh you’ve consumed since your last read. If you have a digital display, follow the same process and ignore any decimals displayed.


Once you’ve determined when to read your electric meter, you can start monitoring your home’s energy usage. To do this, stand directly in front of the meter at eye level and read the dials from right to left. Each dial has ten numbers (0 – 9) with a pointer that looks like a clock hand, and the dials advance as electricity flows through your home.

The total number read by the last dial on the meter represents how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) you have used since the beginning of the billing cycle. If the pointer on a dial lands directly on a particular digit, look at the dial to the right and count the smaller number there. Use the lower number if the arrow on a dial is between two numbers.

This process also works for rotary meters, which don’t have dials or digital screens but rather rolls of numbers that rotate — they’re technically analog, but you read them the same way as a digital meter. You can even use the same method to read a standard meter with an LCD that shows your kWh consumption.

For the most accurate reading possible, subtract your meter’s previous month’s reading from this month’s to determine how much electricity your home has used since the beginning of the billing cycle. Then, multiply that figure by your electricity rate to determine how much you owe the power company for your energy consumption.