How to read an energy meter

Why do I need to read my meter?

It’s easy to ignore your energy meter, especially when they are often fitted at the back of cupboards, or in awkward, hard to reach places.

Out of sight, shouldn’t mean out of mind however, as locating and reading your energy meter is the only way you can make sure you’re paying only for the energy you actually use, rather than an ‘estimate’ from the energy company.

Keeping a record of readings means you’ll avoid surprise bills, and can help you save money.

My bill is based on an estimate?

That’s right. Energy suppliers don’t bother sending someone to read your meter every time they send you a bill. Instead your charges will be an intelligent guess, generally based on a bill from the same period in a previous year, or data taken from properties with similar energy needs.

To avoid paying too much or too little (and then having to pay it back later), you should give your energy company a new meter reading every time your bill is due.

What type of energy meter do I have?

An energy meter can refer to either a gas or an electricity meter. Generally, electricity meters are more common, but if in doubt, check your bill or call your supplier to check what kind of meter you have.

Energy meters fall into one of six categories: standard meters; dial meters; smart meters; economy 7 meters or prepayment and token meters. You can tell them apart by the different way in which each meter needs to be read.

Types of meters and how to read them

Standard electrical meters

Known in the business as ‘electromechanical induction meters’, these are the type of meter you are most likely to see. Energy is measured by rotating five numbered aluminum discs – the higher the number, the more electricity you’ve used.

To read a standard electrical meter, simply write down the value of the five numbers visible on the meter panel. You can ignore any numbers you see in red.

Dial meters

If your meter looks like a clock, then it’s a dial meter. With six or seven separate dial faces, all with hands moving in different directions, they are a little trickier to read than standard meters.

Firstly, the hand on each dial should be moving in the opposite direction to the dial on either side, so if one dial is moving anticlockwise, the next should be clockwise, and so on. Like standard meters, you should ignore any numbers in red, or dials where there are no hands or numbers.

If the hand of a dial falls between two numbers, say between 2 and 3, you should record the smaller number. If a hand falls directly on a number, you need to check the dial to the right to see if the hand has actually passed by the number onto the next one. If the dial on the right has passed zero, the ‘direct’ number is correct. However, if the right hand dial has not quite reached zero, you need to record the previous number.

Still confused? Here’s an example.

If your dial falls exactly on the number 6, you need to check the dial directly to the right of it. If the hand of the right dial has just passed zero, 6 is correct. If the hand on the right dial hasn’t quite made it to the zero yet, you need to write down a 5 instead of a 6.

Smart or digital meters

Digital meters, whether for gas or electricity are easy to read. Simply take the first 5 digits visible on the screen as your reading, ignoring any red numbers or numbers after a decimal place.

If you have a digital gas meter the figures on the screen should either both be metric, and have five figures to read, or less commonly nowadays, imperial, and have four figures to read on the screen.

To find out more about smart meters, read our handy smart meter guide.

Prepayment and token meters

Prepayment meters fall into several categories: standard meters with single rates, or two different rates for day and night (quite like Economy 7 meters), or key meters which are similar to normal digital meters.

Generally when you look at a prepayment meter, the amount of credit you have left will be displayed. To take a meter reading, you change the display by pressing a button on the device (usually blue).

Token meters are a sub-category of prepayment meter. Rather than paying by cash, you top-up your meter with tokens, which can be purchased from your energy supplier or from your local post office.

What should I do with my meter reading?

You can use your meter reading to both give your energy supplier an accurate reading, and to check how much energy you have spent since your last bill.

To check how much energy you have spent since the previous bill, you need to take the number you measured previously away from the current measurement. This will leave you with energy spent from one meter reading to the next. For this reason, it’s important to check your energy meter regularly, and to record the time and date you took it.