How To Read A Water Meter

To make sure you’re paying the right amount on your monthly water bill, you should know how to read your water meter and compare it to the amount your utility company thinks it should charge you. As several readers pointed out previously, in some cities you can even do your own meter reading and call in the number each month. “But how do I read my water meter?” Here’s how.

These instructions are taken from the City of San Diego website, and they should take care of most meter scenarios,

Find your meter!

It’s probably outside, near the curb, in a direct line with your main outside faucet. If you live in a colder part of the country, it may be indoors instead.

In the case of the $3600 water bill lady, her real meter was in her basement while a remote meter for public access was located outside.

It is housed in a concrete box usually marked “water.” Carefully remove the lid by using a tool such as a large screwdriver. Insert the tool into one of the holes and pry the lid off.

Read your meter!

For the odometer-style meter, just copy down the numbers printed above or below “cubic feet.” Ignore the giant dial that sweeps the meter like a clock hand. Only the underpants gnomes know what that’s used for.

A couple of things to note:

This number represents all the water that’s passed through the meter since it was installed, not just since your last bill;

Some utilities drop the last two digits (the ones with a black background). If your utility company goes by 100 cubic feet increments, you drop the last two numbers.

Here’s an example:

In the meter at the right, the reading is taken from the figures shown under the words CUBIC FEET. The meter reads 81,710, which is the total number of cubic feet of water recorded since the meter was installed. Because our charge is based on units of 100 cubic feet, the meter reader discards the last two numbers (the ones with the black background). So, this reading would actually be 817.

So, if by the time the we read your bills the next time you had used 1,200 cubic feet of water, the new reading would be 82,910 (81,710 plus 1,200). Again, we’d drop the last two numbers and your official reading would be 829. Your bill would be figured by subtracting the old number (817) from the new number (829). You would then be billed for 12 units.

If, god forbid, you have a crazy old-timey dial meter, here’s some info on how to read that one (it’s easier than it looks). Sadly, the person who invented this dial hates humanity and made it so that every other dial rotates counterclockwise, but you can ignore that nonsense and just quickly find each number starting with the dial in the northwest quadrant. An easy way to tell where to start: that dial will have “100,000” printed above it. Record the smaller of the two numbers the hand is between, and move clockwise around the meter.

In this example taken from, you end up with 806323. (The last digit is tricky because there are no numbers on the dial, but the same rule applies.)

Want more examples or help? Try these sites:
Read Your Meter []
How to Read Your Water Meter [City of San Diego]
How to read your water meter []

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