How To Read A Water Meter

For a long time having a representative from your water company stop by your home every month was pretty normal. Someone comes by, reads the meter, and a few days later you receive a water bill. Simple enough right?

While in some areas, only the utility company has the access to read the meter, in most areas, you can read it yourself. In still others old school meters have been replaced with electronic water meters that wirelessly transmit your water reading to your water company so no one has to come by and read the meter.

Regardless of the type, if you have access to your meter you can walk up to it and take a reading yourself. This article will guide you on how to read a water meter. However, before that let’s take a look at what a water meter is and what are their types.

What Is A Residential Water Meter?

A water meter monitors the amount of water (the volume of water to be precise) that flows into your home. Meters typically utilize a common unit of measurement for volumes, such as cubic feet or gallons. A hundred cubic feet, is equivalent to 748 gallons, is the most common measurement you’ll find on bills, but your reader will likely be denominated in cubic feet.

Your meter functions similarly to a car odometer, noting the total amount of water that has traveled through it. Water facilities log each reading and subtracts the previous reading from the new reading to calculate the quantity of water consumed since the previous reading. Multiple this volume by a set price and you’ll understand exactly how your water usage charge is calculated!

Water meters are generally analog or digital. Almost all new meter are digital and they give the exact values which are transmitted to your facility in real-time whenever they request it.

Understanding The Dials On A Water Meter

The most common analog (non-electronic) water meters have either five dials or six dials on them

How To Read A Water Meters With Six Dials

A 6-dial meter is a volumetric water meter like any other, so each dial measures a quantity of cubic feet of water has passed through it. The difference with this style of meter is that that each meter measure a different unit of cubic feet (1, 10, 100, 1000 and so forth).

For example, moving the dial labeled “1,000” from one digit to the next indicates that 1,000 cubic feet of water has been consumed. These meters usually go up to a meter which measures in 100,000 cubic feet increments.

In order to read a six-dial meter meter you simply need to find the sum of the readings on each of the dials. First, read the largest numbered dial (usually 100,000), then move down to the small dial, putting the numbers next to each other in order. Like a clock, always take the smaller of the numbers — so if the meter is pointing between 7 and 8, you will take the 7.

So your reading of 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, bill mean a water meter that is at 765,432 cubic feet.

How To Read A Water Meters With Five Dials

A five-dial meter features separate dials that display the same information as a six-dial type. It also may include a large hand that swings around the whole dial like a clock’s minute hand. One rotation of this huge hand equals one cubic foot of water.

Alternatively, your meter might have a set of numbers on wristwatch-like dials which indicate the largest numbers: basically dials saying “12345” with a small “x 100” written next to it. This will mean 1,234,500 cubic feet and then there will be normal dials (the ones like watch hands) for 10, 1, 0.1 and 0.01 cubic feet readings.

Regardless of the specific design, reading the meter is the largely same as the process described above for 6-dial water meters.

Reading A Newer Water Meter

Meters that are newer are generally easier to read. Simply glance at the numbers in the digital readout to determine how many cubic feet of water were used.

If your digital meter has a large dial is it likely a flow readout, which will let you determine of your home has a water leak — water will be flowing when you all your taps, toilets, (etc.) are inactive.

How To Read A Water Meter: Step By Step

Step 1: Find your water meter box

You must first locate your water meter before you can read it. Most meters are located on your front lawn. Sometimes they are placed near the curb or sidewalk as well.

In most cases, the meter box has a metal or plastic lid cover. It might have ‘Water Meter’ written on it. Be careful while removing the lid. Pry the lid carefully from the side by using a long screwdriver.

Wearing gloves is recommended for further protection from heated lids. If the boxes are left unchecked for a long time, they might become the natural home for wildlife such as insects, frogs, rodents, and even snakes. So be careful while handling such meters.

Step 2: Determine the sort of water meter you have

Though we are in the process of updating outdated meter technology, some customers may still have older kinds of water meters in their homes.

For Analog Display

in an analog water meter, the use of water in cubic feet or gallons is indicated by a broad sweep hand on the dial. As the sweep hand travels from one number to the next, one gallon or one cubic foot of water flows through the water meter (e.g., 0 to 1). Depending on the measurement unit, 10 gallons or 10 cubic feet are equal to one complete spin. The low-flow indicator on most analog dials rotates as water flows through the meter. A little triangle (as illustrated), a star, or gear is a common visual representation.

An analog example is: if the sweep reads 1, then there are 1,356,411 gallons of water in the tank. The reading will be 1,356,413 gallons when the sweep hand is on the “3.”

For Digital Display

To activate the digital meter, you may need to use a flashlight to shine a light on it. The meter reading and the flow rate are displayed alternately on the display. Readings and flow rates are both related to how many gallons (and/or cubic feet) of water are being consumed at any given time. There are certain digital meters that allow you to look back at your water usage. Leaks and other water use trends can be monitored with this tool.

Checking For Water Leaks

Checking your water meter regularly might also help you discover leaks in your water supply. If the meter moves after you switch off all water sources for an hour or so, you probably have a leak.

Summing Up

Reading your water meter can let you know how much water you are using. Also, it helps in finding out if there is any leakage in the water pipeline. So we hope this guide helps you read the water meter correctly. Knowing the correct reading also helps you to ensure that you don’t overpay your water bill.


Who is responsible for my water meter?

In most municipalities the water meter is maintained by the water utility, though property owners are held responsible if they damage or tamper with the water meter or they want to move it due to construction.

How do I know my water meter is accurate?

It’s actually quite difficult to determine if your water meter is working properly. If you live in a home your can install an aftermarket flow meter after your water meter in order to confirm the water amount, flow rate, and other information. Some of these are “smart” meters so you can check them via smartphone app. If you live in an apartment build or don’t want to touch your plumbing you can usually pay your water utility to check the meter accuracy. A water meter test may cost $100-$200 depending on where you live.

Can I connect to my electronic reader?

Water meters will only transmit data to your water facility and they do not allow your to receive the information. Some utilities will have a website you can check or a phone number you can call to get the same information, but you cannot directly interact with the meter.

Does an electronic meter use my electricity?

No, electronic water meters have batteries so they operate independently of your home’s electricity.

How long is the battery life on an electronic water meter?

A normal electronic meter should have a battery life of 15-20 years, though this might vary based on the meter and local conditions, like average daily temperature.