How to Read a Water Meter

Two Parts:Reading the MeterUnderstanding Your Water Usage

If you receive a monthly water bill for your individual residence, then your water usage is monitored by a water meter. A water meter is a simple device located on the main water supply for a property that tracks the volume of water that flows through the main each day. This volume is read by your municipality in order to calculate your bill, but you can also read it yourself. Learning how to read your water meter is a simple process that can help you understand your own level of water consumption.

Part 1
Reading the Meter

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    Locate your water meter. If you live in a single-family home in a small city or suburb, your meter box will likely be located in the front of your property near the street. The meter may be housed in a concrete box in the front yard marked "water." If you live in an apartment or condominium, the water meters for your property will likely be located in a single room, often a utility room on the basement or ground level, or could be located on the building exterior. If your water bill is included in the cost of your rent or home owner's association dues, then your entire building is metered from a single meter.
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    Remove the cover of the meter box if applicable. If your water meter is housed in a concrete box, the cover should have several small holes in the top of it. Place a screwdriver in one of the holes and pry the cover off just enough to get your fingers under the edge. Lift the cover off and set it aside.
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    Lift the protective cap on the meter if applicable. Some water meters will have a heavy metal cap over the dial to protect it from damage. Lift this cap on its hinge to expose the dial.
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    Determine the volume of water used by your household. On the face of the water meter, you will see a large dial and a series of numbers. The numbers represent the volume of water used by your household since the last time the meter was reset.
    • The units for this measurement will be specified on the dial face; common units are gallons or cubic feet in the United States and liters or cubic meters in much of the rest of the world.
    • The odometer (yes, similar in function to that of your car) shows the total amount of water that has been consumed by the household since it was installed. It does not reset every month or billing cycle; you can only track your monthly consumption level by recording it. The last two numbers on the odometer will often be on white numerals on a black background, while the rest are black numerals on a white background. The last two numbers represent whole single units (gallons, liters, cubic feet, or cubic meters) and tens of units (they are not decimals, as some assume).
    • The large rotating dial shows the partial units that have been consumed. Each number on the dial represents a tenth of a unit, and the tick marks between them depict the hundredths of a unit.
    • There should also be much smaller gear- or triangle-shaped dial on the meter face as well. This is the "low flow indicator." If you suspect there is a leak somewhere between the meter and the interior of your home (meaning water that you are not able to use but will be billed for), shut off all water inside your house and check the indicator. If it is rotating, water flow is continuing (even if it is at a very slow rate).[1]

Part 2
Understanding Your Water Usage

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    Determine the amount of water your household uses. To track your water usage, begin by writing down the reading on the meter. Wait a specified period of time (a full day or full week, for example), and then write down the new reading. Subtract the first reading from the second to determine how much water you used during that time period. If you are trying to reconcile your own readings with the figures on your water bill, remember that your municipality won't always take readings at the same time each month.
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    Calculate the cost of your water usage. If you want to calculate the cost of the water you use, you'll need to determine how the water is billed. Look at your water bill to determine the billing unit; this is usually bigger than the metered unit, and is commonly expressed as 100 gallons, 100 liters, or 100 cubic feet. The unit rate will be printed on your bill, which is the price paid per billing unit consumed. Convert your total water consumption into the billing unit, and then multiply by the billing rate to determine the cost of the water.
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    Consider changing your usage pattern. Are you using more water than you thought you did? There are a number of steps you can take to reduce your water usage, such as washing a few large loads of laundry instead of many smaller loads, or taking shorter showers. For additional ideas on how to reduce your consumption, see here.


  • Note that water billing rates often change slightly from month to month.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Water bill

Article Info

Categories: Water Conservation Solutions