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How to read a water meter

Updated February 21, 2017

Knowing how to read your water meter allows you to easily and quickly track water usage in your home, including trends and potential spikes due to leaks. Most water meters are one of two types: a straight-reading meter or a dial-reading meter. A straight-reading meter contains a simple number tally that provides the readout, while a dial-reading meter contains either five or six distinct dials that are used to determine the overall usage.

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Reading a dial meter

  1. Use a screwdriver to remove the lid of the water pit. Check the area for any dangerous insects or animals before proceeding.

  2. The dials are labelled in increasing tenth values (i.e. 10, 100, 1000, etc). Begin reading the water meter with the highest value dial, generally the 100,000 dial. Note the smallest of the two numbers nearest to the needle as the first digit.

  3. Read the dial labelled 10,000 and note the smallest of the two numbers nearest to the needle. Continue this procedure until you have read all dials and have a full six-digit number. The final number provides the units of water in either gallons or cubic feet that have been consumed since the meter was installed.

  4. To monitor water usage, simply subtract the "before" reading from the "after" reading and the result will be the amount consumed over a specified period of time. This value can assist with monitoring usage.

  5. If the value given by the readout is in cubic feet, you may want to convert the value to gallons. One cubic foot is equal to 7.48 gallons. As a general rule, water companies will charge you based upon usage in terms of either 100 cubic feet or 1000 gallon units. The best way to know how you are charged is to check your water bill, which should indicate the unit of measure.

  6. Locate the number tally on the water meter and record the number listed. It is the area that looks similar to a car's odometer.

  7. Determine the unit of measure. It is generally listed as either cubic feet or gallons in the area above or below the number tally.

  8. Subtract the "before" reading from the "after" reading to determine usage.

  9. Convert the value of the readout as needed (between gallons and cubic feet) for consistency with how your water company bills you for usage.

  10. Tip

    To determine whether or not a leak is present, turn off all of the water outlets in your home and note the position of the 1-cubic-foot-dial on your water meter. After 30 minutes, check the dial for movement. If the dial has moved, then you have a possible water leak in your home. Many new water meters have digital readouts which provide a straight number for consumption and do not require any special techniques for reading.

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Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver

About the Author

Since 1981 Janet Bayers has written on travel, real estate trends and gardening for "The Oregonian" newspaper in Portland. Her work also has appeared in “Better Homes & Gardens,” “Traditional Home,” “Outdoor Living” and other shelter magazines. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Michigan State University.

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