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Knowing how much energy you are currently using is the first step in lowering your electric bill and consumption. Fortunately residential electric meters make it easy for you to see how much you’ve used each month, helping you decide where to cut down on electricity consumption. The only hurdle can be understanding how to read them.

You may know that electricity is measured in Watts but, to many consumers, units of electric demand can be confusing. Your electric bill is determined by the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity you use. Using a kilowatt-hour is equivalent to using a 1,000-watt device, like a hairdryer, for one hour. Every electrical device in your home uses a certain number of watts at a given moment, and the amount of time you spend using them all adds up to hundreds of kilowatt-hours every month.

Your electric meter likely sits outside your home and it may be mounted on an exterior wall at eye-level. If you have a digital meter, your meter should be easy to read but there may be more to the number it shows tan you understand. For instance, if your meter reads 45345 kWh, that is not the number of kWh you’ve used in the current month. You need to subtract the previous month’s reading in order to find out your monthly usage. If this is your first month taking note of your electric meter, you can look at your bill and see how much electricity you used last month.

Some houses have a dial based electric meter which can be tougher to read. Like a digital one, you need to subtract the previous month’s reading in order to find your current usage. You’ll often have 4 or 5 dials that should be read from left to right to form the number of kWh of electricity you have used. Here are some tips and guidelines.

  1. The dials alternate direction, turning from clockwise to counterclockwise as you move right

  2. If the dial is pointed at the space between two numbers, 2 and 3 for example, then you should record the lower number

  3. An exception to the above rule is when the dial is in between 9 and 0. 0 represents ten so you should record 9 as the number.

Here’s an example:

  • The first dial is between 8 and 9 so you would record 8

  • The second dial is right on 6 so you would record 6

  • The third dial is right on 1 so you would record 1

  • The fourth dial is between 7 and 8 so you would record 7

  • The fifth dial is right on 4 so you would record 4

  • The complete meter reading is 86,174 kWh

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