If you’ve recently taken an interest in monitoring and reducing your water use, you may have taken a look around your property to find your water meter and attempted to read it. While not a complex task, reading a water meter is generally not intuitive and it’s helpful to get a quick primer on what each of the dials or numbers means.

Knowing how to read your meter gives you access to more detailed information about your property’s water use, allowing you to double check bills or even detect a leak.

Locating Your Water Meter(s)

If you don’t already know where your water meter is, there are a few places to check. Look around the perimeter of your property, especially close to the edge of your property. Your meter is usually connected to the utility’s water lines that feed into your property, so it’s likely to be underground (but accessible) near the street. Look for a metal or plastic cover on the ground that may be covering your meter. (note: be cautious when lifting this cover – sometimes animals or insects take up residence in these cozy underground boxes).

If you have a large property, such as an office building or apartment complex, it’s likely that you have multiple meters on the property, so walking around or reviewing a property map to find all of them is a good idea.

Reading Your Meter

Analog Meters: Single “Sweep” Hand

One of the most common types of meters is that with a numeric display that looks like an odometer and a single, large “sweep” hand that spins as water is used on the property.

Sweep Hand Meter

Sweep Hand Meter

Generally, there is also another small shape (triangle, star or gear), that spins when small amounts of water are being used.

To read this meter, read the number displayed on the odometer-like face. Here, it’s 1,234,000. Then, read the “sweep hand” for the last digits (where the odometer is a different color). In this case, the sweep hand is a bit past the “1”, so the meter reading is about 1,234,120.

The small triangle is used for detecting leaks. If you’ve turned off all water on your property and that triangle is still spinning, then you might want to look for leaks or other unexpected water use.

Analog Meters: Multiple Gears

If your meter has four to six small, clock-like faces on it, then it’s an older style of meter that is slightly more complex to read. Look at the numbers above each of the clock-faces. They typically say things like “x 10”, “x 100”, “x 1,000” etc. Start with the highest number. In our example, that’s the “x 100,000” dial and it is set to “2”. Our first number is 2, which represents 200,000 (2 x 100,000) then go to the next highest numbered dial. Ours says “4”, representing 40,000 (4 x 10,000). With our two meters, combined, then, we have 240,000 gallons plus whatever is represented on the next few dials. In this case, it’s 245,760. Note that every other gear turns counter clockwise, which can be a little counter-intuitive at first.

Just like on the “sweep” meter, this meter features a small triangle that detects small amounts of flow in an effort to identify leaks.

Analog Meter with Multiple Gears

Analog Meter with Multiple Gears

Digital Meters

Digital meters vary, but most are fairly intuitive to read. Many are activated by small solar panels on the face of the meter, so you may need to shine a light on the meter to start displaying any numbers. Once you’ve done this, the digital read should tell you how much water you are using. Note that some digital meters alternate between the meter read and the flow rate.

Digital Water Meter with Solar Panels

Digital Water Meter with Solar Panels

Units of Measure

Be sure to note whether your meter is reading in gallons or cubic feet, and which of these your utility company uses to charge you.

1 Gallon = 0.134 Cubic Feet

When to Read Your Meter

Interested in knowing how much water your property uses in a day? Check the meter at the beginning and end of the day. The difference between the two numbers is the amount of water used that day.

If you suspect you have a leak and want to learn more, turn off all of the water being used on your property (faucets, hoses, dishwashers, etc) and check to see if the meter is still running. If it is, then you may have a leak. Note that if the small triangle or star is spinning when water is turned off, then your system is using a small amount of water, likely indicative of a leak. If any of the other indicators are moving, then you may have a much bigger leak. See our post about leak detection to learn more about what to do if you think you have a leak.

Reading your meter is one of the first steps to better understanding and controlling your water use.