DPS - Consumer Guide: Meter Reading

Reading Your Meter

The amount of electricity and gas you use is measured by meters which record kilowatt hours (kWh) for electricity and hundred cubic feet (Ccf) for gas. Basically, a meter is a small device with dials, which is located inside your home or on an outside wall, usually near the place where the utility service enters the building.

Below you will find information on how to read a meter's dials to figure out the readings on your bill. We show three- and four-dial meters, but whatever the number of dials, the meter is read the same way. To get consistent meter readings, it is best to read your meter at about the same time each month. Read the dials on the meter from right to left. If the pointer is between two numbers, record the lower number. Write down the numbers moving from right to left, then read the numbers from left to right to get the current meter reading. Finally, subtract the previous month's reading from the present one to find out how much electricity or gas you've used during the current period.

Increasingly, it is possible for you to find direct read registers on a gas meter. These registers display numbers, much like the odometer in an automobile, to record your utility usage. Direct read registers simplify reading your meter, and to find out how much electricity or gas you've used during that period, you only have to subtract the previous month's reading from the present month's reading. With some electric meters, a note on the meter will tell you that to get an actual reading, you must multiply the reading obtained from the dials by a special number called a "meter multiplier" which is shown on the face of the meter. The rest of the procedure is the same.

How to Read a 3-Dial Meter

The arrows appear on a gas meter to indicate more clearly the direction in which pointers turn. An electric meter, however, has no arrows. To get the meter reading, you start with the dial on the far right.

  1. Take the number 4 the first pointer has just passed...
  2. And then take the number 7 the second pointer has passed...
  3. And finally, take the number 6 nearer to the last pointer...
  4. Put together 6 7 4 to get the number of units recorded.

On an electric three-dial meter, you might have to multiply this by 10 to get the total; a note on the meter will tell you if that's the case.

How to Read a 4-Dial Meter

Again, arrows showing how the pointers turn appear on a gas meter, but not on an electric meter.

To get this reading, follow these steps...

  1. Take the number 7 the first pointer has just passed on the dial on the far right...
  2. Then take the number 9 the second pointer has passed...
  3. And then the number 4 the third pointer has passed...
  4. And finally, the number 8 that the fourth pointer has passed...
  5. Put them together as 8 4 9 7 to get the number of units recorded.

To find out how many units you've used during a month, read the meter the same way a month later, then subtract the reading for the earlier month from the reading for the later month.

Ensuring Accuracy

An electric or gas meter can be used in New York State only if it's a type approved by the Public Service Commission. To ensure the accuracy of meters in the State, the Commission:

  • Oversees meter testing laboratories and all utility meter shops.
  • Checks the accuracy of utility meter testing devices to standards certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Samples test meters before they are installed, then tests other samples after they are taken out of service to see how well they have performed.
  • Checks the accuracy of a meter at the request of a consumer.

About Estimates

Reading your own meter can show how closely the utility was able to estimate your electric or gas usage when it couldn't read your meter. Normally, the estimate won't match your actual usage, but it should come close. If the estimate is lower than your actual usage and the company has to use estimates for a number of months, you may be surprised by an extremely large bill following the next actual reading.

We're trying to avoid estimated readings by improving the utilities' access to meters to increase the number of actual meter readings. Specifically, PSC rules require the company to make a special effort to get an accurate reading after six months of estimated bills. The effort includes: having you mark a card to show the reading and mail it in, letting you phone in the reading, or making an appointment for the meter reader to call on you.

But, in any event, you'll probably find it helpful to get your own actual readings without letting six months slip by.


Ccf(100 cubic feet):
This is the unit used to measure gas usage. For example: a hundred cubic feet of gas is the average amount used in a day by an average-sized residential water heater. For billing purposes, some gas companies convert Ccfs to therms.

kWh (kilowatt hour):
This is the unit used to measure electricity usage. A kilowatt hour is 1,000 watts used in an hour. For example: a 100-watt bulb used for 10 hours (100 watts x 10 hours = 1,000 watts) equals one kilowatt hour.

A heating unit equal to 100,000 British Thermal Units (Btu). Natural gas in New York typically has a heating value of about 1030 Btu per cubic foot. Therefore, one Ccf is about equal to one therm.

For more information on meter reading please write or call:

NYS Department of Public Service
Office of Consumer Affairs — Outreach and Education
Three Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223

NYS Department of Public Service
Consumer Services Division — Outreach and Education
90 Church Street
New York, NY 10007

NYS Department of Public Service
Consumer Services Division — Outreach and Education
Ellicott Square Building
295 Main Street, Room 998
Buffalo, NY 14203

call: 1-800-342-3377