Gas and electric meters explained

Find out what you need to know about the different types of energy meters, and how to read them.  

Peter Earl From the Energy team
minute read

Smart meters

The government aims to have one of these digital meters in every household by 2020. They work out how much electricity and gas you're using in real-time and send the information to your provider, so you never have to submit a meter reading. There’s even a digital display in the house to keep you posted on how much energy you're using at any given time.

Suppliers have to foot the bill to install these meters and there are rules to protect consumers. So far, 80% of people with a smart meter are happy with it, and 8 in 10 would recommend it to a friend.

For more details, take a look at our guide to smart meters.

Smart meters

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Standard meters

This type of meter just records your usage. A meter reader will come to check the reading, or you may be asked to submit your own reading. You can usually give the reading by phone, online or send a card back that has been posted through your letterbox.  If you don't supply a reading you will be sent an estimated bill based on past usage, which could mean that you are getting an inaccurate bill. Most suppliers will send you an updated bill automatically based on your reading, but you may have to ask for a new bill in some cases – so it's worth checking what happens. 

Standard meters

Meters for special tariffs 

Whether you have a smart or standard meter, you could have a Pre-payment or Eco 7/10 meter.  

Pre-payment meters

If you have this kind of gas and electric meter, you pay for your energy in advance using coins, cards, keys or tokens. You’ll get to know your meter well, as you need to keep an eye on your remaining balance to make sure you don’t run out of energy. If you do, you’ll have to go to the nearest top-up location.

Suppliers sometimes offer pre-payment meters to customers with bad credit. Some landlords prefer these over credit meters because it makes it much simpler to settle up expenses when tenants move out.

Pre-payment meters

Economy 7 & 10 meters

These dual rate electric meters come with economy 10 and economy 7 tariffs, which have different prices for electricity used at peak and off-peak times.

They give you two readings:

  • The top one is for the night time/cheap rate
  • The bottom reading is for daytime/peak.

Some meters have a single display and a button to change which rate is shown.

How to read your meter 

Reading your meter is usually straightforward. You will see a row or numbers or a series of dials. 

Digital meter

These are used to measure gas and electricity use and have digital or electronic displays. Like a standard meter, they’re simple to read – just read from left to right. If there’s a red number at the end, ignore it.

If you have Economy 7 or 10 you may have two rows of numbers or you may need to press a button to show the other rate too.

Dial meters

These energy meters have 4 or 5 dials, with each one going from 0 to 9. There’s a bit of an art to reading them, but to put it simply:

  • You go from left to right, ignoring any dials that are red or don’t have a pointer.
  • If the pointer is between any numbers between 0 and 8, note down the lower one.
  • If it’s between 0 and 9, write down 9.

It you’re having trouble, Citizens Advice has a detailed meter reading guide

Dial meters

What does an energy meter measure? 

Gas meters generally record the volume of gas consumed in cubic feet (ft3 ). 

Electricity meters measure kilowatt hours (kWh) and you may see these marked on your meter. A kilowatt hour is a unit of measurement that is the amount of energy you would use if you kept a 1,000 watt appliance running for an hour.  So, if you were using a 100 watt lightbulb it would take 10 hours to burn up 1 kWh of electricity. The more watts in an appliance the less time it takes, a 2,000 watt appliance would take 30 mins to use 1 kWh of energy. 

Appliances can have labels or manuals that show their wattage – but generally electric showers, immersion heaters, room heaters and tumble driers are quite heavy users of power.   

Is the meter always right?

If you think your meter isn’t accurately recording your energy use, you can always get it checked by your supplier. They may charge for this to be done.

Is the meter always right?

Can an energy monitor help?

Another way to check your electricity usage is get an energy monitor. These useful devices attach to your power supply and have a wireless display to show you how much energy you’re consuming.

You can see which appliances are using the most electricity by switching them on one by one. And if you enter your tariff, the monitor will tell you how much it's costing too.

Compare and save

If all this talk of measuring your energy is making you think about how much you're paying, why not do a quick comparison to see if you can get a better deal? It's easy to do and you can be switched and enjoying your new rate in no time. Just Compare energy tariffs today.