How to Read a Water Meter Accurately

A water meter is a device installed on your property to monitor the volume of water that is consumed within a specific period of time. The units for measuring water volume are gallons or cubic feet, but outside the US liters or cubic meters could be used.

There are 2 types of water meters. You may have a digital water meter or an analogue one. Digital water meters are straightforward and easier to read than analogue water meters and I will therefore pay more attention to the analogue meters.


The first thing to do when reading your water meters is to determine the units used to measure the volume of water used. If your water meter is in cubic meters, multiply the reading by 7.48 to get the value in gallons.

To accurately read your water meter, pay attention to the last number. If it is a zero, that is usually static so ignore it and check the previous number. For a value that is in between 2 digits, choose the least number then add the value indicated by the sweep arm.

Reading your water meter regularly helps you to monitor your consumption, especially if you have noted a spike in your water bill, or if you suspect your utility company is reading the figures wrongly. It could also help you troubleshoot a faulty meter.

Knowing how to read a water meter can also greatly help you in detecting if you have a leak in your house or anywhere in your property. In this guide, I will show you how to use a water meter to detect a water leak within your property.

How to Read a Water Meter

The following are the steps to follow when reading your water meter:

1. Locate your Water Meter

Your water meter is usually located between your house and the street, near the curb or sidewalk. It is found inside a concrete box with a metal or plastic lid with a “Water” or “Water Meter” inscribed at the top. In very cold climates, the meter will be found inside the house, usually in the basement.

Use a long flathead screwdriver to remove the lid and expose the meter. Be careful as it is not unusual to find snakes, spiders and other animals once you lift the lid. Wearing gloves definitely helps.

Use a piece of cloth to wipe off any debris from the top of the meter box. Make sure the numbers on the meter are clearly visible.

2. Making Sense of the Water Meter Numbers

A water meter has 6 numbers. The first 4 numbers which are usually black in color indicate water volume in thousands of gallons or cubic feet. The last 2 digits which are white in color indicate water volume in hundreds of gallons or cubic feet.

A sweep arm indicates water volume in tens of gallons or cubic feet.

If your water meter has a seventh number (which is a zero), you need to ignore it. The zero is static (doesn’t move) and its function was replaced by the sweep arm.

The water meter sweep arm indicates water increments in single digits. If for instance the arm moves from 1 to 2, that is 1 gallon or cubic foot of water consumed. A full sweep arm rotation is equal to 10 gallons or 10 cubic foot, depending on the units being used.

It takes the sweep arm 1 full rotation for the last number on the water meter to move. If for instance the last digit was a 4, the number will move to 5 after the sweep arm makes 1 complete rotation.

To make sense of the above, let us look at a typical water meter. Keenly check the reading on the water meter below.


The reading on this water meter is 104,059.3 gallons. How did I arrive at that reading though?

The first 5 numbers are clear and easy to read. The challenge is usually the last figure. As I had said earlier, the zero at the end is just printed and you just need to ignore it.

In this example, the last (sixth) number is in between 5 and 6 but you wouldn’t want to approximate. And that is where the sweep arm comes in.

If your last number is not a complete number (hardly is), the sweep arm helps you to accurately read the water meter value. This is especially helpful if you are detecting small leaks in your house. In simple. this is how you arrive at the number:

  • Thousands = 104,000 gallons
  • Hundreds =050 gallons
  • Tens = 9.3 gallons
  • Total =104,059.3 gallons

In the above example, since the value of the last digit is less than 6 but more than 5, we check what the sweep arm indicates. In this case it is 9.3 gallons. In most cases, this would be rounded off to 104,059 or simply 104,000 gallons.

Let us look at another example:

In the above water meter, the reading is 586,968.5 gallons.

3. Reading a Water Meter in Cubic Feet

If your water meter is in cubic feet, there is no main difference in the way you read it than you would if it was in gallons. Let us look at an example.

The reading on the water meter above is 665,913.2 cubic foot. In this water meter the zero in the previous example has been omitted, which makes it easier to read.

The last digit is again not a complete one, but between 1 and 2. So we check at what is indicated by the sweep arm and in this case, it is 3.2 gallons.

To convert the reading into gallons you will simply need to multiply the figure by 7.48. In this case, the reading is 4,981,030.74 gallons.

Most water utility companies will simply read your water meter in what is called CCF. CCF is basically a hundred cubic feet of water.

1CCF = 100 cubic feet = 748 gallons.

In a such a reading, the last 2 digits are usually ignored, and just focus on the first 4 digits. In the example above, the current water meter reading is 665 CCF.

How to Read a Digital Water Meter

A digital water meter is the easiest of all to read. The actual meter reading is displayed on a screen and all you have to do is write it down.

Once you have located the meter box, you will need a source of light to activate the meter, since it has a tiny solar panel at the top. Natural light or a flashlight will suffice.

Digital water meters alternates between water volume and flow rate. The volume of water used is indicated in gallons or cubic feet while the flow rate is indicated in gallons per minute or cubic feet per minute.

How to Read a Water Meter with Multiple Dials

If you live in an old house, your water meter could look very different from the meters we have looked at in this post. Old water meters had several dials, some up to 6 dials, with each dial indicating the volume of water in 100,000s, 10,000s, 1,000s, 100s, 10s and 1 gallon or cubic feet.

These type of water meters are known as clock hands or round head water meters. All the dials are read clockwise, starting with the 100,000 gallons/cubic feet dial to the smallest.

Each of the dial has 10 equal subdivided parts. It is however important to notice that each hand on the dial turns counterclockwise, just how the numbers are arranged.

In most cases, the last 3 dials are ignored, unless you are investigating a water leak in which case you need to pay attention to the last dial.

How To Detect a Water Leak Using a Water Meter

Water leaks can be very expensive problems to have, especially when they are not clearly visible. A water meter is a useful device in detecting water leaks in the house.

If you look at your water meter, you will see a dial which looks like a gear or a small triangle that is continuously in motion. That dial is known as a leak indicator.

As long as water is passing through the water meter, the leak indicator will keep spinning. Let us see how you can use the leak indicator to inspect leaks in your house.

  • Turn off all faucets in your house including outside faucets. Make sure that icemakers, washing machines and dishwashers are not running.
  • Let nobody flush the toilet also during this test.
  • After turning off the water, go back to the water meter and check if the leak detector is spinning. If it is, you definitely have a leak somewhere.
  • Note that if the leak is too little the leak indicator will not spin.
  • Record your current water meter reading and wait for 20 minutes and check the reading again.
  • If there is a change in reading you have a leak. Leaking outdoor spigots, faucets and toilets are usually the culprits.

Detecting a leak is however not always that easy since at times some leaks will only be activated if the water is flowing at a high pressure but disappear during low water pressures.

How to Check Your Water Meter Accuracy

  • Turn off all your faucets and appliances. Do not use any water during this test.
  • Record your current water meter reading.
  • Get a 5-gallon bucket with a clearly marked 5-gallon level.
  • Fill the bucket with water twice (meaning you have drawn out 10 gallons of water).
  • Read your water meter again.
  • Get the difference between the second and the first reading.

You should get a difference of 10 gallons in your water meter reading, or 1.3369 cubic feet. If you get a big difference in the reading contact your water utility company immediately.

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