How to Read Water Meter: Analog Versus Digital

Every home and building with access to a public or private water system has a water meter. The meter allows utility companies to track water usage. It can also help you to detect water leaks. For these reasons, it is important that you know how to read them.

So, how do you read a water meter?


Analog and digital water meters display the amount of water that has flowed through a device, such as a residential water system. Both types of water meters typically display water usage in gallons or cubic feet. Reading the meter often involves checking the current readout and comparing it to the previous readout.

Whether you want to keep better track of your water bill or learn to read meters as part of your job duties, here is what you should know.

What Is a Water Meter?

A water meter measures the volume of water used that flows through a specific point, such as residential or commercial properties or the valve on marine equipment. Boilermakers may also need to read water meters when inspecting boiler systems and storage vats.

Yet, when people talk about water meters, they are typically referring to the meters found at residential properties. They are often found in the garage or cellar but can be underground in your garden as well. Utility companies use water meters to determine how much water each customer uses. If your water meter keeps spinning when all your devices are turned off, it can indicate a water leak in your home.

Your water bill is typically based on the volume of water used by your household over a single month. For example, your local utility company may charge $4 per CCF used.

One CCF is equal to one hundred cubic feet of water. The surcharge per CCF may increase if you exceed a specific threshold, such as 20 CCFs in one month.

Analog Versus Digital Water Meter Display

Water meters include an analog or digital display. Older water meters include an analog display, which means that it contains dials to display water usage.

Digital water meters include a digital display. It does not have moving hands or dials. The numbers are displayed on a small screen.

Analog and digital water meters may track gallons or cubic feet of water. One cubic foot is equal to 7.48 gallons of water.

How to Read a Water Meter

Decades ago, utility companies required a worker to walk through neighborhoods and manually read each water meter. Handheld devices were eventually created to allow meter readers to quickly collect readings.

Advanced meter reading (AMR) eliminated the need to visit each house. Each meter using the AMR technology transmits data every few seconds. The data is collected by a transceiver in a nearby utility vehicle.

The newest technologies allow utility companies to read your meter without visiting your property or deploying a utility vehicle. However, you can still track the amount of water that

you use by checking the water meter yourself.

Your water meter will include an analog or a digital display. Both types of water meters are easy to read. However, there are a few details to pay close attention to if you want an accurate reading. Here is a closer look.

How to Read an Analog Water Meter

Photo by Sugarman Joe on Unsplash

Analog water meters often resemble a large clock face. However, instead of the time, the outer ring of the display tracks the gallons or cubic feet of water used by your household.

The outer ring is often marked with the numbers 0 to 9. A hand moves around the dial as you use water. When the hand makes a complete rotation around the dial, you have used 10 gallons or 1 cubic foot of water.

Along with the outer dial, analog water meters include an odometer. The odometer displays the total water usage. It is typically seven digits long.

The last digit has a “0” printed on it. The zero is static. It does not change.

The “0” is a placeholder for the last digit, which is represented by the hand that moves around the outer dial. Each time the hand completes a rotation, the last digit of the odometer increases by one unit.

For example, the six-digit odometer reads “1423450” and the hand is pointed to the “2” on the outer dial. The reading would be “1423452.”

How to Read a Digital Water Meter

To conserve energy and increase the lifespan of the display, digital water meters often require light activation. The water meter uses a light meter to detect light and turn on the display.

If you want to read the digital water meter, point a flashlight at it. If you do not have a flashlight available, you can use the light on your phone.

Digital water meters may track the total water usage and the flow rate per minute. The flow rate per minute allows you to view how much water you are currently using.

To check water usage, look at the meter read. The meter read displays the total water used by your household. Pay attention to decimal points in the read-out. Most digital water meters include two decimal places. If you fail to notice the decimal point, you may get an inaccurate reading.

Some digital water meters also allow you to review your water usage history. You may be able to cycle through readings showing the total water usage each month, eliminating the need to manually compare readings.

Compare Meter Readings to Track Water Usage

After reading the analog or digital water meter, you may want to know how much water you have used. This requires you to maintain a log of readings or review past water bills.

Tracking your water usage involves comparing your most recent water meter reading to past ones. For example, if you check the water meter each month, you can easily estimate your water usage for the month by subtracting the previous reading from the current one.


Reading a water meter is not a difficult task. Whether you are looking at an analog or digital display, you simply need to read the numbers.

The numbers are listed on an analog odometer or a digital screen. The meter may track water usage in gallons or cubic feet.

After reading the numbers on the water meter, you can compare them to previous readings to track your water usage.