Reading your own gas meter
Lanny Boutin wasn't satisfied with the gas company
reading her meter every three months, so she took matters into her
own hands. For the months the gas company didn't visit her house
to read the meter, it would "estimate high, so I would call
it in to them every month to keep the bill more in line," says
Boutin of Gibbons, Alta., explaining what happened eight years ago
when she lived in Edmonton.
Today, Boutin is happy with her gas company's monthly
readings and leaves the meter reading to the professionals. But
more and more Canadians are taking their own readings. If your electricity
provider only visits every three months or is unable to read the
meter for other reasons, read on to see if you should be tallying
your own usage.
Few meters are read every month
In the past few years, some British Columbia customers of Terasen
Gas have joined Boutin in making sure their meter readings are accurate.
"By reading their own meters, customers know exactly what their
gas consumption is month to month," says media relations manager
Although customers are charged monthly, the company
only reads meters every two months. For the unread month, the company
uses a computer estimate to generate consumption levels for the
missing month, which means customers could end up paying more than
you have to unless they take a reading themselves.
In Ontario, Union Gas meter readers make every effort
to visit every customer's meter, but sometimes they encounter barriers
that prevent them from doing so. For instance, many customers' meters
are inside their homes, which is fine if you're at home and are
able to let the reader in to do his job. But what if you aren't?
And what if the meter is in the backyard, guarded
by a not-so-friendly dog? Meter readers won't take the chance. And
in the very likely event that a winter storm prevents letter carriers
from delivering the mail, you can bet meter readers won't be on
their routes either.
If it's a one-time storm, the utility company won't
ask homeowners to take on the task of reading their own meters permanently.
But if a meter reader comes across any one of these barriers more
than a few times, the company may give you a call and ask you to
help out on a regular basis.
Reading the meter
Unfortunately, there is no financial incentive to reading your own
meter. Although you might think that by doing so, you're saving
the company the expense of sending a reader to your home every month,
companies such as Union Gas and Enbridge Gas Distribution don't
see it that way. They say they still have to pay meter readers to
check everyone's meter on a regular basis to ensure accuracy. And
even if a couple of homeowners on one street take their own readings
a few times a year, the reader still has to read all the other meters
on the block.
Still, many utility companies are offering the do-it-yourself
option. And even if it doesn't save you money, it can help you keep
better track of your energy consumption and ensure you only pay
for what you use.
Customers who want to read their own meters can send
in the information in a variety of ways. They supply their readings
by phone, by e-mail, by visiting the company's website or by filling
in a meter card that is dropped off and picked up at your home.
At Terasen Gas, customers have the option of calling
in or e-mailing their reading one or two days in advance of billing.
Obviously, the closer to your scheduled meter reading date, the
more accurate the reading.
At Union Gas, in Ontario, if you read your own meter,
a reader will still make an annual visit to "make sure they're
not being over or undercharged," says public affairs specialist
There are two types of meters, both of which are read
much like a watch. Newer meters have digital index registers and
measure cubic metres while older models have clock index registers
and measure in cubic feet. To determine the volume of gas you have
consumed, simply subtract your current meter reading from the last.
Who offers this service?
If a utility sees a demand for customers to do the work, they will
offer the service. Union Gas serves 1.3 million customers across
Ontario, and about 1,000 of these customers have asked to read their
own meters. The program has been in place for the past 15 years.
Enbridge Gas Distribution operates Canada-wide and
says a portion of its 1.8 million customers read their own meters
In Quebec, utility Gaz Metro does not offer this service:
"We use different tools such as radiometers or telemeters to
get our clients' gas consumption," says media relations officer
Frederic Krikorian. In some cases, they do ask clients to read their
own meters, but for verification purposes only.
Read your own water meter to
check for leaks
It's less likely that electricity and water customers will be able
to read their own meters, unless there is in an equipment or access
issue preventing meter readers from doing the work themselves. Toronto
Hydro is in the process of moving all electricity meters to the
outside of homes, something that will eliminate the need for customers
to read their own meters.
Although you probably won't be able to tally your
own water usage for your water provider, you may want to do your
own calculation to check for water leaks or to see how much water
you use for certain activities around the house.
Here's how: Immediately before you turn on the washing
machine or dishwasher, write down your water meter number. After
the machine finishes its cycle, subtract the new number to calculate
Likewise, if you want to know if you have a water
leak, turn off all water fixtures such as your humidifier, air conditioner
and icemaker. Record the number on the water meter and then check
back in a few hours. If the number has increased, you may have a
leaky faucet somewhere, dripping away your hard-earned cash.
Melanie Chambers is a freelance writer
based in London, Ont.