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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 Dean Pelkey.

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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 Andrea Stass.

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 as well.

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 your consumption.

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.

-- Posted: May 15, 2006
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