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What does a Meter Reader do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A meter reader is a utility employee who reads consumption meters for the purpose of billing. He or she may read gas, electric, and water meters, in addition to inspecting meters and utility boxes to confirm that they are in good condition, and checking for signs of tampering or fraud. There are no educational requirements for members of this profession, although most meter readers hold a high school diploma. The need for this profession is also on the decline, as many utilities have turned to automated systems which read meters remotely or read large numbers of meters via handheld units which communicate wirelessly, reducing the need for employees.

Every meter reader has a route which he or she follows. Many often complete large portions of their route on foot, driving to a central point and fanning out from their vehicles, so they need to be in good physical condition. They must also be willing to tolerate inclement weather, as meter readings are not canceled for things like rain. Each one carries a handheld device which is used to record meter data or to interface directly with meters to collect data.

At each household on the meter reader's route, he or she notes down the customer identification and the reading on the customer's meter. People in this position often face challenges like locked gates, hostile dogs, or inaccessible meters along their routes, although many utilities issue meter reading dates to their customers and ask them to plan ahead for their reading. If a meter cannot be read, the meter reader leaves an appointment card, asking to reschedule a date to read the meter.

Once the meter reader's route is finished, he or she returns to the office to submit the data to the billing department, and bills are issued. Because most utilities cover a large area, there are usually enough routes to keep readers busy every day. Many grow very familiar with their routes and they are able to complete them quickly.

Working as a meter reader requires a high degree of self discipline, because people in this position work alone in the field, without supervision. They may have varying degrees of interaction with the public, depending on when they set out on their routes and the communities they work in. Experienced meter readers may also periodically be asked to accompany trainees as they learn the process of meter reading and following a route.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon987261 — On Feb 01, 2015

I am a meter reader for the local water company, and most of our readings are taken with handheld units. This means we go to each house one by one. We can't tell you when we will be there because weather can slow us down. Try walking through two feet of snow for a week! As for dogs, we need to trust our gut feelings.

By anon925708 — On Jan 13, 2014

I've been a meter reader for over three years. It's a great job to have while you are in school or tending to some other part of your life. Most positions are part-time, around 25 hours. I would make around 20k a year after taxes, which isn't bad while going to school full-time.

Each day you are assigned a route, which can range from 100 to 800 accounts (apartments, mobile homes, condos, or single homes). Meter readers will avoid entering your yard at all costs, but if we need to access your property to get to the meter, we will. Half the time we are entering because customers have inadvertently blocked our meters, a.k.a., our line of sight. We need to see the dial glass to read the meters.

I've been a meter reading for three years and have never hit or maced a dog, but I feel confident with my approach to dogs. After a while, you can tell when a dog is just barking to bark and when it's barking to want to kill you.

When you accept gas from a gas company, you are agreeing to allow us safe access to the meter at all reasonable hours. Your meter reading schedule is posted on your bill and on the website. Most meters are read between the hours of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. You have a responsibility as a customer to provide safe access to the meter. While your home may be your property, the gas meter is the gas company's property. If you are unsure how the gas company reads your meter, call and ask. Customer service will explain to you how your gas meter is read and you can provide information to help us obtain your gas meter and/or avoid encountering your dog.

If we are required to enter your yard, and we deem your dog aggressive, we will need proper and confirmed confinement. If we cannot read your gas meter outside your yard or get proper confinement, we will skip your meter. If you block your meter, we will skip your meter. We have anywhere from 100 to 800 accounts to go to, and we have our deadlines to adhere to.

Meter readers will enter your yard if they cannot read your gas meter from outside your yard. If you have a dog that is not deemed aggressive, we will enter your yard, but with caution. We do our best to keep our distance, but our motto is "if it has teeth, it can bite."

I'm 5'3, 120 pound female. I've been doing this job for three years. It's tough. When I first started, I thought to myself, walking? How bad could it be? But you are exposed to the elements, dogs, crap in people's yard, fences falling apart. You are constantly bending, dipping, walking, standing on your tiptoes, pushing and pulling everything around you. When you first start, you will pass out every day after work for at least a week.

By feasting — On Jan 24, 2013

The average meter reader salary isn't half bad. My cousin is a meter reader, and he makes more than some of my friends who have graduated college.

Right now, he's making $29,000 a year. I had to work seven years at my job to finally get a raise that put me at the same income level as him.

By shell4life — On Jan 24, 2013

@cloudel – Yes, and dogs aren't the only dangers they have to face. Some people are a bit paranoid and closely guard their yards. I've heard stories of some meter readers having guns pulled on them!

Around here, no one knows when they are coming. Some people freak out anytime anyone pulls into their driveway, and they feel the need to confront the person for being where they don't belong.

I'm pretty sure meter readers don't carry guns, so they must feel so vulnerable. No wonder they read the meters so quickly!

By cloudel — On Jan 23, 2013

The utilities meter reader man used to have to deal with my dogs every time he drove up. The meter was attached to the back of the house, and I never knew when he would be coming, so the dogs would get to him before I could stop them.

They weren't vicious, but they barked a lot and wanted him to know that he didn't belong there. They never got close enough to him for him to feel threatened, but I did talk to him once and I found out that he carries some sort of pepper spray that he can use on dogs if one is about to bite him.

I understand why he would need this. Just imagine being bitten by a dog who thinks you're invading its territory and having no one there to pull him off of you. Utility meter reading is a dangerous job!

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 23, 2013

@KoiwiGal – It really bothers me when they estimate my usage instead of sending out a meter reader. I try my best not to use a lot of electricity and water so that I can keep my bill as low as possible, and when they estimate my usage, they cancel out everything I have done.

I can't wait until they switch to automated meter reading. I heard on the news that they are looking at getting this done within the year.

They will have no more excuses for estimation once this system is put in place. So, the steps I take to reduce my usage will actually count for something.

By indigomoth — On Jun 29, 2011

I know I would not like to be a meter reader. It's one of those jobs where you have to go into someone's house or yard, but not really at their invitation and only stay long enough to be an inconvenience.

It's not like being a service man of some kind who is actively helping someone.

But I imagine what they do now is get people from the company who were hired to do other things to read meters, rather than hiring someone specific for meter reader jobs.

The only thing they'd need is a police check to make sure they are safe to be going into people's houses.

It doesn't really make sense to hire a whole person to do a job that seems to be disappearing quite rapidly.

By KoiwiGal — On Jun 29, 2011

Another reason that meter readers seem to be on a decline is that companies are willing to estimate your bill for several months and then make up the difference when they do get around to reading the meter.

My last house had an automated distance meter reader for the electricity, but they still had to manually read the gas meter. I'm not sure if that was for some kind of safety reasons or not. When we moved, they told us if we didn't want to read the meter ourselves, it would cost $25 to get the final reading done, which I thought was a bit steep.

But I guess they just don't have many regular people reading meters anymore. So, they probably have to go out of their way to get someone down to read it.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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