The ultimate guide to gas meters

Why do I need to know about my gas meter?

Energy suppliers estimate gas consumption over time, looking at your household habits to calculate a bill. However, your gas meter gives the most accurate insight into your day-to-day use. 

It’s a good idea to learn a little bit more about how the gas meter works, as well as how to record and submit current readings. Here’s everything you need to know about gas meter readings, whether you have a digital, dial or standard model. 

Why do I need to take a gas meter reading?

Your gas meter provides the most accurate record of your household’s gas consumption. Without this information, gas bills are simply based on estimates of what the energy supplier thinks you’ve used. By taking a gas meter reading on a quarterly basis and submitting it to the supplier, you’ll avoid both underpayments and overpayments. If an estimate falls short of your usage, you’ll pay less initially, only to be hit by a larger bill down the road. This is particularly important if you’ve made any strides towards saving energy in the home, as these lifestyle changes won’t be reflected in estimated rates. You’ll be alerted to any unusual trends in your energy use, which could be due to a fault in the meter. 

Equipping yourself with this information also makes it easier to get a better rate when you switch suppliers, since you’ll have the most up-to-date data for comparison. The exception would be if you have a smart meter, which automatically submits gas smart meter readings on your behalf. These can be sent directly to the supplier multiple times a day, or even multiple times an hour. 

How to take a gas reading

There are a number of gas meter types on the market, all of which vary slightly in their basic design. However, a set of numbers will be clearly displayed no matter the type. From dial to digital (unless it’s a smart meter which automatically sends its readings to your supplier), you must write down these numbers along with the date and time they were taken and submit this information to your energy supplier. Another option is to take a photo with your smartphone and upload it automatically by email or mobile app. Gas meters also display a unique identification number called a Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN). Check with your supplier to find out the easiest way to record and submit gas readings. 

Types of gas meters

Although their main function might be the same, there are a few gas meter types to be aware of. These differ in terms of how they display your usage information. 

Standard meter

The most common type of meter features a straightforward mechanical display. You’ll see the numbers clearly displayed on the front. To take a reading, write down the five black numbers ordered from left to right. There might be red numbers listed as well, but these aren’t relevant to the reading. 

Digital meter

Standard meter types might also use a digital rather than mechanical display. As with the standard mechanical version, to take your gas meter reading you’ll need to record the first five figures ordered from left to right. If there are any figures that begin with a 0.1, ignore these. For some models, you can simply press a display button to show the most current reading. 

Dial meter

Dial meters are a little bit trickier to read, with their clock-like interface. To take a dial gas meter reading, you’ll need to read the dial numbers from left to right. However, you’ll need to ignore any red dials, dials without figures, or dials without hands. Sometimes the needle will appear between two figures, in which case you should write down the number the dial has just passed. You’ll need to adjust your reading for accuracy after you’ve written down the numbers. For dial meters, it is often easier to take a photo and submit it to your energy supplier for their interpretation. 

Prepayment meters

One of the most common gas meter types is the prepayment meter. Prepayment gas meters include designs with digital or standard displays, but what they have in common is that you’ll need to pay for your gas in advance. To use this type of meter, you can top up a smartcard, key fob or token with credit. The charging device is then inserted into the front of the meter. Another option is to use a smartphone app or top up your gas credit online – the best method will depend on your supplier.

To take a gas meter reading from a prepayment meter, you’ll need to look at the display window. This is usually located right on the front of the meter, showing you the units of energy consumed, the rate per unit of fuel, the amount of credit inserted, and any outstanding debt. There may also be access to emergency credit to prevent you from running out of gas overnight. It’s particularly important to take your meter reading if you’ve just moved into a new house with a prepayment meter installed – otherwise, you may be held liable for a previous tenant’s debt. 

Smart meters

The government is in the process of rolling out smart meters across the nation, offering households an easier way to measure gas and electricity readings. Unlike the traditional meters, these connect to your supplier directly to submit regular gas smart meter readings. If you’re eligible to have a smart meter installed, your energy company will contact you. In the meantime, you can contact your supplier to find out when this technology will be available in your area. Smart gas meters are designed with electronic displays, showing you the real-time units of energy consumed and your rate per unit of fuel. 

How to submit your gas meter reading

After you’ve recorded your meter readings depending on the types mentioned above, there are a few things you can do with them. The first is to check your most recent bill. Compare the estimated reading to your actual reading – if you’ve been overpaying, you’re entitled to a refund from the energy supplier. On the other hand, if you’ve been underpaying it’s a good idea to contact your supplier to increase your monthly payments. For smaller amounts, it may be a good idea to pay off the excess in one go, before searching for a better rate or adjusting your Direct Debit payments. 

Another reason you might need your current gas meter reading is when you’re switching suppliers. You’ll need to submit this to both the old and new suppliers to adjust your bills and pay off any old debts. 

There are several ways to submit the reading. Some suppliers will have dedicated websites or apps to plug in your numbers, while others will offer a phone line for just this purpose. The first port of call should be your online account or most recent bill. 

Understanding your gas meter bill

So how does your gas meter work, anyway? Here are some facts about how gas is measured, as well as how it impacts your bottom line. 

  • Calorific value changes by location

Gas is measured with calculations called the calorific value (CV), which simply means heating value. What many people don’t know is that this isn’t a fixed rate. CV calculations will change from day to day and can fluctuate depending on what part of the country you live in. As a result, the UK is divided into 13 different local distribution zones, with your bill based on your particular zone’s daily CV during the latest billing period. 

  • Temperature impacts your gas bill

Gas expands with heat, meaning readings will be different depending on the temperature. Energy suppliers use a basic temperature of 15°C, but if your meter is located outdoors, you’ll have lower bills due to the lower temperatures. 

  • You’ll get more gas for your money at sea level. 

Pressure is another natural force that changes the volume of gas, which means properties placed at lower altitudes tend to get more for their money. For billing purposes, gas companies use an average height of 67.5m above sea level. 

How to tell if your gas meter is faulty

It’s not uncommon for the gas reading to be slightly more or less than your estimated amounts, but what should you do if there are wider fluctuations? If the meter reading seems wrong, you might need to contact your supplier to send an engineer out to take a closer look at your gas meter. Under UK law, gas meters must report within a 2% accuracy rate. If the supplier sends someone out to test your meter and finds it to be faulty, it can be fixed or replaced. Meters can be sent away to an independent laboratory or tested at your home, depending on the case. Keep in mind that although the testing is free, some suppliers will charge for the cost of replacement. 

Bjorn GriffithDec 9th 2019