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How Meter Readers Read Your Meter (and what you can do to help)

Seattle Public Utilities’ 23 meter readers work hard to ensure that each residential water meter in Seattle and parts of King County is read 6 times per year in order to provide timely and accurate water bills to our customers. That requires each meter reader walking an average of 4 miles every day to cover 617 meter reading routes, completing a total of 1.1 million reads each year.

Walking that much every work day might sound daunting, but that’s not the most challenging part of the job. The challenging part is overcoming the many obstacles that can make it hard to read a meter. Take a look inside your water meter box (it’s that brown iron box marked with the initials CWM, found in the parking strip, sidewalk, or street near your home). You might find piles of dirt, standing water, plants, cobwebs, and more. With all these obstacles, can a meter reader actually read your meter well enough to make sure your bills are accurate? The short answer is: yes! Here’s how:

Tricks of the Trade

Each meter reader carries a variety of tools to help them view your water meter dial long enough to get an accurate read. Here are a few of the most common obstacles they face, and the tools they use to overcome them:

A meter box full of dirt
Often when a meter reader opens a meter box lid, they are greeted by a pile of dirt. A small shovel is all they need to get a peek at the meter dial.
A meter box full of water
When it rains, some meter boxes can fill up with water. Meter readers carry a clear plastic tube, open on one end, which they stick down into the water to view the meter dial.
A scratched dial cover
After years underground, the clear cover of a water meter dial can become cloudy with scratches and dirt. A quick spray with water gives the meter reader a clear view of the numbers on the dial.

You can help! Keep your meter box clear of obstructions.

Some obstacles can make a meter too hard to access. If your meter is obstructed, a meter reader will either have to return to your property to clear the obstruction and read your meter (there is a charge for this) or estimate your meter read for that billing period. The good news is you can easily avoid this by keeping your meter box clear. Here’s how:

Don’t park your car over a meter box
A parked car covering a meter box can make it nearly impossible for a meter reader to access the meter. If you see a meter box in the road, don’t park over it!
Prune away plant overgrowth
Meter readers carry pruners for light trimming, but plants that are very overgrown can make a meter impossible to access. During the growing season, plants can cover a water meter box very quickly. Avoid planting too close to your meter box and make sure any overgrowth around the box is trimmed back regularly.

Visit our website for more information on how and why to keep your water meter accessible.