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As seen in Newsweek, Forbes, NPR, the Christian Science Monitor, CNET, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, and everywhere else.

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Questions about Electric Meters

(I have a separate page how to clock your electric meter to see how much electricity something uses.)

I read on Wikipedia that mechanical meters like mine use two watts of power.  I'm concerned that this means I'm paying $2.80 per year to run the meter. -- Ann Arbor guy

You apparently missed the part of the article that said that the (piddling) two watts isn't registered on the meter.  So you're not really being unfairly shaken down for that whopping 23/mo.  I hope you're able to sleep at night now.

By the way, if the only load in the house is the meter, it would take three hours for the disc to make one revolution.

Does my meter charge me for volts or for watts?  Do higher voltage appliances cost more to run? -- Various readers

You're charged for watt-hours.  The voltage of your devices doesn't matter.  A device with double the voltage isgoing to use half as many amps, so the wattage comes out to be the same.

The formula for power is Volts  x  Amps = Watts.  A device might use 120V x 6A = 720 watts, and the 240V version of the same device would use 240V x 3A = 720 watts.

The kinds of appliances that use 240V tend to be energy hogs, like air conditioners and electric clothes dryers, sorunning those appliances will cost you. It's not because 240V costs more, it's because you're running energy-gobbling appliances.

Question: I just noticed today that my electric meter is not spinning at all. I don't know how long thishas been going on and we are in the middle of a billing cycle. I was definitely using electricity in the house when I happened to notice themeter (heater was on, computers, lights, etc.) What should I do? -- T. Allen, Ft. Worth, Texas

Contact your utility company.

Where does electric go after it passes through any appliance in my home? I have often heard it returns to the grid? Isn't that silly! I'm lost! -- Big Bad Barry, Pennsylvania

This doesn't really havy anything to do with saving electricity but it gives me an excuse to use an analogy I came up with.

Anyway, pretend a giant is sitting in the yard at the power plant. Or it can be Shrek if you prefer, whatever. Also pretend that instead of electrical wire, we use dental floss. The giant is holding a piece of dental floss in one hand, and that leads to your house, through your house, then back out to the power plant and into the giant's other hand.  So you've got a giant holding an enormous strand of dental floss that forms a complete loop, starting in one hand and ending in the other.  With me so far?  Good.

Okay, so now the giant pulls on one end of the floss.  As he does that one hand comes towards him and the other goes away from him.  Then he pulls on the other end to do the opposite.  Pretend he's exercising with the floss.  He does this really fast, reversing direction 120 times per second, or 60 times per second if you count doing both directions as one set.

That's how household AC electricity works.  It doesn't start at the power plant, run through your house, and then go back to the power plant. Instead what's happening is the power plant is pushing electrons down one end of the wire, then they reverse it and push from the other end.  The electrons in the wire get rubbed back and forth, like a scrub brush.  This is what transfers energy to the appliances you're running.

I'm using your formula for looking at my electric meter to measure the usage of my appliances, and I'm wondering what is the 7.2 on the meter, and the 3.6 multiplier, and why divide by seconds? I'm sure my neighbors think I've been in the sun too long since I'm running in and out of the house reading my meter. -- David J., Scottsdale, AZ

(1) Different meters spin at different rates, so that's why you use the kH factor specific to your meter. The kH factor is basically the size of your meter.

(2) You divide by seconds because you're measuring the energy used for a specific amount of time. If you didn't include the time in the equation, the number you got would be meaningless. (If the answer was "400 watt-hours", would that be every 12 seconds, every four hours, or every three months?)

(3) The 3.6 is to put your answer in the form of kilowatt-hours. Without the 3.6 you have the number of watt-seconds. Here's how it works:

There are 3600 seconds in one hour (60 seconds x 60 minutes). So multiplying your answer by 3600 would give you the amount of electricity for an hour. But it would still be in the form of watt-hours, not kilowatt-hours. To convert to kilowatt-hours you divide by 1000. So all in all you're multiplying by 3600 and dividing by 1000. Note that 3600/1000 is 3.6, so our shortcut for multiplying by 3600 and dividing by 1000 is to just multiply by 3.6. [Thanks to reader Jim Haywood for figuring out what the 3.6 is for.]

My power bill doubled in kilowatt hours and I cannot figure out why (8kWh/day in March 2002, to 15kWh/day in March 2003). This surprised me because I have not been using my heat or air conditioning and my habits have not changed. My place is just a simple one-bedroom apartment. I had maintenance check out my hot water heater and refrigerator to make sure they were working properly and they said everything was fine. I called my power company and they came out to check the meter, and they said everything was fine. Then I find out my neighbor's power bill has also doubled to $211 (she lives across the hall from me). Do you think there is a problem with my meter? Kate Baumann

You probably don't have a faulty meter, but it's possible.  Here are the possibilities:
  1. You're really using the extra electricity.  Maybe you got a heating pad, a new computer, or a combination of things.  See the how to measure page to figure out how much your stuff is actually using.
  2. Some of your neighbor(s)' electricity is running through your meter.  Some apartment complexes are miswired, especially if they've been remodeled.  An electrician can help you confirm.  If that's the case, you'll have to try to get your landlord to fix the wiring.  Good luck.
  3. Your meter is indeed broken.  It's unlikely, but it's possible.
Start your investigation by turning off every circuit breaker in your panel and then see if your meter is still spinning.  If it is, then either your meter is broken or you have a weird wiring problem.  I would first videotape your turning the breakers off and that the meter still spins so you have evidence in case you have a hard time getting a refund from your electrical utility for being overcharged.

If the meter stopped cold when you turned off all the breakers (like it should have), then turn them back on again, and then turn off and UNPLUG everything in your home.  If there's no switch for the electric hot water heater, then keep the heater's breaker off.  The metter should again have stopped cold.  If it's spinning again, then you either failed to unplug or turn off something in your apartment, or else some of your neighbor(s)' electricity is running through your panel.

If you can get the meter to stop cold with the breakers on, then turn one item back on, like a light, and then look at the meter to measure how much electricity it's using. If the meter says it's using more than about 20% of what it should be using, then there may be a problem with your meter.

If the light measures correctly, then turn it off, and start turning on other items and measuring them. At this point your assumption is that the meter is correct, but that one of your devices is drawing more than it should, such as your hot water heater or your refrigerator.

Good luck, and let me know what you find out!

I've been trying to figure out why I consume so much power each month (950 kWh), since I'm not at home much, my refrigerator is new, and the AC is barely run. I unplugged everything (not just turned them off) but my electric meter was still spinning at about 1 rpm (~400 watts). So then I cut all the breakers off, but the meter was still spinning! Could the meter be broken? If it is, who would I contact about that? If I can prove to the electric company that it has been broken since I bought my house will they refund my money? -- Shaun C., CA

[I suggested that Shaun first document the problem with a video camera and have a licensed electrician confirm the problem, so that he had proof, and THEN contact his electric utility company. The electric utility said the meter was broken and put in a new one, but refused to refund the money he paid for electricity he never used. His only option for getting a refund at that point would be to take them to court or seek arbitration; I don't know if he ever did.]

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©1998-2018 Michael Bluejay, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reprinting is prohibited.
All advice is given in good faith. We're not responsible for any errors or omissions. Electricity can kill you; if you're not competent to work on your electrical wiring then hire a professional to do it.
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