Dear PoPville – Reading and Monitoring Your Electric Meter

Photo by PoPville flickr user rpmaxwell

“Dear PoPville,

Well, it seems like a silly question, but I haven’t had to deal with this before, so I’m looking for help from the PoPville community:

I live in a large apartment building and until now utilities have been included in the rent. However as of Aug 1 we are on our own and must have an individual account with Pepco.

My question relates to the meter – I have no idea where it is – I imagine there is a meter room in the basement (?) and herein lies the problem. How does it usually work in large buildings when it comes to accessing the meter to take a reading? Call me cynical, but I have very little faith in either Pepco or the management company to do this right. What arrangement do people find works best? And are there any laws that mandate a tenant having access to the meter?

I’d love to hear your experiences.”

33 Comment

  • Maybe your management would be the first place to ask?

  • I served as condo board president in a 30 unit building for a few years. A separate electric meter for each unit, plus meters for common areas in the building, were all located in a locked mechanical room in the basement.

    Our management company coordinated with PEPCO to provide them access on a monthly basis, at which time they would read all the meters. Residents could gain access to the mechanical room through the management company or the condo board on an as-needed basis.

    I hope this is helpful.

  • Contact the DC Public Service Commission ( They exist to help in situations like this.

    • I’m not sure this is exactly right. The PSC can be very useful, and is probably the best place to start, but you may want to work with the Office of People’s Counsel if you ever have any problems. Their job is to represent ratepayers at the PSC.

  • I rent a rowhouse and I’ve never read the meter myself, always relied on Pepco to do it, which after reading your letter, may or may not have been foolish of me.

    • I’m sure you would have if you were ever billed way more than you expected. If your bill always seemed appropriate though, why would you bother?

  • New electric meters are read by PEPCO by radio waves as are water and gas meters these days.

  • PEPCO does readings directly. Your management company will provide access (as DCRealist mentioned), but will not take or report readings itself. I’m sure you can ask management or a maintenance person to let you in if you’re curious. Otherwise, each month on your PEPCO bill you’ll see your meter number and your two most recent readings. Unless something seems off, or if your bill is much higher (or, I guess lower…) than you expect, you shouldn’t need to worry about seeing the meter yourself.

    Some months, if PEPCO can’t or doesn’t directly read your meter, you will receive an estimated bill based on your usage trend. Necessary adjustments will then be made n the bill following your next actual reading.

    Don’t contact DCPSC unless you have a problem; then absolutely contact them.

  • I’ll say this pepco may be pretty incompetent, but I’m fairly sure they’re not out to screw you over on your meter reading. From personal experience they don’t check everywhere monthly, often times they will estimate for a month or two and then check it. This had led to some high bills followed by an extremely low one or even a credit. It all balances out.

    • You can also sign up for the budget plan where they average out your payments across the year so you pay the same amount every month.

    • Just curious… why do people think Pepco is so incompetent? I haven’t experienced a single power outage in DC, and I’ve been here a while. Outages were, however, somewhat common when I lived in Northern VA and had Dominion Power. I assume it’s because there are more trees out there, but still, there were days in the summertime when my Alexandria office had to shut down because we were without power for so long.

      So anyway, what’s the problem with Pepco?

      • I think a lot of the issues with Pepco are in the MD suburbs–they’ve had a ton of issues with power outages and Pepco taking forever to get things fixed.
        I’m in DC, and have never had a problem with Pepco–I did get one bill that was crazy high (apparently because the person who read the meter misread it), so they just told me to pay what my bill normally was, and send them a picture of the meter to show that the previous reading was WAY off, and they got it all cleared up.
        (I also lived in NoVA for a year, and had a horrible time with Dominion–the power in my complex used to go out if there was even the *slightest* bit of wind, or if it looked like it *might* rain. Ugh. Definitely one of the many things I like so much better about living in DC)

      • There has been several power outages along Kenyon street up in CH. I tried to go to Wonderland one night and they were closed because of this, so its gotten kinda personal.

  • PEPCO has been upgrading meters so they no longer need to read them face-to-face. I believe they are using RFID technology (just like an E-Z Pass to pay tolls for your car uses). All PEPCO does now is drive by and they receive a reading from the meters.

    PEPCO does not always read all meters every month. Sometimes they use an estimate, but your bill will state that it is based on an estimate somewhere.

    Also, in DC and MD, you can choose your utility provider. Instead of PEPCO, I chose to go with a wind energy company called Clean Currents.

    My bill and electricity are still provided by PEPCO. However, PEPCO must now purchase the equivalent amount of power that I consume or the equivalent amount of clean air credits from Clean Currents. I was able to sign a 2-year agreement with clean currents for a rate less than what PEPCO charges for coal produced energy. I will admit that the “Alternate Supplier” fees are a little higher than PEPCO, but my average monthly bill is only $1-2 higher and it does not fluctuate seasonally liked it did when I bought the power directly from PEPCO.

    • When PEPCO installed my new meter, they cut down (and killed) the bush next to it.

    • RF, but not RFID. More like your wireless router than your EZ Pass. In the end, though, it is true that Pepco does not have to physically see most meters to read them. They just have to get close to them.

      I have to say, though, of all the things to worry about in life, utility meter reading is about as low on my list as the chance that someone could tie my shoelaces together when I’m not looking. It’s just one of those bridges you cross when you get to it, rather than preemptively protecting against the incredibly small risk. If you have time to audit your meter reads, then you should consider joining a volunteer organization or attending your ANC meetings.

      Props to Guy, fellow wind power customer.

  • I wouldn’t be so paranoid about it. If the bill seems unusually high then dispute it; otherwise don’t worry. There’s a good chance you have one of those new smart meters so no one has to actually read it.

  • Yeah, I’d second the folks on here – one thing Pepco does right is that on your bill, it shows your last 12 months of usage (both in terms of power and money), so it’s super easy to spot if something is out of line.

    I was once double-billed (not sure how it happened). I called, and was happily surprised that the first person I spoke to fixed it immediately.

    • Their online services are fantastic as well. Not only do they show your historical usage, but they have pie charts showing how much power is being consumed by lighting, heating, cooking, refrigeration, etc. It also shows how your usage compares to similar homes in the area, what effect the weather had on your past bill, and what kind of savings you could expect from doing certain energy saving activities like upgrading appliances or setting your thermostat 2 degrees higher.

      • +1 for the energy assessment stuff on the website

      • Except when they went to their new online system they deleted any previous automatic payment set ups since they were “unable to convert them.”


  • Why does that wall art/graffiti look like Cisco Adler?

  • My advice (to everyone) is to make sure that Pepco takes an actual reading when you move out of your apartment – I had assumed this would be standard procedure when closing out an account (in my case, we switched the name on the account and didn’t formally close it, so maybe that was the hitch). Unfortunately the bill for the final month at my last apartment was estimated, and given that the bill was for August, included a high range estimate for A/C usage which was higher than my actual bill for June and July as well as the previous August when I lived there(b/c I don’t use A/C as much as other people). By the time I received the final bill, of course the next tenants had already started living in the apartment and there was no way to prove what the meter reading was at the time I moved out.

  • I received a bill for $1200 after typical bills of 90 – 120. I called customer service and the guy laughed hard, then immediately fixed it.

  • Sounds like you live in the Dorchester House, am I right? (I’m glad you’re one of the sane people in the building who aren’t waiting for some magical legal case to be resolved! God only know what their first Pepco bill will actually be like when they eventually register…)

  • PEPCO is probably not out to screw you, but if something goes wrong, they are very incompetent about fixing it. So you want to be prepared. If I were you, I’d request access to the meter room (assuming you cannot just get to it without requesting access), figure out which meter is yours and get a starting reading.

    Monitor the meter periodically. Keep track of your readings in a spread sheet, it will tell you how much energy you are using and help you figure out if PEPCO’s bill is accurate. Especially in a multiunit situation, I’d be concerned about making sure my readings were the ones I was billed for — especially if you are good about conserving energy and your neighbors are blasting the AC all day long.

    I’d monitor the shared meter too, to make sure there is no funny business.

    Don’t bother the PSC unless you actually have a complaint.

  • I agree here. I didn’t check my meter when I moved in to an apartment. I spent a year with estimated readings and then spent another 6 months of back and forth with Pepco before they were able to find my meter (its in a room with all the others and they had the wrong code down).

    When it finally was all cleared up they had us paying about $500 of “catch up” expenses, which over the past year was definitely more than what we’ve had for actual bills.

    Bottom line…make sure you know what they are charging you for and keep your own records.

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