Would you like to reduce your meter read complaints by 90% today? I will show you how to photo document meter reads and you'll see a dramatic drop in resident questions the second month you do it. Why not the first? Because the first introduces the process and there may be more questions before everyone settles down. I promise it will save you time and trouble with your meter reads. Read on to find out all of the mistakes and drama we endured to you can have a smooth experience from your very first run.
Be sure to download our handy checklist at the end!
I cannot overstate the importance of labeling the meters BEFORE you photo document your meters the first time. Let me say that again:
LABEL THE METERS BEFORE YOU TAKE YOUR FIRST PICTURE
I cannot stress that enough. Seriously.
Here’s why: You start the day on fresh legs and a with a bounce in your step. Birds are singing, the sun is shining, and everything is great. You stop at the front of each home and take an index shot of the space number and walk up the drive to the meters. Somewhere around hour 2 you start getting a good idea of how long this is going to take. Around hour 4 you realize that is way too long and there has to be a faster way to do this. You start walking over half height fences, behind spaces and through bushes (pro tip: all manner of spiders live there, don’t do it). You decide to take index shots after you take the meter shots. And, maybe as often as possible, you don’t walk to the front of each space. This makes the most of all available shortcuts and your know your property. And you have a map in case anything goes wrong.
Oh, it goes wrong!
We first tried this out on a 280 space park. That was our first mistake. Start small and work out the process before you go big. Do one island for the first run and see how it goes.
Without the proper prep work, by the time you’ve finished, it is going to be nearly impossible to match up your meter reads. You probably didn’t note the locked / blocked spaces very well so you’ll be skipping spaces. Maybe you walked right past a space and didn’t realize it. Maybe a resident came out to question you and you forgot to take the picture of the meters for that space, but indexed it and then didn’t index the next space.
We spent days reconstructing what we did and had to make a second trip out to verify what we just couldn’t figure out. Don’t be like us. Label first!
I highly recommend labels from here (not an affiliate link). We used product# 80310. They are cold temp / water resistant laser labels. I can’t find it listed on their site anymore, but when I contacted customer service they were able to pull it up right away. You only need some the size of return address labels. We started labeling meters at the end of 2012 and most of them are as perfect as the day we put them on. No prep work was needed, either. We just walked up to the spaces with a rag, wiped the dust off the meter faces, and slapped on the labels. No cleaning, Windex, nothing. Just got rid of the dust. Yes, the ones the residents peeled off and tried to swap around didn’t stick a second time, but we didn’t expect they would. They will wear faster when picked at or constantly watered, but they are still sticking and legible.
As we read at many locations, we put the property name on the first line. The second line had a 1, 2, or 3 to designate electric, gas, or water, followed by the space number and finally a numeric code that works within our system as a data entry shortcut. If you are only reading one property, the space number is all you really need. We do recommend the numeric code for the meter type to prime your brain for the utility to be recorded. It helps with data entry.
The next few bits are strictly housekeeping, so to speak.
Before you go out, be sure to empty the storage on your phone or camera so you don’t have to stop halfway through.
Reduce the picture quality. You really don’t need top of the line resolution for meter pics. We keep it pretty low and that is more than enough to read on your computer. You aren’t going to need to blow them up much because you can either read it or you can’t. More than two clicks on the zoom isn’t necessary. Also, smaller pictures sizes fit better on your device. No need to get a gazillion terabyte card when you can do the pics in less than a gigabyte.
Sign up for cloud storage. Create an upload folder, and then store them by month in case you need to go back. We keep 6 months by default but rarely need to go back more than three.
Set a reminder to put your picture quality back when you’re done so those adorable dog / cat / kid / nature pics you live for aren’t compromised.
Do not under any circumstances touch the meters and then wipe sweat off your brow. We have had more problems than I can count with meter readers getting ill and tracking it back to bug spray on the meters. Someone sprays, it gets on the meter (intentionally or not) and when you wipe it, it gets on your hands. Then you rub your eyes, face, whatever and it gets into your system. Please be careful. Keep a rag in your pocket if you need to. Or only wipe your face with the back of your arm or wrist. I could make an entire post out of dos and don’ts for meter reading safety. Maybe I will at some point.
I recommend setting up an Excel file and having that open alongside your cloud storage window. Enter the spaces in the order they are read, not in numerical order (remember that magically easy property we read that skips around like crazy). If it makes sense to read your meters water, electric, gas, then set the columns that way so you can speed through. Leave an extra column after the space and meter reads to enter the analog reads before entering them into the electric column. That extra column is also good for notes like “electric verified high” so you know you double checked it. Or “bad index, replace ASAP.”
If you would prefer to do your utility check as you enter the pictures, then set up the calculation cells after the current reads and before the previous reads so you can see them easily. I color coded mine, so it flagged high reads in a very visible way and I could double check them readily. It may take a few months to get the perfect set up but once you have it, photo documenting meter reads improves read quality, decreases questions, and saves time all around.
To recap, we walked you through the process of how to photo document your meter reads. First you must label, label, label. Then plan your route. Take care of housekeeping tasks. READ THOSE METERS SAFELY! And then enter everything. Tweak the process as needed to make it perfect for you. No two properties are the same and what works for me may not work for you. Just keep refining. Those pictures will save you more time than you can imagine once you get the process running smoothly. I spend less than an hour a month on misread questions for meters we read. It’s that effective.