Water meters: what they do and how they can save you money 

Discover whether a water meter is right for you.

The rising cost of living has made us all more aware of what we’re spending. Many of us are changing our behaviours to save where we can – and one way to reduce costs could be to install a water meter.  

Unfortunately, there’s no way to change your water supplier (unless you move to a different area), but it’s often possible to switch from an unmetered supply to a water meter. With a meter, you’re billed for the water you use, rather than at a flat rate. This can work out cheaper for some households, as we’ll explain. And the less water you use, the less you’ll have to pay to heat it, too. But a meter is not necessarily the cheapest option for everyone, so read on to decide if it’s for you.

Man filling a glass of water from a stainless steel kitchen tapCredit: Shutterstock/Jin Odin
You may save on water bills with a smart meter

How does a water meter work?

Measuring the flow of water

A water meter measures the amount of water you use. It works similarly to gas and electric meters, where a reading is taken to help your supplier calculate your bill. Unlike unmetered customers who pay a fixed amount each year, you pay for what you use.  

As water passes through the meter it spins a built-in device. Each spin measures a specific amount of water, which is instantly shown on the display and then recorded by the meter. The water is measured in cubic meters.


What does a water meter look like?

Discover your meter reading

Older style, standard meters look similar to the one pictured below. You’ll find two sets of numbers side by side on its counter. The black numbers in the dials on the left show the number of cubic meters of water used, while the red numbers in the dials on the right show your usage in litres.

When asked for a reading you’ll only need to give the numbers in black on the white background.

On newer meters, such as the Elster digital meter, you’ll see an LCD screen in place of the counter. With these meters, the black numbers (usage in cubic meters) will appear on the top of the screen, and the red numbers (usage in litres) will appear below.

Water meter dialCredit: Shutterstock/Novikov Alex
Your water meter might look a lot like this

Do I already have a water meter?

How to check if you’re a metered customer

You’re likely to have a water meter installed if your home was built after 1990. You can also find out by checking your water bill. If your customer number starts with ‘MC’, you’re a metered customer and your bill is based on how much water you use. The letters ‘UC’ will indicate you’re an unmetered customer.

Currently, 60% of households in England and Wales have a water meter installed – that’s 16 million homes, according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), which represents the interests of water and sewerage consumers in England and Wales.  

“In most areas, water meters have been fitted to all new properties built since 1990, and people without them have had the option to switch,” says Andy White, Senior Leader for Social Policy at the CCW. “In some areas, meters are also fitted when people move out of a property, and in a few parts of England – where water resources are particularly stretched – water companies have been given permission to make metering compulsory.” 

The number of water meters installed in Scotland is much lower, because households have to apply for meters to be installed, and pay for the cost of installation. According to Scottish Water, 336 homes have a water meter and 2.63m homes have an unmeasured supply, equating to a 0.013% take-up rate. 

Where is my water meter?

Locating your device

According to Thames Water: “Most water meters are fitted outside near your outside stop tap.” You’re likely to find it under a plastic or metal cover – either on your driveway or in your garden. However, it can be as far away as a nearby footpath or along the road.

“If your meter is indoors it can usually be found under the kitchen sink by your inside stop tap. Sometimes meters are in basements and garages, also. You’ll need to check you have the right meter by matching the serial number to the one on your bill,” says the company.

If you find that your meter is protected with a cast-iron cover, do not attempt to lift it yourself to take a reading – instead contact your water supplier.

Woman reading utility bill at deskCredit: Shtterstock/Elena Kulygina
Check your water bill and supplier to work out the costs

Do meters save money?

Smaller households can benefit

Whether a water meter will save you money or not will depend on several factors – most importantly the size of your household. To give you an idea, let’s look at some average water bills across the UK.

Discover Water, a dashboard bringing together key information about water companies in England and Wales, states that the average unmetered annual water and sewerage charge across England and Wales for April 2023- March 2023 will be £448, that’s £1.23 a day. The cost breaks down to £215 for water and £233 for sewerage. 

The latest figures reported by Water UK show that in 2023-24, unmetered Wessex Water customers will pay the most for their combined water and sewerage services at £504 a year, while unmetered Hafren Dyfrdwy customers will pay the least at £372.

Thames Water, the UK’s largest water and wastewater service provider, which supplies water to 9 million customers in London and the Thames Valley, is just above the average with an annual unmetered bill of £456.


Standard costs and metered bills

Working out the costs

So how do these standard costs compare to a metered bill?

Utility comparison company Selectra has used the CCW’s water meter calculator to compare the price of having a water meter in a four-person and two-person home.

  • Within the Thames Water region, a four-person home can expect a yearly metered bill of £515.69 – at least £90 more than an unmetered bill.
  • However, the bill for a two-person home comes in at £240.35, saving over £180.

Try the CCW’s water meter calculator for yourself, and see how much you could save, or additionally spend.

White says: “Our calculator can give you a really good indication of whether savings are possible. Many people find they can save more than £100 a year by switching.” 

When it makes sense to switch

Being water wise

Switching to a water meter doesn’t make financial sense for everyone, but there are a few factors that can help you decide: 

  • Do you have a small or single household? 
  • Does your property have a high rateable value or council tax band high? 
  • Do you use water wisely?

Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, advises that if you have more bedrooms in your home than people or the same number, you could make a saving.

And although many households save money when they switch to a meter, the impact on bills does vary depending on how wisely they use water.  

Thames Water reports that water meters incentivise its customers to use water wisely as they only pay for the water they use. A spokesperson said: “On average, metered customers tend to use 12% less water. They also help us to tackle customer-side leaks, protecting water supplies in the process. 

According to White: “Customers with a water meter tend to use markedly less water, which has the added benefit of reducing pressure on our increasingly stretched water resources. 

“A metered household will use on average 134 litres per person, per day – compared to 174 litres per person, per day in an unmetered property. However, opting to have a water meter installed isn’t for everyone – larger families in particular may find that they would pay more.” 

Water flowing down drainage hole to suggest money wasteCredit: Shutterstock/BACHTUB DMITRII
Will a water meter stop your money going down the drain?

Water meter advantages

How your household can benefit

  1. Installing a water meter will help put you in control of how much you pay. You could make an immediate saving. 
  2. A water meter will encourage you to actively engage in how much water you consume, with the knock-on benefit of saving water and energy. You’ll be able to monitor how much different activities and appliances are using and make decisions based on that information. 
  3. Water meters are free to install in England and Wales. 
  4. If you opt for a smart meter you won’t need to submit readings. 

Swapping that long soak in the bath for a speedy shower or saving all your washing up to the end of the day will help reduce your energy spend, too. 

Water meter disadvantages

Beware of the pitfalls

  1. Having a water meter doesn’t necessarily reduce your bill and you’ll have to be more mindful of how you use water – although, this is no bad thing in terms of protecting the environment.
  2. With the freedom of paying for what you use comes the unknown – moving from a fixed bill to something less predictable. However, spreading payments through a payment plan can help.
  3. If you’ve got leaky pipes beyond the meter, you could be faced with footing the bill. However, companies give a ‘leak allowance’, removing the additional charge on the first occasion a leak is found, providing it has been repaired promptly. Reading the meter regularly can help detect leaks as soon as they occur.
  4. For those of you who live in Scotland, you’ll have to pay to have a water meter installed (more on this later).
  5. Depending on where your meter is installed, you may need to allow occasional access for it to be read.

Check if your water company offers a leak detection service when installing your water meter. This service is sometimes free.

Water meter installation

What to expect during the fitting

The first step in getting a water meter is to contact your water supplier and request one.  

What should I expect during the installation? 

Once you’ve requested a water meter, according to Citizens Advice, you can expect it to be installed within three months .  

In most cases, it will be fitted outside your home, but if you share your water pipes with other flats or terraced houses, the installation will be inside. This is because external meters can only record collective usage. The installation will take around 45 minutes, and your water will be turned off for about 30 minutes.

Is there a cost? 

Water meter installation is free in England and Wales. But you must pay if you want your meter installed in a different location to the one your supplier suggests. The rules are different in Scotland as water is not regulated by Ofwat, as it is in England in Wales.  

Households in Scotland can opt to have a meter fitted if they think they will benefit from the metered charges – but they need to pay for installation, which can cost anywhere between £500-£1,000. Often, that cost will outweigh any benefit, even in the long term.

Woman filling a glass with clean tap waterCredit: Shutterstock/Andriana Syvanych
A meter can help you monitor your water usage

Smart water meters

Automatic updates and accurate billing

A smart water meter works like a gas or electric smart meter. Rather than taking a standard reading every six months, a smart meter automatically tracks the amount of water you use and sends it to your supplier, giving an up-to-date reading of your usage.

Thames Water was the first UK company to install smart water meters.We’re seven years into our smart metering journey. We continue to invest and expand our rollout and we’re approaching 1 million today, expanding to 2.8 million by 2035,” says a Thames Water spokesperson.

Our smart metering programme began in 2015 and sees more than 90 million litres of water saved, the equivalent of more than 40 Olympic swimming pools of water each day.”   

Water meter FAQs

Tenants with a fixed-term tenancy of less than six months must ask their landlord’s permission. 

In some circumstances, it isn’t practical to fit a water meter. Your pipework might be inaccessible or obstructed, or there could be an issue with your stop tap. Other problems might include having more than one point where water enters your property, or you live in a flat and where you share communal facilities or a hot water supply. 

If any of these situations apply to you, your water company must offer you an assessed charge. However, you’ll still have to go through the application process for a water meter to qualify. 

You can’t have a water meter removed if you’ve moved into a new property or if your area has changed to universal metering compulsory metering programmes that tackle water shortage. However, if you’ve requested an installation within the last year and realised it’s not right, you can usually change back. We recommend checking if your water supplier offers a trial period before you go ahead.

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


Camilla Sharman is a Staff Writer at Saga Exceptional. Camilla has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. 

It was when she started her family that her freelance career evolved. Having moved into a period house two days before her first son was born, she had the perfect opportunity to combine working from home with writing about her own house renovation projects. Apart from appearing on the cover of Your Home magazine, Camilla’s written for Ideal Homes, Real Homes, House Beautiful, and kitchen and bathroom business magazines.  

It was inevitable that her interest in all things homes would lead her to writing home interest features. As a young girl she had the earliest version of Pinterest – a scrap book full of home inspiration images cut from magazines.  

In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.  

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