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19 October 2020

What to expect from a smart-meter installation

We explain which companies are fitting smart meters and what happens during an installation visit.
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Sarah Ingrams

More than 20m smart meters are now fitted in homes. We tell you what you need to know if you haven’t had one installed yet, and how long they’re expected to last.

You don't have to accept a smart meter if you don't want one. However, second-generation meters don’t have the problems you might have heard about with their first-generation cousins.

Energy companies should all now be installing second-generation smart meters, although it’s worth double-checking that’s what you’ll get before you agree to an installation appointment.

Keep reading to find out what happens during a smart-meter installation, or find out more about smart meters first. If you have a first-generation smart meter and are concerned it may stop working, read our page on smart meter problems and how to solve them

How can I get a smart meter?

Your energy company will get in touch to arrange a suitable time and date to fit your smart meter. Alternatively, you can contact it to arrange an appointment. Most energy companies will make an appointment in advance, so in the unlikely event that someone knocks at your door to make a smart-meter appointment, ask to see official ID to ensure they’re not a rogue trader trying to scam you. 

The installation itself will be carried out by a trained installer from the energy company, or a company working for it. You will need to be at home during the installation appointment.

British Gas estimates that a typical installation will take around 1.5 hours – but it will differ from property to property, and depend on where your current meters are located.

As part of the installation, you'll be given an in-home display (IHD). This is a handheld digital device which shows how much electricity and gas you’re using, in real time, and how much it’s costing. The installer should show you how to use this. You may also be able to see your energy use via your online account or app.

Your energy company should also give you advice on saving energy in your home, and how to use your smart meter to do this. There's a code of conduct that smart-meter installers are required to follow, which forbids them from trying to sell you other products while they’re installing your smart meter.

You'll get two smart meters – one for gas and one for electricity (or just one for electricity if you don't have mains gas). The smart gas meters are slightly smaller than current gas meters, but you may find that your electricity smart meter is slightly bigger than the old-style meter you have now.

If you don’t want a smart meter installed, know your rights. You're not obliged to have one, and can ask your supplier to replace your old meter with a smart meter that has its communications switched off.

Before the installation

Before your smart meter is installed, your energy firm should tell you:

  • what to expect
  • how long the installation will take
  • if there's anything you need to do before the installation can happen (eg clear out the cupboard containing your meter, or get access to the main fuse switch for electricity. In flats this can sometimes be behind a locked door, so you’d need to arrange access with the building manager).

If you know that there’s something unusual about your home or meters, tell your energy company when you make the appointment, or at least several days in advance of your installation appointment.

This will help to reduce the likelihood that the installation can't go ahead because of something the installer needed to know. Things it’s worth telling your energy company about include:

  • if you have solar panels or generate renewable electricity another way
  • if your gas and electricity meters are very far apart (they need to ‘talk’ to each other, which might require a special communications hub if this is a long distance)
  • if your meters are inaccessible (for example high up on a wall, behind a locked door or gate, in a very small cupboard)
  • if you currently have a multi-rate meter (for example Economy 7, Economy 10, a grey or white meter, or any meter that directly controls your central heating)
  • if you know your area has poor signal. Your energy firm may be able to check in advance if smart meters will be able to connect to the smart meter wide area network.

During the installation

When the engineer arrives, they will usually do a visual inspection of your boiler and other gas appliances to check they are working properly.

They will take final meter readings from your old meters before removing them – this makes sure your account is up to date. You can note down the readings yourself, too, for extra peace of mind.

During the installation, the electricity and gas will need to be switched off for around half an hour. The engineer will let you know when they are going to do this.

After fitting your smart meters, the engineer will check your gas supply by turning your gas back on and relighting any pilot lights in your boiler. If you have any mains-connected alarms, check that they're working correctly.

They will also do a test with a plug socket to check that things are working as they should be.

The engineer should also give you advice on saving energy in your home, and show you how to use your in-home display.

Safety problems found by smart-meter installers

During the installation, engineers sometimes identify potential problems unrelated to your smart meter, such as defective wiring, equipment that is very old, broken fuses or faulty boilers. In 2017 and 2018, around 635,000 problems were identified by engineers fitting smart meters, according to Smart Energy GB.

If a problem is found, the installer’s priority is to make it safe. Some problems might mean it’s not appropriate to install smart meters. If so, the installer will explain why, and tell you what work needs to be done (by you, your energy company or network operator).

How often will my smart meter need to be replaced?

Smart meters will need replacing around every 10 years – which is more often than current gas and electricity meters. Your energy company will let you know when your smart meter is due to be replaced, and arrange a time and date for this to happen.

Your gas meter is battery-powered so, like traditional prepayment meters, will need to have its battery replaced when it goes flat. It should send a notification to your supplier when it needs replacing, but if you’re concerned, contact your energy firm. Electricity smart meters are mains-powered.

In-home displays can be either mains or battery-powered. If yours stops working, it won’t affect your smart meter.

Want to pay less for energy? Use our independent switching service, Which? Switch to find the cheapest energy deal.