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Using a Circuit Tracer to Detect a Broken Electrical Wire

How to Locate Damaged Electrical Wiring: Electrical Wire Locators and Circuit Tracers, What to Do if Electrical Wiring has been Damaged Inside a Wall.


Circuit Tracers Can be Used to Locate Broken Electrical Wire

Electrical Question: I am looking to purchase a tool that will detect where a damaged or broken electrical wire is within a wall – for instance where someone hung a picture and hit an electrical wire which in turn would cause the breaker to trip.

  • I know there is such a tool because I remember one of the workers having one when I worked for a construction company.
  • Where can I get one and what is it called?

Thanks

This electrical tester question came from: Debra, a Handy-woman from New Port Richey, Florida.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical tester question Debra.

Electrical Wire Locators and Circuit Tracers

Application: Electrical Troubleshooting and Repairing a Damaged Electric Circuit.
Skill Level: Advanced – Best performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools, Voltage Tester or Volt Ohm Meter and a Circuit Tracer.
Estimated Time: Depends on the type and age of the home, the condition of the electric wiring, and the access to the circuits and wiring to be evaluated.
Precaution: Identify the affected circuit, turn it OFF and then Tag it with a Note before performing any wiring or inspections or electrical repairs. Electrical troubleshooting and repairs requires specific tests of the electrical circuits.
Notice: Repairs to Home Electrical Wiring should be made according to local and national electrical codes. Installing new or replacement electrical wiring may require a permit and inspections.

How to Locate Damaged Electrical Wiring

  • When a wire is shorted out or is broken inside a wall and you need to locate it then a electric circuit tracer should help to find the wire.
  • The price range for a circuit tracer does vary, however there are some fine Stud Sensors that have a built in feature that allows live circuits to be detected inside the wall behind sheet rock.
  • If your husband will be using the tester to detect non-energized wiring then that type of tester is a little more expensive.
  • Some brands of circuit tracers are Ideal, Greenlee and Amprobe to name just a few.
  • These types of circuit testers will be available at Lowe’s, Home Depot or a local electrical wholesale supply house.

What to Do if Electrical Wiring has been Damaged Inside a Wall

  • If you suspect that electrical wiring has been damaged when a nail or screw was used to hang something on a wall, then the circuit should be turned OFF, and the nail or screw should be removed and the hole should be marked so the wall can be opened up to allow the electrical wiring to be inspected and repaired as necessary.
  • Sections of damaged electrical circuit wiring should be replaced, or when possible an electrical splice may be made by installing an accessible electrical junction box and applying the proper electrical splice materials and methods for the specific circuit.

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2 Responses to “Using a Circuit Tracer to Detect a Broken Electrical Wire”
  1. steve benedick says:

    Hi, thanks for being here. My electric bill seems to be about twice what it should be and I’m wondering if I don’t have a line leaking to ground somewhere. I have 2 separate circuits that go outside underground to a garage and one to a light pole. The garage line has been in place at least 40 years that I know of and spliced once. The light pole is only about 30 years old but could have been hit on a couple occasions while digging nearby. I was thinking about getting a meter to clip on each circuit at the breaker box and narrowing it down by circuit and then by appliance or outlet. What meter would be best for this? Am I on the right trackin this thinking about losing power to ground? The house is about 120 years old but I think all wiring has been replaced. Thanks.

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Steve,
      Here are two methods of Electrical Circuit Testing that will reveal the condition of the circuit conductors.
      The circuits may be tested for Resistance using an Ohm meter, and tested for Load using a clamp on amperage meter. The results of each test must be evaluated according to the circuit wiring and the known connected loads. By performing an inspection of the circuit wiring, and factoring in the age, and the methods used during the installation you can almost determine what the test results may be. Abnormal electrical consumption or unusually high electric utility bills may be a sign of voltage leaks, which is bad in itself, but it also presents a great hazard with destructive capabilities, especially in moist conditions. Circuits that are thought to be damaged should be disconnected until they are properly repaired or replaced. Electrical circuit testing methods must be fully understood before proceeding. When working with electrical wiring there are risks involved which are escalated if the wiring is suspected to be damaged, therefore electrical wiring and electrical testing is best performed by a qualified electrician.
      I hope this helps with your circuit problems,
      Dave

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