Electrical Testing Tools

Shown below are four electrical testing tools that you should have in your electrical tool kit, toolbox or tool drawer.

With these four, plus a screwdriver, you’ll be able to test and replace light fixtures, outlets, switches or most anything else electric.

I should mention, they’re also inexpensive (a few dollars each) and easy to use.

A pocket voltage tester, or voltage detector (left), is the simplest tool. It looks like a fat ball point pen and they’re made with and without an on/off switch. Those without switches are the easiest to use, as you just take it out of your pocket and touch a wire, a wall outlet or anything else.

Some are “non-contact” testers, which means they only need to be close to electricity to sound off. If there’s current flowing, the light comes on and it “chirps” or buzzes. With these you simply touch the plastic wall plate, the outside of an extension cord, etc. Some determine voltage strength. Get one that goes to 500 volts or higher.

The most common electrical testing tool is a two wire voltage tester (right), also known as “two wire probe tester” or a “neon tester”, because of its neon bulb that lights up when electricity is passed through. Push the two probes in the hot and neutralslots of an outlet and if the light glows, its hot (live).

You can also check any 110 volt connection by touching one probe to a ground, meaning the white wire, a ground screw or the neutral connection of a plug or outlet and the other to a hot wire, meaning the black or red. Remember to touch known live wires first to make sure it works before trusting it.A GFCI, or ground fault circuit interrupter, tester (left) is an electrical testing tool that shows whether an outlet is wired properly and indicates whether its live just by plugging it in. GFCI outlets are required by code for kitchens, baths and outdoors to eliminate electrocution around any water source.

GFCIs trip an internal breaker the instant it senses a short. Plugging in the electric skillet while turning on the water could be a verydangerous thing if not for these.

Wire cutter/strippers (right) are not exactly one of the electrical testing tools, but are a valuable aid, an electrical repair tool and they eliminate the “whittling” some people do with their pocket knife to strip electric wires and the blade destroying, whacking some do to cut the metal wire.

For any homeowner who plans to replace, remodel or repair anything electric as part of their remodeling, this is the tool. With it you’ll be able to cut, strip, loop, twist, crimp and pinch wires to look like a professional did it!

Speaking of professionals, in many jurisdictions a professional electrician isrequired by code to perform certain jobs. See GETTING AN ELECTRICAL PERMIT and search electrical permit your town (ie. electrical permit dallas tx) to find the building department closest to you.


The first thing—before starting any electrical repairs or projects—is knowing which circuit breaker goes where. You need to make sure that the circuit breaker supplying the area you’ll be working in is flipped to off (there are electrical testing tools for that, too).

By code, all that information is on a sheet affixed to the Service Panel (sometimes called a breaker box) door. If you don’t know where it is, put down the mouse and go find it. Better to look for it now than in an emergency.

And, know where to turn off the main circuit breaker, typically located at the top center of the service panel. There are tools designed to show the exact breaker that feeds the outlet or area you’ll be working on, called circuit breaker finders (right).

These are two-part tools. One plugs into the outlet, the other is held at the service panel. Look for these at the big boxes or hardware stores or searchbreaker finder using the Bing Search Box on the right of this page ->.

Otherwise, plug a light or lamp into the area or outlet you’ll be working on and have someone stand where you can hear them and they can see the light. Start flipping off and then on—one at a time—the breakers.

You won’t have to do this very many times if your breaker listing sheet is accurate. When you flip the one off that services the light, your partner will yell “Its off!” Just don’t flip it back on until you’re finished working. Hey … an electrical testing tool you already have!

… for any questions, concerns or problems on a remodeling or landscaping project, just click the carpenter’s pencil above. We’ll get back to you within 48 hours with solutions or advice on where to get solutions.
We never charge for help or advice!.

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Updated: September 27, 2013 — 11:57 am

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