Circuit tracer can be used to detect and identify problems in electrical circuits both internally and externally. They are versatile instruments and allow you to locate wires and cables. This is especially useful when these wires are set up in a group or there are several ones in the same connection. A circuit tracer will make life easier for you to identify specific wires, connections and their location, whilst ensuring tidier connectivity.
It is of course crucial that when using a circuit tracer that you follow the standard for safe work practices to identify the breaker that protects the circuit under test, so that it can be labeled in the panel or tripped to de-energize a circuit. If in doubt always seek professional help.
Use case scenarios for using a circuit tracer
Below we have listed several use case scenarios for using a curcuit locator / tester.
Use the following test setup connect the transmitter to the circuit:
- Using the AC outlet adapter and power it on, turn on the receiver and verify a strong signal is present at the transmitter.
- Go to the breaker panel.
- If multiple panels exist set the receiver to search high and touch it to each panel cover until you identify the strongest signal.
- Open this panel cover to find the correct breaker inside then set the receiver to breaker mode.
- Hold the receiver on its side to orient the antenna properly and slide the nose down each breaker and note the highest numeric value. This is the correct breaker.
- On rare occasions where breakers are showing the same value, tip the nose of the receiver at 45-degree angles on each questionable breaker.
- When you do this only the correct breaker will show a strong signal in all three positions.
- When the breaker is tripped the signal will drop significantly and the energized indicator on the RC receiver will dim as the transmitter confirms that it no longer senses power on the circuit.
How to use a Circuit Tracer
This application method can be used to find the locations of cable runs and identify other devices and loads on the circuit.
- Make sure that a closed loop is utilized to maximize the transmitter’s signal power on the transmitter and the receiver.
- Starting several feet from the transmitter use a sweeping motion and the back of the receiver to find the strongest signal indication.
- To narrow the location of the wire being traced reduce the sensitivity mode and continue to trace the highest signal to the end of the circuit.
- If the signal produced is difficult to trace use a remote return path to maximize the signal to create the remote return path.
- To do this plug one lead into the circuit to be traced then use the 25-foot remote lead to plug into a remote return path, such as a neutral in a different circuit.
- With the remote return path the signal is much stronger since the receiver is pegging broadly at 99.
- Reduce the sensitivity mode on the receiver to find the wire and continue tracing.
Use this method to locate dead circuits or the end of a run as well as to find the source of an open such as a broken point in a hot neutral or ground conductor.
To find the location of an open:
- Connect the transmitter to the circuit being traced by clipping onto the neutral bar with one lead to serve as a remote return path and to the hot conductor to be traced with the other lead.
- Power on the transmitter and receiver and verify a strong signal exists.
- Trace the circuit from the panel using the back of the receiver and a sweeping motion to track the strongest signal. Continue, following the highest reading, until the signal falls off.
- This is the location of the open.
- Reduce the sensitivity range and use the nose to pinpoint the exact location of the open.
Use this method to locate ground faults and dead shorts that cause breakers tripping fuses blowing and current leaking on the ground conductor.
- Connect the transmitter to the shorted circuit by clipping one lead to the faulted hot conductor and the other lead to ground.
- Power on the transmitter and receiver and ensure a strong signal exists.
- Start tracing from the panel and continue following the highest reading until the signal starts falling off, this is the point of the fault.
- Where the signal flows to ground reduce the sensitivity range to pinpoint the source of the fault.
Although these circuit racers are not intended to be underground cable locators they can be used to trace cables in some environments.
- Start by connecting the transmitter to the circuit to be traced clip one lead to the cable and power on the transmitter clip the other lead to a remote return path.
- To maximize the signal turn on the receiver and verify a strong signal exists use a sweeping motion in the back of the receiver.
- To find the strongest signal underground continue following the highest reading until the end of the circuit is found,
Circuit tracers can also be used to trace and sort coax twisted-pair cat5 cable telephone and alarm wire.
To sort coax cable:
- Connect one lead from the transmitter to the coax connector and the other lead to a remote ground path.
- Turn on the receiver and verify a strong signal exists.
- Proceed to the cable bundle to be sorted
- Using the receivers nose touch the end to each cable in the bundle the one with the strongest signal is the correct cable to be terminated.
The inductive clamp can be used in place of the transmitter to identify downstream loads from a breaker trace wires, conduit and underground cable.
To identify loads downstream from a breaker:
- Remove the panel cover and hang the battery pack on the panel door,
- Then, plug the clamp into the pack and clamp around the hot wire of the energized circuit on which the loads are to be identified.
- Power on the receiver and trace the circuit to the end of the run identifying all of the outlets and loads connected to it.
Under optimal conditions the clamp can be used to trace cable outdoors.
Hang the battery pack from the steel pole then plug the clamp into the battery pack and clamp onto the cable to be traced.
Then power on the receiver and find the strongest signal location continue to follow the signal to trace the cable run.
I’ve been involved in the welding industry for over twenty years. I trained in various engineering shops working on various projects from small fabrication and repairs through to industrial projects.I specialize in welding aluminum and food grade stainless steel and an now run an engineering shop fabricating equipment for the food industry.