How to Use a Circuit Breaker Finder

Circuit breaker finders and tracers are useful tools for saving time, identifying circuits, or mapping systems and conduit. They’re valuable for homeowners, renovators, electricians and contractors, and anyone working on construction or electrical systems – particularly within older buildings. Here’s an overview of what these devices are, how they work, and how to use them:

How To Use a Circuit Breaker Finder

What is a Circuit Breaker Finder? 

Before we move forward, it’s important to highlight the difference between circuit tracers and circuit finders. “Finders” are excellent for identifying the correct breaker corresponding to a circuit you want to work on. These are especially useful in older homes and buildings with poorly-labeled breaker panel boxes (or those with no labels at all).

On the other hand, a circuit breaker tracer can function on both de-energized and live circuits, detects and traces a circuit pathway, finds electrical shorts, and more. These are more sophisticated tools which have a significantly larger number of applications.  

A finder consists of a receiver and a transmitter, which work together to help you identify the right breaker quickly and accurately.

How Does a Circuit Breaker Finder Work?

Essentially, finders draw current from live circuits to identify breakers, and have relatively low sensitivity compared to their tracer relatives (as their functionality doesn’t require a great deal of sensitivity). There are different types of finders, including those that work for light fixtures by using a screw-in adapter.

Basic steps for using a finder include:

  • Identify an outlet on the circuit you want to work on.
  • Plug in the transmitter. If a light illuminates on the transmitter, you know the circuit is live.
  • Hold the receiver near the transmitter at maximum sensitivity.
  • Decrease the sensitivity until the transmitter’s light begins to blink rapidly.
  • Leaving the transmitter plugged in, take the receiver to the circuit breaker.
  • At low sensitivity, guide the receiver across all the circuit breakers.
  • Once the receiver beeps at one (and only one) breaker, flip that breaker switch.
  • Ensure that the receiver is no longer beeping at any of the remaining breakers, and that the transmitter’s light has turned off.

For extra security, you can always try to plug in a small appliance or device to ensure that the power is off. If you are unsure, repeat the process, or call an electrician.

Why Would a Finder Not Work Properly?

In some cases, you may not be able to identify the correct breaker using a finder. While this may be due to the finder itself, it may also be a red flag for a bigger issue. One such scenario may be where a single outlet is wired to multiple breakers – this warrants an electrical evaluation, as this is not a safe configuration.

If you cannot successfully identify a circuit using a finder, or you’re not absolutely sure the power is off on a circuit you want to work on, it’s time to call in the pros. Not only could the circuit be live, but you could have additional issues with your circuit breakers or panel that need urgent attention.

If you discover you need replacements or additional parts for your project, we’ve got you covered. At Circuit Breaker Wholesale, we’ll quickly match you to any and all electrical components you need, including new and used circuit breakers, panel accessories, and more to help you complete your project on-time – without hours or days of searching for parts online. For more information, contact us today!

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