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Plug-In Testers and Faulty Receptacle Outlet Readings

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

How to use a Plug in Tester for Outlets: Plug-In Tester Readings, Re-Wiring a Receptacle Outlet, How to Repair Outlet Electrical Wiring.

Plug-In Tester Shows an Outlet Problem

Electrical Question: Is the ground bus bar always located at the bottom of the panel box and the neutral bus bar always to the right?

  • My “Bull Head Tester” or circuit outlet analyzer is indicating that a defective receptacle I was trouble shooting needs the ground and neutral wires reversed.
  • All the neutral wires are on the bottom bus bar and the ground wires are all on the right bus bar.

This electrical repair question came from: Roy, a Inspector from Durham, North Carolina.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical repair question Roy.

How to Repair Outlet Electrical Wiring

Application: Troubleshooting and Repairing Outlet Problems.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best performed by a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools, Voltage Tester or Volt Ohm Meter or plug-in circuit analyzer.
Estimated Time: Depends on the age of the home and the condition of the electrical wiring and access to the circuit wiring to be evaluated.
Precaution: Identify the outlet circuit, turn it OFF and then Tag it with a Note before performing any wiring inspections or electrical repairs.

Re-Wiring a Receptacle Outlet

  • Not all ground and neutral terminal strips are in the same locations.
  • The layout of the electrical panel may be unique to the age and brand of the panel.

Plug-In Tester Readings

  • When a plug-in receptacle outlet tester indicates that an outlet is not wired correctly the problem is usually the wiring at the outlet and not at the electrical panel.
  • In fact the neutral and the ground wire should never be reversed in a sub-panel where the ground and neutrals are isolated and on their own terminal strip.


How to Test an Outlet Circuit

How to use a Plug in Tester and Circuit Analyzers for Testing Outlets

  • The circuit should positively identified and shut off. The wiring at the outlet should be inspected and corrected as needed. If the outlet wiring is correct and the plug-in tester shows a fault then there may be a problem somewhere else within the circuit wiring, such as another outlet box, switch box or a junction box.
  • Polarity testing of the affected circuit may be required and is best performed by a qualified licensed electrician who will be able to identify the problem and make the necessary repairs.

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