How to Trace Wires with Electrical Testers

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

How can I Trace Wires Inside a Wall to find out where the power is coming from? How to Test Outlet Wiring using Non Contact Voltage Testers, Testing for Broken Wires.

Trace Electrical Wires

Electrical Question: How can I trace wires inside a wall to find out where the power is coming from?

  • I have a home that was built in 1965, a room was added in early 80’s.
  • I currently have three outlets in the add on room that are dead.
  • All of the circuit breakers are hot. There are no tripped breakers, 126volt output at each breaker.
  • I have good continuity between the three dead outlets.
  • I have checked in the attic and the only wire that is not hot is the one that connects two of the dead outlets together.
  • The common and ground side of all three has good continuity back to the breaker box.
  • Is there a way of tracing wires inside a wall to figure out where the power should be coming from, or where the break in the hot side of the circuit might be?

This electrical wiring question came from: Bill, a Handyman from Copperas Cove, Texas.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Bill.

How to Trace Electrical Wiring

electrical testers





Application: Troubleshooting and Repairing Outlet Wiring 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 inspected, evaluated and repaired.
Precaution: Identify the outlet circuit at the electric panel, turn it OFF and then Tag it with a Note before performing any wiring inspections or electrical repairs.

Testers for Tracing Electrical Wires

Testing Electrical Wiring for an Outlet Circuit

  • Troubleshooting an Outlet Circuit
    • The tester described below may be helpful, however I would continue to troubleshoot the outlet circuit.
  • Inspecting Outlet Wiring
    • Remove each outlet and inspect the electrical connections and splices, starting with the outlet closest to the circuit breaker panel.

Tracing Wires with Electrical Testers

Types of Electrical Testers and How to Use Them

  • Electrical Wire Testers
    • There are a many great testers that can be used to identify wiring problems.
  • Non-Contact Voltage Testers
    • One type of tester I would recommend is the Non-Contact Voltage Detector which can be used to detect voltage in outlets, lighting fixtures, wires and cables.
  • Testing for Broken Wires
    • This non contact tester can also find breaks in electric wires, and helps to identify the hot and neutral conductors.
  • Replacing Damaged Parts
    • If an outlet or the electrical wiring is found to be damaged then repairs and replacement parts should be obtained with the same voltage and amperage rating.
  • Repairing burnt Electrical Wiring
    • Burnt or damaged electrical wiring and circuit components should be replaced with new electrical materials of the same voltage and amperage rating, electrical wire type and size.

More about Electrical Testers

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Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all projects.


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