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Charlie Harley, #14153

Household electrical question...

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Our house turns 100 this year.  Along the way, the knob and tube was replaced with Romex, but the breaker box labeling leaves much to be desired in accuracy.

 

I could switch off each breaker, then go find which outlet or outlets de-energize.  Time consuming at best.

 

But what if I assembled a piece of #10 3-wire, installed a 120 volt plug on one end, and left the open ends of the black and white wires exposed?  Then took the device, inserted the plug into an outlet, and touched the ends to create a short and trip the breaker?  Then match the tripped breaker to an outlet.

 

The industrial safety guy in me says I’m nuts about having exposed energized wires.

 

The problem solver in me says to pay attention to the exposed energized wires, but let the breakers do their jobs and figure out the labeling.

 

Thoughts from the Saloon?

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Suppose you make the test device enclosed, no danger of you creating the short circuit. Then you still run the risk of your wiring being the point of failure and being a problem. On the other hand I’d prefer to be awake and alert to a possible problem than any of the alternatives.

 

you need an assistant to run around and plug things in as you shut off circuits.

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do you have access to a pair of those small walkie talkies you get in the camping section of Walmart?

 

If so, have someone plug a lamp or small electrical device into each outlet while you flip the breakers. Do the same with wall switches. Your accomplice can let you know when the outlet or switch is dead. 

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Your test will only show you one plug.

The breaker will trip on the one plug.

How ever, there will no doubt be others on the same circuit.

For plug outlets use a socket plug in light.

Turn all breakers of and turn only one on.

Then test all the plugs.

This will tell you which plugs are hot and which plugs are off.

Time consuming but accurate.

 

Now back to your short circuit method.

What if the breaker lags disconnecting?

You may end up with a fire in the walls with 100 year old wiring.

 

If you have a meter all the better.

 

 

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Plug a radio in, turn it up really loud.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Charlie Harley, #14153 said:

Our house turns 100 this year.  Along the way, the knob and tube was replaced with Romex, but the breaker box labeling leaves much to be desired in accuracy.

 

I could switch off each breaker, then go find which outlet or outlets de-energize.  Time consuming at best.

 

But what if I assembled a piece of #10 3-wire, installed a 120 volt plug on one end, and left the open ends of the black and white wires exposed?  Then took the device, inserted the plug into an outlet, and touched the ends to create a short and trip the breaker?  Then match the tripped breaker to an outlet.

 

The industrial safety guy in me says I’m nuts about having exposed energized wires.

 

The problem solver in me says to pay attention to the exposed energized wires, but let the breakers do their jobs and figure out the labeling.

 

Thoughts from the Saloon?

 

I can reasonably state that this a real bad idea. Unless you are an electrician, don't do it. 

 

There are many things to consider if you try this method of circuit tracing......

 

- Unless your circuit breaker panel is of high quality (Square D, ITE, or Cutler Hammer) DON'T DO IT. Many of the older panel maker's breakers won't trip and in fact, you could weld with them. If that's the case, you could start a fire or get electrocuted and start a fire.

 

- You could create a problem with the branch wiring in the receptacles (wall outlets). If the person that installed the receptacles in you house used the "quick connects" (holes on the back), the connection point on the stabbed in wire could be a week point in the circuit. This could result in a circuit that works only partially.

 

- The easiest and safest way is to turn all of the single breakers off.  Take a portable radio (electric) and turn to the most obnoious rap station that you can find, turn it up LOUD, go to a room/plug it in and turn on the breakers one at a time. When you hear the radio, you have the correct breaker. You can do the same thing with anything loud that you can set to come on whenever the power comes on.

 

Can't say that I haven't done things like this but I can also state that I am a 40++ year electrician and that's all "on the job" experience. 

 

If you have any questions, PM me with your # and good time to reach you.

Edited by Cypress Sun
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I agree that this is a bad idea, Charlie. 
 

Purposely shorting wires is a good way for all kinds of bad things to happen, like Cypress Sun said. Also, if you short a breaker and it does not work as intended you could burn your house down. That in itself should convince you to find a safer way to test breakers. 

 

That device Crooked River Pete posted is a great idea. Also a Klein circuit tester is an option. They sell them at Lowe’s and Home Depot. It involves footwork but...

 

Here is the one I have:

Klein Tools NCVT-1 Voltage Tester, Non-Contact Voltage Detector for AC Voltage, Low Battery Indicator and Auto Shutdown, Batteries Included https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001UAHZAM/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_eUZREbBGR9S08
 

I can tell you I paid a lot more for mine. 


Here is another tester I would trust:

Klein Tools ET310 AC Circuit Breaker Finder with Integrated GFCI Outlet Tester https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QNMCVWP/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_cTZREb89335QJ

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Borrow, buy or steal enough lamps to plug one into every outlet in the house, and turn them on.    In an old house, you may want to use 40 watt bulbs in them.       Then turn on all the lights.  Turn the breakers off one at a time, and see which lights go off, and mark the breakers accordingly.  

DO NOT BUILD A WIDDOW MAKER AND SHORT THE CIRCUITS.  YOU WILL BE SORRY.

 

Duffield

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5 hours ago, Crooked River Pete, SASS 43485 said:

This is the correct way to do things.

 

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5 hours ago, Charlie Harley, #14153 said:

Our house turns 100 this year.  Along the way, the knob and tube was replaced with Romex, but the breaker box labeling leaves much to be desired in accuracy.

 

I could switch off each breaker, then go find which outlet or outlets de-energize.  Time consuming at best.

 

But what if I assembled a piece of #10 3-wire, installed a 120 volt plug on one end, and left the open ends of the black and white wires exposed?  Then took the device, inserted the plug into an outlet, and touched the ends to create a short and trip the breaker?  Then match the tripped breaker to an outlet.

 

The industrial safety guy in me says I’m nuts about having exposed energized wires.

 

The problem solver in me says to pay attention to the exposed energized wires, but let the breakers do their jobs and figure out the labeling.

 

Thoughts from the Saloon?


You’re asking for it......they make fairly cheap circuit tracers.

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You forgot to say, "Hold my beer and watch this."

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Rather than the Amprobe test tool buy a universal circuit tracer that you can use to test landline phone wiring & deenergised wiring.  I bought one in 2003 when the structured media box (phone lines & CAT 5 Ethernet) in my new house weren't labeled.  It was well worth the money spent; because, I have had to use the circuit tracer twice to troubleshoot dead outlets in my 6 year old modular.  1st I lost the outlets in my living room & later the outside outlets on the living room side of the modular.  The subpanel feeds all circuits is located in one half of the house.  The break in the living room receptacles feeder is in the wiring between the panel & marriage line & the break in the outdoor receptacle circuit is between the outdoor GFCI receptacle on the panel half of house and the marriage line.    If I lived near Chandler AZ I'd visit the mfg. to determine where the likely location of the breaks are.  For safety reasons I abandoned the defective wiring by disconnecting & cutoff the wires at both ends.  Fortunately Churchill county requires a main disconnect on the outside of a dwelling unit; so, a 200A main breaker panel was installed by the contractor I hired to install the modular.  The panel had plenty of spaces for me to install 15A breakers for the purpose of bypassing the bad wiring.  Otherwise I would have had to fish wire from crawl space through the floor up to the panel.

P.S. knob & tube wiring is good wiring as long as no combustible material is touching the wire.  I wouldn't trust the asphalt impregnated cloth insulation.  Nor would I trust old Romex either.  There is a reason that electrical codes in the last several code cycles have required arc fault interrupters in dwelling units*.  The PVC insulation on the conductors breaks down over time due to temperature.  The Feds studied electrical house fires and found many were caused by arcing faults from deteriorated wire insulation.

*The 2019 code requires AFCI's for all interior 120V circuits.  Also GFCI's are required on 240V circuits feeding appliances regardless of amperage.  The reason for the change from just 120V 15A, 20Acircuits is because of a couple of kids being electrocuted retrieving things from behind cloths dryers that had ground faults.  Also all crawl spaces & attics with HVAC equipment have to have GFCI protected receptacles.

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A 110 volt plug hooked to a piece of cord and wired into a box with a switch to short the wires--BAD IDEA :( ( is your house insurance paid up?)

Circuit tracer---Good Idea :D

 

Anything worth doing should be done correctly and safely and you should take the time to do it right.:)

 

However, I have done electrical work for over 40 years and there was more than one time I should taken my own advice.:o:angry::rolleyes:

 

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42 minutes ago, Charlie Harley, #14153 said:

Thank you all for your thoughts. A circuit tracer it is. 

Good means you won’t be nominated for a Darwin Award just yet :D

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Howdy,

Remember if you take good notes you don't HAVE to do the whole

job at one time.

And just three guys will make the job way easier.

A few kids might find this really fun if you treat it as a 'Science Experiment'

and make a game out of it.

Best

CR

 

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5 hours ago, Charlie Harley, #14153 said:

Thank you all for your thoughts. A circuit tracer it is. 

 

Make a floor plan of your house. It doesn't have to have exact measurements of the house, just the rooms/walls, etc all marked on the plan. Mark the receptacles, switches, lights, ect in each room on the plan. The breakers in the panel should have numbers for them on the panel schedule, if not make your own panel schedule and breaker numbers. When you locate the breaker for the light/receptacle/etc, mark the breaker # next to the item on the plan. When you are finished tracing, store the panel schedule and plan in the panel cover using a plastic sleeve or bag for future reference. It takes a little more effort to do this but will be worth the time eventually.

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You can also put breaker # on back of cover plate.

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We use a tester here, non-contact type. Saves a lot of problems working on the outside post lamps. beeps and blinks if there's power.:blush:

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On-contact circuit tracer is probably the way to go.  But...if it were me, I'd call a licensed electrician.  Just sayin'

Stay well, Pard!

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