The 10 Best Circuit Breaker Locators
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in June of 2015. For busy electrical contractors, especially solo operators who work without an apprentice, circuit breaker locators are smart devices that can save valuable time on the job, whenever you need to de-energize some equipment for servicing. Our picks for this category include basic models that are suitable for 120-volt work, all the way up to top-end tools that can take on 600-volt systems. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
November 23, 2020:
It ended up being quite a busy round of updates, omitting some of our previous consumer-level picks to make room for new professional-grade options, and replacing some of our previous professional-grade choices with better options or kits offered by the same company.
Recognizing that the Triplett Sniff-It 9650, Klein Tools ET300 and Hi-Tech HTP-6 appeared to essentially be rebranded versions of the same gadget, we decided to let the Sniff-It 9650 maintain its position, while we replaced the ET300 with the Klein Tools ET310 and eliminated the HTP-6.
The ET310 separates itself from the ET300 with improved ergonomics for its receiver, a built-in GFCI outlet tester for its transmitter and a convenient docking design that makes it easy to attach the two components for storage. All of these are nice touches for a reasonably priced device, but it should be noted that the ET310 is still a 120-volt, CAT II instrument that is not designed for heavy industrial use. So, for the casual user, by all means, buy it, use it and enjoy it. But for serious electricians, don’t let the Klein name fool you into assuming that this is a heavy-duty unit. It’s not.
We eliminated the Extech 40180 – a tone generator and amplifier that I thought wasn’t quite the right fit for this list – but decided to continue ranking the Extech CB10 — a basic model that sets itself apart from comparably priced devices with a helpful sensitivity-adjustment wheel. We are, however, now listing the Extech CB10-Kit, which, in addition to the CB10, includes a non-contact voltage detector, continuity tester and zippered storage case.
There is a considerable jump in price between the bare tool and the kit, so you might still be interested in rolling with the former if you’re shopping on a budget, but I’m personally loathed to order a test instrument without a storage case, and it seems likely that the additional devices included might come in handy for a user who’s just beginning to build up a collection of testing and metering equipment, so why not make sure that our list includes the best version of the offering that’s available?
We also replaced the Ideal Industries 61-534 with the Ideal Industries SureTrace 61-959 — an expensive kit that shot right to the top of our list, thanks to a laundry list of impressive features that include a 600-volt rating and a numerical readout for signal strength that takes much of the guesswork out of operating the device.
Our other new additions this time around are the Sperry Instruments CS61200P — a good consumer-level choice with magnetic backing that makes it easy to temporarily mount it to an electrical cabinet; and the Greenlee CS-8000 — which sports a limited lifetime warranty, four-mile transmitter range and a color LCD. Following the sale of Greenlee Communications to Tempo Communications in 2019, it’s unclear whether this offering will be rebranded as a Tempo tool sometime in the future, but for now it seems to still be available.
August 28, 2019:
Sensitivity is a key factors to look at when choosing a circuit breaker locator. The type of job you're doing and how accurately you need to pinpoint a breaker will largely determine which device to buy. Those who are dealing with multiple circuit panels and really just want to narrow down the field to a few breakers can get by with a locator on the cheaper end, such as the Southwire Tools & Equipment 41210S.
However, those who can't risk flipping the wrong breaker and cutting off power to a vital part of a building should opt for something more accurate. A good choice in that situation would be the Ideal 61-534, which is used by many electricians but is also attainable for DIYers because of its mid-range price point.
While the Ideal is a great bang for your buck, it was overtaken by the Extech CB10 in our last update. On top of having superb accuracy, the Extech also has adjustable sensitivity, a nice feature for anyone working in both residential and industrial environments, where voltages might vary.
Why Circuit Breakers Matter
Circuit breakers can shut off power in a house when the electrical current is too strong, causing devices to send out sparks and potentially hurt people.
To understand circuit breakers, it’s first important to learn how electricity works in a home. When electricians discuss electricity, they’ll often refer to the voltage, the current and the resistance. The voltage, which is typically listed on items like power tools, is the amount of pressure that mobilizes an electrical charge. The current refers to the speed of that charge. The charge moves through a conductor, which provides a certain amount of resistance, slowing the electricity down. Each of these elements directly affects the other, as seen by the equation I=v/r (current equals voltage divided by resistance). Altering one will always alter the other two.
When a person is electrocuted and admitted to the hospital, the doctor might ask what the voltage of the tool or device was that hurt the individual. That is because a higher voltage can mean a more dangerous injury. Voltages for different appliances vary depending on the country and the adapter. With the dangers of electricity in mind, one can begin to understand the need for a circuit breaker. Circuit breakers can shut off power in a house when the electrical current is too strong, causing devices to send out sparks and potentially hurt people. Circuit breakers can also help prevent electrical-related accidents.
One can usually find a control panel for a circuit breaker, which is connected to a complex network of wires throughout the home. Damaging those wires can be very dangerous, but since they cannot be seen through the wall, people need circuit breaker locators to find them. Anytime people perform renovations in their home and need to break through a wall, it’s essential that they use a circuit breaker locator to make sure they don’t accidentally send a hammer or power tool through a wire.
Features Of A Circuit Breaker Locator
Some circuit breaker locators can find additional important items behind walls, like phone and computer network cables. Damaging these can lead to extremely expensive repairs, and leave a home without Internet and working telephones for days. Some models can even find ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which are devices that turn off power if they suspect an electrical current is running through something it shouldn’t be, such as water. These are critical to the safety of a home and shouldn’t be damaged.
Sometimes wires run under the ground or floor boards, which is why homeowners might want a circuit breaker locator that can detect electrical currents through several common types of walls. In some homes, the electrical wiring is several feet behind the wall, or sits under a thick material. People dealing with these conditions should use a circuit breaker locator that is extremely sensitive and can pick up a current that’s far away, or covered by several feet of building material.
For those who struggle to interpret the screens on circuit breaker locators, a model that beeps and flashes when it finds a current can be incredibly useful. If one needs a locator for residential and commercial use, they should get one with sensitivity adjustment, since these two types of buildings can have drastically different voltages running through their wires.
Common Household Electrical Troubles
People in older homes might notice that their lights occasionally become dim, and then bright again, even though they are not manually adjusting their output. This could be a sign that the neutral conductor is poorly connected, causing voltage changes that result in lights becoming darker and brighter, or flickering. An electrician can determine how loose the conductor is and what has to be done. They may need to remove the conductor entirely, re-strip it and reinstall it.
Many people have had the experience of turning on several appliances in the house at one time and causing the power to go out completely.
Anyone who uses a blow dryer has probably noticed that there are two buttons on the outside of the plug that read “Reset” and “Test.” These act as circuit breakers. When a person is done using the blow dryer but has left it plugged in, the reset button will pop out, making it so the appliance is no longer pulling electrical current from the wall. This can prevent electrical surges and injury to the user. A person has to press the reset button in order to use their blow dryer again. This shouldn’t be considered a nuisance, but rather a safety precaution taken by the manufacturer.
Electrical overload is another common and dangerous electrical problem in homes. Many people have had the experience of turning on several appliances in the house at one time and causing the power to go out completely. These incidents are not only annoying but can be hazardous so it's important that people try to avoid them. There are two types of circuits in most homes; dedicated and general.
Dedicated circuits deliver power to demanding appliances like garbage disposals, whereas general ones service multiple outlets around the home, powering what are known as vampire appliances. If they are overloaded, they can cause a whole-house outage.