WHICH ELECTRICAL TESTER TELLS YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW?
There are at least eight different types of electrical testers, each with different uses and benefits. Some are meant to show several key performance indicators such as voltage, amperage or continuity, while some measure single factors like shorted or open circuits or improper wiring.
Understanding the tools available to you will help increase both efficiency and expertise on the job.
1. Non-Contact Voltage Tester/Inductance Tester: Best for detecting and measuring voltage.
This tester’s main function is to sense voltage in electrical wiring outlets, circuit breakers, lamp cords, light sockets and switches. Some higher-end versions of the inductance tester can also tell you how much voltage is present, but for the most accurate read on voltage, you’ll want to use a Solenoid Voltage Tester.
2. Neon Voltage Tester: Best for detecting voltage and testing for grounded outlets. Like an inductance tester, the neon voltage tester tells you whether voltage is present and is not made to show how much voltage is in a circuit. It can also verify whether an outlet is properly grounded. It’s easy to use but handle with caution! Touching either of the metal probes during use can cause a shock.
3. Plug-in Circuit Analyzer: Best for testing grounded outlets.
This is an easy-to-use tester that can tell you whether an outlet is wired correctly, reverse-wired, has an open circuit, or has a ground connection. A chart on the device tells you what the lights mean when it’s plugged in. They’re made for use on grounded outlets with three slots and can’t be used on two-slot outlets.
4. Continuity Tester: Best for testing circuit continuity.
Touch each end of a continuity tester at two points along an electrical path to see if you have a completed circuit. Depending on the model you have, you’ll either see lights or hear sounds that indicate success.
These do not test for voltage: they are meant to show whether an electrical path within an appliance is intact. Be sure to turn off the power to the circuit before using this tester.
5. Multimeter: Best for measuring multiple electrical values.
A multimeter is named for exactly what it does: multiple functions, including precise readings of resistance, AC and DC voltage, continuity, capacitance and frequency. There is a broad price range for multimeters, and thus a range in quality and accuracy. Because they perform the functions of most other types of electrical testers, they are generally more expensive.
6. Solenoid Voltage Tester: Best for measuring voltage and polarity.
Also known as a “wiggie,” a solenoid voltage tester measures voltage and polarity. With fewer functions and a less accurate reading of how much voltage is present, it is a less expensive option than a multimeter. It will often trip a GFCI device during testing: a bonus function that ensures the GFCI is also working properly.
7. Digital Clamp Meter: Best for measuring multiple electrical values.
This one is found more frequently in a professional’s toolkit than in your average homeowner’s. It functions like a multimeter with an added current sensor. It can test individual circuits within a circuit breaker panel. Because it has wire leads, it can also be used like a standard multimeter.
8. Wand Voltage Meter: Best for detecting and measuring voltage.
The wand voltage meter is also more commonly used by professional electricians than your typical DIY’er. It’s a numerical voltage tester whose electrostatic wands can detect and measure voltage by holding them close to wires or metal contacts.
So how do you know which one is right for you? If you work on a lot of electrical projects, chances are there is a time and a place for several of these tools. Choose the one that is meant for the work you are doing and avoid stretching the limits of a tool that’s not made for the job. If you have a choice between two tools with similar functions, go with the one whose output and readings provide the most value for your current skillset.