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Get to Know Your Electrical Tester

While our mantra for most electrical work is–know when you know just enough to be dangerous (and then call a professional!)–there are plenty of small electrical projects around the house–from installing a ceiling fan to swapping out light plates–that you can do on your own. Having an electrical tester (or two) on hand is a good idea for even the simplest of these projects.

Types of Electrical Testers


Multimeter

Multimeter

As the name suggests, the multimeter can perform various functions like measuring voltage, current, resistance, diode testing, capacitance and more. The digital versions will give you exact number readouts. Multimeters have two test leads: red (positive) and black (neutral). They’re best for intermediate to advanced electrical DIYers who are fluent in the various functions; once you understand how to use one, it’s a real go-to for most situations you’ll run across. 

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Inductance Tester

Inductance Testers

Also known as non-contact voltage testers, the inductance tester is an essential for the DIY beginner. Safe and simple, the inductance tester allows you to check for an electrical volt without touching the wires themselves. It is a battery-operated tool that has a single button on it; you press the button as you get close to a wire or outlet and the tip of the tester will blink, vibrate and/or beep if it is a “hot” wire. We like using this as a final step before beginning work on an electrical source. Even if you think you’ve cut off all power to the source you’re working on, this tester gives you a final confirmation with no threat to your safety. Be sure to test an electrical source you know currently live beforehand to ensure the tester is working properly.

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Neon Tester (Lighted Circuit Contact Tester)

Neon Tester (Lighted Circuit Contact Tester)

Another tool that tells you whether a wire is live or not, though you do need to touch the wire to detect voltage (it won’t tell you how much voltage, however). This tester has a lightbulb and two test leads (one red, one black) and is not battery operated. 


Voltage Tester

Voltage Tester

Capable of testing both DC and VC voltage; as with many other tools, it has two leads; once these leads are connected to the power source, they will click or vibrate if there is voltage present. The louder or heavier the vibration, the more voltage is present. This tool is available in both a digital and analog version and does not require batteries.

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Continuity Tester

Continuity Tester

A straightforward tool that tells you whether an electrical circuit is open or closed–whether an electrical path is available between two points. To use a continuity tester, you always want to disconnect from the power source first (unlike many of these other tools). We like using it to identify short circuits or check on electrical appliances (rather than hardwiring). 

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Circuit Analyzers

Another basic tool that’s perfect for beginner DIYers. These plug right into an electrical outlet and can tell you if that particular outlet is grounded, reversed, open, or if it is simply live and functioning correctly. The readouts appear as neon lights on the base of the analyzer; each analyzer comes with its own “decoder” that explains the lights’ meaning.

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