Electrical testers and meters are diagnostic tools. They test different wire connect types. These tools let you determine if the wires you are working on are hot. Testers and meters can also verify if an electrical device is functioning. They can indicate if a receptacle is wired properly. Use this guide to learn about the most common types of electrical testers and meters. Find out the tests and measurements they’re designed to perform, so you can select the right tool.
Choosing the Best Electrical Tester
Voltage testers and receptacle analyzers detect the presence of electrical voltage. They can be used for cable, wires, circuit breakers, light fixtures, outlets and switches. Testers and analyzers indicate if power is off at an outlet or if a device is connected properly.
- Non-contact voltage testers are a go-to tool for all levels of electrical work. They provide a reading without the need to touch the wires. Non-contact voltage testers emit a sound or illuminate when voltage is detected. However, they don't provide a numerical reading of any current voltage.
- Electronic voltage testers measure alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). They give a numerical reading of the voltage present. Some electronic voltage testers also measure continuity.
- Receptacle analyzers plug into an outlet. They tell you whether that outlet is working properly and safely. Some analyzers test both GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets and standard outlets. Different lights will illuminate to show you when the outlet is working, grounded and wired correctly. The analyzer also identifies common wiring faults if the outlet is not wired correctly.
- Circuit breaker finders identify the circuit breaker that controls an outlet. They consist of two parts: a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is plugged into the outlet in question and the receiver is passed over the circuit breakers in the breaker panel. When the receiver passes over the correct breaker, it emits a sound or lights up. It is easy to know which circuit breaker to turn off before you work on an outlet. Some circuit breaker finders include a light socket adapter for finding the circuit breaker that controls a light fixture.
- Continuity testers determine if a light switch is malfunctioning. They measure whether an electrical circuit is open or closed. A light switch circuit is closed when the light is on. It is open when the light is off. Closed circuits have continuity and conduct electricity. Open circuits do not have continuity because they cannot conduct electricity.
Safety Tip: Be sure to turn off power to a circuit before performing a continuity test.
Selecting the Best Multimeter
Of the several meter types, a multimeter is the most budget-friendly. It performs several functions in one unit. Multimeters come with black and red lead testers attached to the ends of wires. These probes can be held against battery terminals or inserted into outlets for testing.
One multimeter can do the work of three tools. It can be a voltmeter that measures voltage or an ammeter that measures current. Or a multimeter can be an ohmmeter that measures resistance. Advanced multimeter models can also measure continuity, temperature and more.
- Digital multimeters display measurements as a number and offer the most reliable readings.
- Analog multimeters display measurements across a bar.
- Auto-ranging meters do not require you to manually set the expected voltage range.
- Professional multimeters can have backlit displays, work lights, high safety ratings and magnetic mounts.
- Clamp meters are used primarily to measure current. Some clamp meters measure voltage, temperature and more. Clamp meters make it easier to measure the current in an electrical conductor. A wire can be threaded through the clamp opening without having to disconnect the wire.
Understanding all the different types of testers and meters makes choosing the right one simpler. You can use an electrical tester to troubleshoot an outlet. Digital multimeters make readings easier to see. Continuity testers work best for lights. There’s a tester or meter for practically every situation or application. Need a meter or other electrical tool? The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.