While a circuit breaker finder isn’t one of the most common tools in a DIYer’s arsenal, it can be an essential one for such home upgrades as installing a new light switch, updating an outlet, or changing a light fixture. A circuit breaker finder helps to accurately determine the circuit breaker that’s connected to each light or outlet, so you can safely turn off the breaker to eliminate the risk of electric shock while adding that dimmer switch or installing a new ceiling fan.
These handy devices include a transmitter that plugs into a power outlet or a light receptacle and a receiver that scans the circuit breaker box. The transmitter sends a tone through the circuit, allowing the receiver to identify the corresponding breaker. Some circuit breaker finders also can identify wiring problems in GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets often found in kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoor areas.
This guide shares many of the essential features to consider when shopping for the best circuit breaker finder and some of the top models on the market for DIYers and professionals.
- BEST OVERALL: Klein Tools ET310 AC Circuit Breaker Finder
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Amprobe BT-120 Circuit Breaker Tracer
- UPGRADE PICK: Ideal Industries – 61-534 Digital Circuit Breaker
- BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: Extech – 1218G94EA CB10 Circuit Breaker Finder
- BEST LONG RANGE: Klein Tools ET300 Circuit Breaker Finder
- BEST SET: Sperry Instruments CS61200P Circuit Breaker Finder
- BEST HIGH-CAPACITY: Zircon Circuit Breaker Finder, 277VAC
- BEST EASE OF USE: VersativTECH 3-in-1 Circuit Breaker Finder Multitool
- BEST VERSATILE: Southwire Circuit Breaker, Finder 41210S
- BEST AUTOMATIC: Hi-Tech HTP-6 Digital Circuit Breaker Identifier
Types of Circuit Breaker Finders
Circuit breaker finders work by transmitting a tone through an electrical outlet picked up by a receiver at the circuit breaker box. The accuracy of a receiver’s signal detection depends on its sensitivity. While automatic circuit breaker finders offer the convenience of auto-adjusting for sensitivity, manual units allow the user to fine-tune the sensitivity.
An automatic circuit breaker has a built-in microprocessor that automatically sets the unit’s sensitivity by running the receiver over the electrical panel once or twice. A circuit breaker finder that can calibrate itself automatically will set the sensitivity to the optimal level, which helps prevent false positives from adjacent circuits that are also putting off tones. An automatic circuit breaker finder eliminates the need to manually set the sensitivity, which can be difficult for those new to using a circuit breaker finder.
Manual circuit breakers include a dial that allows the user to fine-tune the circuit breaker finder’s sensitivity to improve its accuracy. This setting is helpful for those living in densely populated areas where a lower sensitivity is needed to avoid interference from signals from other sources. Manual controls are more ideal for professional electricians who are accustomed to using a circuit breaker finder.
What to Consider When Buying the Best Circuit Breaker Finder
Like most projects around a home, working with circuits requires the right tools. A circuit breaker finder’s ability to work with outlets or light fixtures and its GFCI testing capability are important factors to consider when shopping for one of these tools. Ahead, learn more about these and other crucial factors to consider when shopping for a circuit breaker finder.
Since circuit breaker finders work with live electrical currents, they have the potential to be hazardous. These products require the user to insert the transmitter into a live electrical outlet. A poorly made product can damage the electrical circuit or cause an electric shock.
To ensure the product is safe, only use circuit breaker finders that have a UL certification. Consumer products with a UL certificate have been certified by Underwriters Laboratories, an organization that has been certifying the safety of new technologies for consumer use since the late 1800s. Look for the UL trademark on the product.
GFCI Testing Capability
Circuit breaker finders can do more than find which circuit goes with each light fixture or outlet. They also can tell if a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet is working correctly by reporting the wiring condition of the circuit.
GFCI outlets have built-in breakers that interrupt the circuit should the outlet experience a ground fault to prevent an electric shock. A GFCI outlet has two small buttons between the two three-prong inputs labeled “test” and “reset,” which test the operation of the built-in breaker and reset it if the breaker trips. GFCI outlets work faster than the circuit breaker in the breaker box to cut off the flow of electricity, so they serve as an essential safety feature.
Since a ground fault can occur if water splashes the circuit, most outlets in bathrooms and kitchens or on the exterior of the home have a GFCI outlet. A single GFCI outlet will typically control multiple outlets in a room. Circuit breaker finders that can identify GFCI wiring issues use two or three colored LED lights to indicate if the circuit wiring is faulty or not.
A circuit breaker finder works by using a receiver that communicates with a transmitter. The receiver plugs into an outlet and sends a signal through the wire to the breaker box. By identifying that frequency, the circuit breaker finder can locate the correct breaker for the outlet, switch, or receptacle. For this to work, the receiver needs to differentiate the transmitter’s frequency from other frequencies traveling up and down a home’s electrical lines. This is where the sensitivity of a circuit breaker finder comes into play.
A receiver working at a higher sensitivity can more easily pick up the signal sent by the transmitter. However, it may also pick up signals from other circuits or even electromagnetic waves emitted by other electronics, which can cause false positives. Lowering the sensitivity can allow the receiver to more easily differentiate the signal put out by the transmitter from other signals. Automatic circuit breaker finders will set this sensitivity to the optimal level automatically, while manual models require the user to adjust the sensitivity via a dial.
Circuit breaker finders have a voltage maximum. Most circuit breaker finders for homes will work on standard 120-volt circuits. This covers most of a house’s circuits except for those that handle larger appliances, such as clothes dryers that use 220-volt circuits.
Circuit breaker finders designed for use in industrial settings have voltage maximums that reach 270 volts or more to work with high-voltage circuits. A circuit breaker with a maximum 120-volt is sufficient for most homes, while professional electricians may require a circuit breaker with a higher voltage capacity.
Maximum Interrupting Capacity
When figuring out the circuit breakers in a home, it’s important to know the maximum interrupting capacity of the circuits. It’s the maximum amount of fault current that a circuit breaker can interrupt without failing. For example, a standard 15-amp circuit breaker can handle up to 1,800 watts before tripping the breaker. A 20-amp breaker can handle up to 2,400 watts before it trips.
To determine how much load is on a breaker, add up the wattage of all the electric devices plugged into one circuit. The total should not exceed the max interrupting capacity of the breaker. For example, a 15-amp circuit can handle a 1,500-watt space heater and 150-watt 50-inch LCD TV (1,650 watts total) without tripping the breaker. By cutting off power, a breaker prevents a circuit from overheating and causing a fire.
Tips for Buying and Using the Best Circuit Breaker Finders
When shopping for the best circuit breaker finder for a home, it’s essential to consider a few tips that will help find the right model for your home’s electrical system.
- Make sure it meets the maximum power requirements. For most home use, a circuit breaker finder with a maximum voltage of 120 volts is sufficient. Identifying circuits in an industrial setting may require a circuit breaker finder with a higher maximum voltage of 270 volts.
- Buy a model that is easy to calibrate. Circuit breaker finders are supposed to make the process of matching outlets and light fixtures to circuit breakers fast and easy. If you are new to using a circuit breaker finder, choose one that will automatically calibrate to the circuit breaker box, which saves time by eliminating the need to accomplish this task manually.
- Purchase a model that can test GFCI circuits. Most circuit breakers have transmitters that will identify wiring problems in GFCI circuits, in addition to helping match outlets to circuit breakers. This additional function can help catch potential electric shock hazards in a home before an accident happens.
- Consider any needed adapters. Most circuit breaker finders work with three-prong outlets. If you’re trying to label all the circuits in a circuit box, this won’t be enough. Look for models that either include adapters for testing light bulb sockets and two-prong outlets (if you live in an older home) or tools that are compatible with adapter kits as accessories.
Our Top Picks
The list below takes into account the above considerations to whittle down the field to some of the best circuit breaker finders on the market. Any of the products below will help match the electrical receptacles in your home to their respective circuit breaker.
A good circuit breaker finder should save time, eliminating the need to make multiple trips back and forth to the circuit box to identify which breaker controls which electrical receptacle. With that in mind, a circuit breaker finder should be easy to use, like this model from Klein. Plug the three-pin transmitter into a socket and scan the breaker box to identify the correct circuit breaker quickly.
This tester works with 90- to 120-volt circuits, which covers most residential electric systems. It will also test GFCI outlets to confirm if they are correctly wired through easy-to-read light codes. When not in use, the transmitter conveniently plugs into the receiver, so the individual pieces won’t get lost.
With its simple-to-use design and affordable price, Amprobe’s circuit breaker finder is an excellent option for DIYers who occasionally need to match circuit breakers with electrical receptacles. This model is rated for 90- to 120-volt circuits, making it suitable for most homes.
An automatic sensitivity adjustment makes this device easy to use. Simply plug in the transmitter and run the receiver over the breaker box to match the breaker. A large green arrow identifies the location of the breaker. The transmitter displays a red light to let the user know that it is powered up and ready for identification. The LED system allows the user to confirm the receiver’s readings, as turning the matched breaker off will also turn off the corresponding LED light on the receiver.
With its ability to work with multiple types of electrical receptacles, this model offers a more comprehensive means of identifying circuit breakers. The transmitter works with two-prong outlets or light bulb outlets as well as three-prong outlets. The receiver calibrates automatically for quick identification of circuits without any need for setting sensitivity.
The transmitter also clearly identifies any ground fault problems with GFCI outlets via three colored lights and wiring codes clearly printed on the unit. Additional features include a convenient auto-off feature that shuts off the unit after 10 minutes of no use to save the batteries. It also has a receiver that emits warning beeps if it cannot accurately identify a signal from the transmitter, preventing false readings.
With its ability to test for faulty wiring and a manual sensitivity adjuster, this circuit breaker finder is an excellent option for electricians. As with other circuit breaker finders, this model offers plug-and-play simplicity, allowing the unit to quickly find the right circuit breaker to match the outlet or light receptacle.
In addition, it allows the user to manually adjust the sensitivity with a dial, increasing the sensitivity for a quick reading or lowering it for better accuracy. The LED lights on the receiver feature an arrow pointing to the correct circuit breaker’s precise location, eliminating errors. This model also emits a louder tone than other models when identifying a circuit breaker, making it ideal for working at noisy work sites. The transmitter also functions as a GFCI tester that identifies a broad range of faulty wiring problems with easy-to-read light codes.
When working in larger homes or industrial settings, the circuit breaker box can be a long way from its corresponding electrical receptacles. That can make it challenging for a receiver and transmitter to find each other. With its 1,000-foot range, the ET300 is up to the job, making it an excellent option for identifying the breakers in larger spaces.
The ET300, which works with outlets up to 120 volts, uses a microprocessor to analyze frequencies, making it more accurate than other models. A bright green arrow on the receiver identifies the location of the correct breaker. This model also has several accessories that can be purchased separately for light receptacles and even bare wires.
While a circuit breaker finder that can identify the corresponding breaker for an outlet is useful, it won’t help for other types of electrical receptacles. This model from Sperry Instruments goes beyond identifying outlets to include an accessory kit that can trace switches, light fixtures, and bare wiring.
An innovative design also makes it easy to use. The receiver has a magnetic back that sticks to the door of the breaker box. A small probe that extends from the receiver allows the user to zero in on each breaker switch, allowing for accurate identification of the right breaker. In addition to sending a signal through the line to the receiver, the transmitter also can test the GFCI circuit for faulty wiring. And, when not in use, the transmitter attaches to the bottom of the receiver for storage.
Working on industrial projects requires a circuit breaker finder that is capable of identifying higher voltage circuits. While most circuit breakers max out at 120 volts, this model from Zircon goes all the way up to 277 volts, making it ideal for industrial use. Its design is also more versatile than other circuit breaker finders. Instead of a standard three-prong plug, individual blades attach to the transmitter, making it usable on standard double- and three-prong plugs as well as international plugs. This kit also includes an adapter for a light socket and alligator claws for bare wires.
The receiver calibrates automatically, making it easy to use. Simply run the receiver over the circuit box once, and it’s ready to identify breakers. This set includes a handy metal carrying case that keeps the transmitter, the receiver, and the accessories organized.
This circuit breaker finder includes some convenient additional features that make identifying the breaker on a circuit box, a simple job. Breaker boxes are often in places with poor lighting or no lighting at all. This finder has a built-in LED light source that helps to illuminate the electrical box while working.
Since circuit breaker finders aren’t tools that the average DIYer uses regularly, this model conveniently has instructions printed on the side for reference. The transmitter includes a built-in GFCI tester with the light codes printed on its side, while a microprocessor automatically adjusts the unit to the right sensitivity. The receiver has LED lights complete with labels that help the user quickly identify when the receiver has identified the correct breaker and when the receiver has a low battery. This model also includes a handy carrying case.
With a comprehensive adapter kit that comes with it, this circuit breaker finder allows the user to test virtually every breaker in the home. To do a thorough check of the breakers in a home, one needs to be able to test light receptacles and, in some cases, bare wires as well as standard three-prong outlets. This model comes with accessory kits that allow the user to test all three.
Similar to other kits, Southwire’s model includes a receiver and a transmitter. The transmitter plugs into any 120-volt three-prong outlet. The receiver automatically calibrates to the breaker box, and a bright green LED light illuminates when the receiver is over the right circuit breaker. This model also includes a three-minute instructional video, making it ideal for those new to using a circuit breaker finder.
With a built-in microprocessor and functions that help conserve battery life, this model from Hi-Tech Electronics is an excellent pick for those who don’t want the hassle of manual sensitivity adjustments. This model requires just one pass over the circuit breaker box to calibrate. A large green LED light indicates when the receiver identifies the correct breaker, making it easy to use.
This tool also includes an auto-shutoff feature that will turn the unit off after 10 minutes of inactivity to save the battery. Hi-Tech also sells an accessory pack for testing light bulb sockets or bare wires. This model will work with 90- to 120-volt circuits. It does not have GFCI testing capability.
The Advantages of Owning the Best Circuit Breaker Finders
While circuit breaker finders are a must-have tool for electricians, they’re also convenient for DIYers. Below, learn about the advantages of owning a circuit breaker finder.
- It makes working on electrical systems safer. While upgrading a standard light switch to a dimmer switch or changing a light fixture are relatively easy DIY projects, they can be dangerous since they involve working with electricity. A circuit breaker finder will allow the user to locate and turn off the circuit that they will be working on to ensure safety.
- It allows the user to label a circuit breaker box. A well-labeled breaker box makes identifying the circuits in your home an easier process, allowing you to identify potential outlets or light fixtures that might be tripping a breaker.
- Identify wiring problems. Most circuit breaker finders do more than just identify circuit breakers; many also identify potential problems in the wiring, allowing you to fix these issues before they become a hazard.
FAQs About Circuit Breaker Finders
If you’re wondering about how circuit breakers work or how to locate the wiring in the walls of your home, then read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the electrical circuits in a home.
Q. How do I know what size circuit breaker to use?
First, calculate the total amount of wattage the circuit uses, then divide that number by 240 volts to come up with the amperage needed for the circuit breaker. Then choose a circuit breaker that exceeds that number. If the circuit is using 28 amps, then use a 30-amp circuit breaker.
Q. How do I trace an electrical circuit in a home?
Tracing an electrical circuit through the wall can be a tricky process. To do this without damaging the wall, you need a magnetic stud finder that can detect wires. Using this device, you can trace the wires from an outlet or a light receptacle to the breaker box.
Q. How can I make sure not to drill into a wire?
As with tracing a house electrical circuit, you need a magnetic stud finder that can detect wires to identify if there is a wire in the area you plan to drill.
Q. How can I find a hidden outlet?
Look for bulges or inconsistencies in the wall created by the outlet box pushing against the drywall. Most outlets are between 18 and 24 inches off the floor, which is the most common height for wall outlets, and no more than 6 feet from a door.