Tracking and Mapping electrical circuits


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Old 01-14-12, 10:05 AM
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Tracking and Mapping electrical circuits

When my house was built, the electricians only labeled the circuits in the breaker box as "light" or "plugs". There are quite a few of these and I would like to identify what they control. The lights are fairly easy as I can just turn on all lights and see which ones go out when I trip a breaker. However, the plugs seem to be much more difficult. Is there a good way to trace these circuits? I do have a wire tracker that puts a tone on a line. It has a probe that looks like it can be stuck in one side of a plug recepticle. Is that OK? Is there a correct side to put the probe into? Will the sensor locate the wire in the breaker box without touching a wire or disconnecting the wire from the breaker? Is it reasonably safe? Thanks for any suggestions.
 
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Old 01-14-12, 10:18 AM
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A radio makes a good tester. plug it in, turn it up loud enough to hear at the breaker box and try flipping off then back on the breakers one at a time till the radio goes off then try other receptacles near that receptacle with the breaker still off to identify others on the breaker. As you go mark with tape each receptacle you have identified a breaker for. You might want to note the breaker number on the tape. You can also use a long extension cord and a trouble light. position the light so you can see it from the breaker box. Two cell phones with unlimited minutes and a helper can also be helpful.

Yes, they make devices that allegedly buzz the breaker from the receptacle but the above is the free way.
 
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Old 01-14-12, 06:58 PM
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I'm seconding Ray's method. It worked very well for me a while back.
Another suggestion: you might want to make a second list of circuits by room.
For example:
Living room: plug on north wall; circuit 3; overhead lights: circuit 5...etc.

That way, if something goes off, or if you need to kill the power to a particular outlet/light/etc. you can more simply find the circuit that powers it.
 
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Old 01-16-12, 08:11 AM
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I also like to write the number of the breaker which controls the receptacle on the back of the cover plate.
 
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Old 01-16-12, 08:17 AM
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Circuit Mapping

I use a spreadsheet program to make a chart of all my circuits which is posted in the service panel door. The spreadsheet allows me to use different sized text to include as much detail as I want.
 
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Old 01-16-12, 09:48 AM
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Thank you for all your comments and suggestions. I also like the idea of generating a spread sheet that would quickly identify the circuits.

I would still like to hear if you think it is safe to put the tracker probe in one side of the outlet plug and just place the receiver near each breaker until the tone is registered. I am assuming that I would use the hot (black) side of the plug since that is what is connected to the breaker.
 
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Old 01-16-12, 05:26 PM
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I do have a wire tracker that puts a tone on a line. It has a probe that looks like it can be stuck in one side of a plug recepticle. Is that OK? Is there a correct side to put the probe into? Will the sensor locate the wire in the breaker box without touching a wire or disconnecting the wire from the breaker? Is it reasonably safe?
If you follow the manufacturer's instructions with the tracer, yes, it should be safe. Be advised though, inexpensive tracers don't always give desireable results.
 
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Old 01-16-12, 06:50 PM
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The breaker finders are safe used correctly. All you do is plug them into the receptacle and scan the wand up and down the breakers until you hear the tone. Sometimes you can get two readings and would need to verify.
 
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Old 01-16-12, 11:57 PM
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Wirepuller38 - Are you allowed to put in a printout on the inside of the panel door? I had assumed that even though the cover would be on, that we couldn't do that unless it was on approved paper. I made a diagram of the house with all the circuit numbers and amperages on it and wanted to figure out how to keep it near the panel, but figured I couldn't put it inside he door since it wasn't fire-rated paper or anything.


To the original poster -- The method I used worked quite well for us. I sketched a diagram of the house, noting each recepticle outlet, switch, and light. My wife stayed at the panel, and we spoke via cell phone in speaker phone mode. It was daylight out, and she turned off each breaker. We went through one by one, with me running through the house seeing what suddenly was working. Didn't take long at all. (Certainly requires a second person though.) Brought an outlet tester along with me to test all of them at the same time, too.

Below's what I made up in photoshop afterward. I split the switches/lights onto its own sketch, as it kept it much easier to read. The basement has two sketches too. Personally drives me nuts when people just label something as a particular room, unless it's really that clean cut. In the few houses I've checked in (only three) it's never been that clean cut.

 
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Old 01-17-12, 05:02 AM
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Diagram on Door

Wirepuller38 - Are you allowed to put in a printout on the inside of the panel door? I had assumed that even though the cover would be on, that we couldn't do that unless it was on approved paper.
What do you pros think? Am I out of line with the code here?
 
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Old 01-17-12, 05:58 AM
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I use full sheet stickers and paste them on the inside of the door. Never had an inspector question this. Commercial panels come with plastic pockets so the directory can be dropped in.
 
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Old 01-17-12, 07:30 AM
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Thanks again everyone. If you can put the diagram in the plastic holder in commercial panels, does that mean that you could just put a diagram in one of the plastic sheet protectors, or have it laminated and tape it to the panel door?
 
 

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