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Can I trace wires with a 12V battery charger and a multimeter (or test light)?

Can I trace wires with a 12V battery charger and a multimeter (or test light)?

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  #1  
Old 11-29-18, 05:59 PM
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Can I trace wires with a 12V battery charger and a multimeter (or test light)?

I have about 5 outlets that are screwed up, and I think a breaker that is bad... several of the outlets are tied together to operate a central light... so I'm anticipating the wiring will be a bit of a mess. I plan on turning off the power at the breaker box while I get it sorted out.

Before I start working, I want to have the ability to trace the wires, in case I need to. I'm assuming this is usually accomplished by a tone generator/receiver. I have a tonegen, but I lost the receiver, and I dont want to spend $50 (or whatever) if i don't have to.

That got me thinking... why not hook up a little auto battery charger that I have, and then check the wires for the voltage with a multimeter.

Would this work, or could it potentially damage something?

If this is a dumb idea... any other DIY ways to trace out an electrical cable?
 
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Old 11-29-18, 06:52 PM
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Sometimes I use a battery to energize the wires and test for voltage. In other situations I use a wire nut to tie two conductors together then at the other end check for continuity.
 
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Old 11-29-18, 08:12 PM
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Thanks dane... someone else had brought up the battery thing, and it makes perfect sense now that I think about it.

Your idea about continuity is another great way to check it... dont even need a battery for that.

I'll either do the continuity or this:

 
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Old 11-29-18, 08:31 PM
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How old is the house?

Make sure to check for MWBC (two hots sharing a neutral) or you may get some unexpected sparks.
 
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Old 11-29-18, 10:00 PM
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Hal_S, the wiring is 30-40 years old. Some of the outlets haven't worked in 10-15 years... other switches/outlets have been sporadic. They are all in one room.
 
  #6  
Old 11-30-18, 12:57 AM
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I just did some quick troubleshooting, and it could just be breaker/outlet issues.

One set of outlets is controlled by a breaker that is intermittently tripping... i have to flip it 5 or 10 times before it will stay on, and sometimes it will stay flipped on, but not pass electricity through it. That looks like a breaker issue for those.

All the other non-working outlets are on a wall in which the other side is external, which also has non working outlets on it. I'm thinking maybe an outdoor outlet got fried, and it has messed up the circuit that controls all of those outlets.

Will know more when I start swapping breakers/outlets.
 
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Old 11-30-18, 04:38 AM
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Old 12-06-18, 12:45 AM
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Tracing the wires with the battery worked great. I was easily able to get everything figured out. Had a bad breaker, and a bad outlet. Thanks for the input.


I do have another question... I would like to wire up two switches to control one light. Can you look at this diagram and tell me how to do that? It's a double switch on different walls, with two separate circuits existing.
 
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Old 12-06-18, 06:32 AM
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Search for "how to wire 3 way switches". There are a couple different methods. Which will work for you will depend on the wiring in your walls. The biggest thing will be to see if you have the correct wire in the wall as two switches controlling one light requires cable with one more conductor (white, black, red and a bare copper ground).

What do you mean "two separate circuits existing"??? Everything in a electrical wall box (for switches, outlets and lights) should be on the same/one circuit. You cannot introduce a second circuit to a box with a 3 way switch. So if one box is on circuit A and the other is on circuit B you cannot do a 3 way switch between those boxes. You would need to install a separate box for one of your 3 way switches.
 
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Old 12-06-18, 01:21 PM
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Thanks Dane. I just mentioned two circuits available, in case it would help in the wiring of the switch. Looks like 1 circuit will work, with a 3 wire between the switches.
 
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