We don’t live in the Dark Ages anymore, and so we shouldn’t have to fumble around the breaker panel trying to find which breaker controls which outlet. With a tool like Klein’s ET300 Digital Circuit Breaker Finder, you just the plug transmitter in the outlet you want to disable, and scan your circuit breakers with the receiver until you find the right one.
Well, it isn’t quite as easy as that. This tool, and tools like it, get panned by customer reviewers, usually because they don’t take the time to read the instructions. When using a circuit breaker tracer, you first need to scan ALL the breakers with the receiver for it to learn the panel. Only after this step will the receiver beep and light up with a green arrow when you are over the correct breaker.
Klein says the ET300 is “microprocessor controlled for more reliable identification.” I’m guessing that means the transmitter sends out an encoded signal identifying it to the receiver. The transmitter can send a signal down wiring for distances of up to 1000 feet, which should be plenty for most residences.
The receiver is powered by a 9V battery and automatically turns off after approximately 4 minutes to save power. Although the Klein website shows the receiver naked, all retailers’ product pages show a version of the receiver with an orange rubber jacket.
Out of the box, this tool only works for outlets, but you can buy a ~$12 adapter kit (Klein model 69411) that allows you to plug the transmitter into a medium base light socket. The optional adapter kit also comes with a 2-prong outlet and alligator clip adapter. You could also buy a light socket plug adapter for ~$2 at the hardware store.
You can find the ET300 at Amazon for about $40-42 with free shipping (if you order from Amazon directly), or you can pick it up for about the same price at Home Depot.
Buy Now(ET300 via Amazon)
Buy Now(ET300 via Home Depot)
More Info(via Klein)
It is important to note that the ET300 only works with 90 – 120V outlets and breaker systems.
There are a couple of similar models by Extech ($35 via Amazon), Triplett ($30-40 via Amazon), and Amprobe ($30 via Amazon). The Extech is a little different, as their transmitter serves double duty as a GFCI outlet tester.
If you live in an older house that has suffered years of renovation, finding the right circuit isn’t always a matter of reading the labels on the breakers. Previous owners probably left useful notes like “Andy’s room,” or “Rec room” next to the breaker number, but trying to figure out who Andy was or why he slept in the basement isn’t your first priority.
When you actually throw the breaker to “Andy’s room,” you might find find it also controls the microwave, the small bedroom, the garage lights, and every outlet in the room except the one you are trying to turn off.
The last time I had to replace some outlets, I enlisted the help of my 7 year-old son. He stayed up stairs while I went downstairs to the panel. He means well, but when I yelled to ask him if the lights on the outlet tester went off, I’d hear something about the microwave clock and have to run upstairs anyway to hear what he was trying to tell me. This went on about 3 or 4 times.
The way I see it I have three options for next time. First, I could spend half a day trying to label the panel correctly, which is not very likely. Second, I could play the same shouting and running game when I need to turn off a circuit (the cardio from doing the stairs might do me some good.) Or third, I could buy a circuit breaker finder and take some of the stress out of my DIY projects.
I have this one from HF and it works very well.
On sale now for $18, and with 20% off coupon, it’s around $15.
…and it’s blue.
I’m not a trade pro, just a working musician. Our sound system requires multiple extension cords to separate circuits. I use an Ideal analog circuit breaker finder (model 61-532), but I’m sure the Klein works just as well. I’ve used this at house and small venue gigs. Works well for typical residential circuitry but it can be a bit hit-or-miss for 3 phase commercial. Make sure you read the instructions as you have to hold the scanner a certain way and scan your breaker panel twice (sometimes 3 times). If after 3 scans, you’re still getting mixed signals between two or three breakers, try this: Scan the breakers that are giving trouble individually in an up-and-down motion about 5 or 6 times (5 or 6 beeps per breaker). As soon as you’re done scanning one breaker, quickly move to the next, and repeat. May have to repeat this ruling-out process 2 or 3 times. Your scanner will start ruling out these false readings and
will either be eliminated, or give obvious weak signals (short, inconsistent beeps). Give your entire breaker panel one quick final scan. The breaker that gives you the most consistent/strongest/loudest signal is going to be it. It sounds like a lot of wasted time, but it only takes about a minute or two to sort out mixed signals, if you even get any. Better than running around your house. Oh, almost forgot to say, DO NOT SCAN main/service disconnect breakers. They will almost always give false readings and are impossible to rule out. If your main/service disconnect breaker is located in between all the breakers, simply skip it during the scanning process by pulling the scanner away from it and continue scanning from the next breaker.
Oh yeah, if you had a lazy electrician do your home , these circuit breaker finders might not be of much help except drive you insane.
I bought the Greenlee version of this tester at Lowe’s a while back. Very handy, although it’s not quite as reliable with double breakers (the ones which pack two breaker switches onto one module). The nice thing about the Greenlee kit was that it came with a screw-in lightbulb adapter and a set of alligator clips, so there was nothing you couldn’t test.
The drawback, and I assume that this is the case for all of this type of tester, is that you need power going to the outlet/fixture/wire you’re trying to trace back to the panel. If you’re trying to trace a dead line back to the panel, even if it’s a perfectly wired circuit but you have the breaker turned off, you’re out of luck.
In the absence of AC power you might still be able to use a battery operated tone generator (like those used in telecommunications) to impress a signal on the line and then trace it back.
I have the “circuit breaker detective” from HF. Works great! What a time saver. For what ever reason, I’ve never seen an electrician using one of these. I even offer them mine and they refuse. Strange.
I’ve had one from Sperry since the 1990’s – works OK – but sometimes misses.
I bought the same Klein model to identify breakers in my house after hurricane Sandy – I was trying to identify essential circuits when wiring for the generator I bought AFTER the storm. It worked great.
I didn’t know they made these. The last time we did anything with wiring, we spent a half hour, writing what each breaker did. This could have been a real time saver.
I have one that was sold under the Ideal brand, although I’m fairly certain that I’ve seen the same model sold under multiple brand names. I don’t think it’s microprocessor controlled. I think it just puts a tone on the line. Perhaps an encoded tone would work better, because the standard one gets mediocre results. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t but hasn’t been reliable enough to be a goto tool. It might be time for an upgrade.
I do run into issues occasionally with it not able to isolate. A couple of times it turned out that two circuits were bridged, had to turn off both breakers (once in separate panels no less) to cut power. Another time I’m pretty certain a piece of equipment was causing interference.
Is that the same thing as multi-wire branch circuit. I was wondering if this would show both breakers, or neither.
A side note, an unlabeled multi-wire branch circuit nearly killed me. Tie your neutrals together in the box, not on the outlet. Now I think they are required to be on a ganged breaker.
I have a GB and it works great. Pretty simple to use and is awesome for trouble shooting. I bet this Klein one won’t let you down either
I have had one of these things for quite a while. They are very reliable most of the time. Like some one mentioned above, it seems to struggle with tandem breakers, but other than that, its great.
I have this Klein and am very happy with it.
One thing I have to say is read the directions. You need to run it over all the breakers and then back over them a 2nd time to find the right breaker.
This is correct.
You need to “teach” it the panel before it can detect the circuit in need.
This is OK if you are trying to find 1 or 2 circuits.
but any more than that the “teaching” become a P.I.T.A
I use my wireless voltage detector for this sort of thing. I hacked the antenna of it and installed a little larger one so the detection if very sensitive tot he point that I can trace live wires in the walls. I just turn of the breaker and use the wireless stick to walk around to see what outlets went off. I have found that sometimes the kitchen lights/outlet may cut off while the dining room is getting power when everything in one bedroom cuts off.
What I would really like to see some innovation in is in the breakers themselves. I can easily waste 30-60min just trying to replace one.
This is my gripe with them:
1- when they trip, most of the time they don’t trip all the way. Meaning, they look normal. Then you have to wiggle all of them to try to find it. You go around trying to feel for less tension. But then you have some that have very little tension that may confuse to believe that’s the tripped one but no – you just turned off the customers computer off while doing some CAD drafting. Lol
2- there is no plastic window on them. You can’t really tell if they went bad or not through a little plastic window that, from my understanding, all fuses have adopted in the year 2015. you can’t see if it’s burnt or semi burnt.
3- there are no tools to diagnose, that I know off. I have encountered breakers where one day it works fine and another it does not. Took me a while to find that the main issue was the breaker was intermediately working.
I deal with this all of the time that the only answer that can make my life easier is in innovating the breaker itself.
I guess electricians that deal with residential breakers don’t complain that much to push the innovation. Lol
On topic, I need to buy me one of these thanks for the post. lol
Well here is my wireless volt detector hack. It is pretty simple. I just cut the plastic tip of the unit to expose the antenna. Attaching an alligator clip with a tail to the built in antenna, will greatly enhance the sensitivity. I use this to trace live wires inside walls or to assist in finding what breaker is powering what in all the house.
Thanks for sharing, I’m putting it on my list of stuff to try.
1. Plug long extension cord into receptacle.
2. Run extension cord to as close the circuit breaker panel as possible
3. Plug radion into extension cord.
4. Turn radio on.
5. Turn what you think may be the correct breaker off, listen for radio
6. Lather, rinse, repeat
Optional: use your FMRS radios. This assumes both parties have the cognitive ability to understand the mission and provide accurate information in a useful form. I suspect that rules out 7 year-olds.
Yes, this is a PITA and carried to its logical conclusion will have you resetting a lot of stuff. If done completely, however, very soon after you move in (MUCH easier with no furniture in the house) it will provide the opportunity to label each receptacle and switch with the breaker number. A few hours of OCD at the front end will save huge amounts of time over the life of the house, not to mention rapid and easy ID of proper breakers should an emergency require immediate deactivation of a circuit.
Speaking of OCD I’m really surprised that I haven’t labeled my panel. Then again, I didn’t install it. All the cat5 and coax I’ve run is well labeled.
Actually the long extension cord/radio thing isn’t a bad idea in theory until you have to run it past the puppy who thinks anything on the floor is her chew toy :>) I’ll have to remember it for next time.
I replaced every switch plate, switch and outlet in my house due to decades of paint and such covering them. I wrote the appropriate breaker on the back of every plate. It’s been such a time saver over the years after that.
creepy that I bought the extech version 4 days ago… I have a project coming to replace every outlet in my old house. they have lost their ability to retain a plug currently. Figured why not have a GFCI detector while Im at it?
Having literally three breaker panels in my home I’ve used an Ideal or maybe Greenlee for at least 25 years.
They aren’t perfect but neither are two cell phones or simply shouting. Which of course both require two (attentive!) people.
My only complaint is that they do have a hard time with split breakers but then again that’s better then adding even more panels.
Oh. And don’t forget to check the battery occasionally as they will kill the housing contacts if they fail/leak.
I have the exact reviewed tool. It doesn’t work for far away breakers. Either the transmitter on the 2nd story can’t send a strong enough signal to the receiver in the basement, or something else is wrong. Works OK on my 1st floor circuits though.
Sounds like that’s less than 1000 feet. Who knows how they came up with that distance, was it in lab conditions or in the messy environment of a real home? The second story is where you”d really want this to work too.
If it’s a not some weird problem you have, I think you have every right to be disappointed.
I also have the one mentioned in the article. When we first bought our house, the previous owners did not mark the circuit breaker box in details. It took me about 2 hours going in and out of the house to the garage, but now I have everything properly labeled, saves me a lot of time when I need to work on a certain circuit. No more guess work.