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We bought a home a few months ago, and the electrical panel (and subpanel) are completely unlabelled. We have no way, short of flipping breakers, to know what breaker powers which fixtures. Is there a better way to map a home's electrical system so that I can label the breakers?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I use a circuit finder, like this:

Circuit Finder

It requires a little finesse, but not too much.

http://www.amazon.com/GB-Electrical-CS550A-Circuit-Breaker/dp/B001DT6NC6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1289622691&sr=8-2

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Sounds interesting, but the reviews on Amazon don't give me a ton of confidence. I'll see what they say at the hardware store about these; maybe it's just that particular model. –  Tim Nov 13 '10 at 4:39
    
aka the "fox and hound"! –  Jeff Atwood Nov 13 '10 at 8:30
    
I have this exact model and it does work as advertised, it just takes a little practice to get used to the control on the pickup. –  SqlACID Nov 14 '10 at 3:02
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When we first bought our current home, I made a careful map of every light switch, every outlet. I simply shut off each breaker in turn, then went around with a test plug. Any outlet or switch that was now dead, I marked on my hand-drawn map of each room in the house, noting the number of the breaker it ran through. This map is frequently handy. Whenever I need to do any electrical work, I simply pull out the appropriate page of my map. It cost me only an hour or so to do, and was well worth the time invested.

I have seen, for those who want a faster solution, inexpensive tools to trace a circuit back to the relevant circuit breaker. I tried one some years ago, and it did not work terribly well. Perhaps they have improved since.

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Here's an example of the electronic tracer you mention: valuetesters.com/Amprobe-BT-120-Breaker-Finder.php. Plug the transmitter into an outlet, and then run the sensor over your panel until it lights up at the corresponding breaker. –  Mike Powell Nov 13 '10 at 4:38
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+1 for the manual method; if you have a willing friend and cellphones, it goes very quickly and is 100% accurate. –  Niall C. Nov 13 '10 at 4:59
    
I did not show a tester, as the one I had used in the past was completely useless. Given that the reviews online also seemed to reflect my own experience, I'm not sure if they have improved much. My guess is there may be something out there that is usable, but it may also be a question of how much money you are willing to spend. I found legwork to be an infallible substitute. As well, for switch boxes it was a necessary one to create an accurate electrical map for my home. –  user558 Nov 13 '10 at 11:06
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