Borrow or Buy?

Before you decide whether to buy or borrow tools to trace electrical wiring, you should consider how much you will use them. If you have an old house that might have electrical problems over the next few years, it might be a good idea to buy the tools so you can have them handy when you need them. Buying tools is also a good bet if you plan on doing a lot of remodeling. On the other hand, if you don’t foresee yourself using the tools after you're done with this one project, or if you are chummy with a good-natured electrician, you can probably opt for borrowing or renting the tools instead. ­

Tools Needed to Trace Electrical Wiring in Walls

You can use a range of tools to trace electrical wiring in your walls, and some of the tools you already have might help you in your project, too. One such tool is a stud finder. A magnetic stud finder detects the metal nails in the wall studs. An electronic stud finder produces a small electrical field, which changes when it reaches a denser region of the wall -- like the area over a stud. The stud finder's circuitry detects this change and lets you know with a light or a sound [source: Berendsohn]. Some electronic stud finders also have the ability to detect wires behind walls.

Voltage detectors are helpful once you find your wires -- they let you test whether the wires are live. A neon-bulb version, also known as a neon circuit tester, is an inexpensive tool used for the purpose of detecting voltage. Another option is an audible alarm voltage detector. These are also known as tone generators and probes or tone and probe kits. Tone generators make sound when they find a live wire. If you have a tangle of wire and can't figure out which goes where, you can use the probe to help you identify which wire is which.

You can also buy circuit and wire tracers made specifically for the purpose of locating electrical wiring behind walls and underground. These tools tend to be expensive, though, making them most suitable for professionals and people who plan to do lots of wiring work.

Tracing electrical wiring can be tricky and involved. Click to the next page to discover the best practices for tracing electrical wiring.