Friday, April 24, 2015

Find the Right Circuit Breaker the Easy Way

Sperry CS550A Circuit Breaker Finder


Remember the last time you did any electrical work at your place? Maybe it was installing a ceiling fan, putting up a security light, or replacing a toggle switch with a dimmer; but it’s a safe bet the first instruction went something like: 

"Shut off power to the circuit." 

Oh, sure. Easy for the writer to say: he probably has every circuit in the breaker box labeled. If you’re like the rest of us, your breaker box is labeled (if at all) with little notes like "Sara's rm," "mst bth" or "dk lts." It’s more likely that the breaker box has no labels at all. So how to turn off the circuit without resetting all the clocks in the house? Plug in a boombox and crank Katy Perry up to eleven? Do you use a helper and a cell phone, asking each time you click off a breaker, "still on?" Been there, done that - and found out  the correct breaker is always at the opposite end of the board from where you start. 


In reality, there's an easier way: a Sperry CS550A Circuit Breaker Finder. This simple tool makes short work of locating the right circuit breaker for almost any outlet or fixture in your house, and it's so easy to use you won't need a helper or cell phones. 

How it Works 



Sperry’s breaker finder consists of two parts. A transmitter plugs into any 110-volt outlet. If the outlet’s hot, a red LED on the body lights up. Meanwhile, a device inside the body feeds a signal into the circuit. Take the receiver to your breaker box, where it’ll detect the signal and verify emit a chirping noise. You dial down the sensitivity with a thumbwheel on the receiver, which lets you home in on the one breaker through which the signal is transmitting. An arrow on the receiver identifies the correct breaker with both sight and sound.  Turn off the breaker – the sound will stop. When you get back to the outlet, the transmitter's indicator light is also out, verifying that you've thrown the right breaker. 

Cool! You only flip one breaker: no fumbling around in the breaker box, no accidentally rebooting your computers, no accidentally shutting off the security system. What could be easier? 


Caveats 


  • If wiring for two circuits runs parallel for a long distance, the transmitter can induce a false signal in the second circuit. That's why you must always verify that the power has been cut using a voltmeter or other means. 
  • You'll need an adapter to use this on a light fixture. I have an old adapter that changes a standard socket to a two-prong outlet. 
  • It’s not much use on fluorescent fixtures or on bare wires, thought you could always gin something up with alligator clips. 

Last, always use your voltmeter or a circuit tester to be absolutely sure you've flipped the right breaker. 

Notes 


I've used my circuit breaker finder in four different houses, at one of which the breaker box was on an outside wall (and had absolutely no labels). It isn’t foolproof - about one time in five I flip the adjacent breaker instead of the right one, but that’s still much better than turning off power to half the house while you're on the hunt. Besides, the receiver keeps chirping so you know you’ve goofed.

This is one device of which I say, "try it: you'll like it!" 


Summary

PLUS: Find the right breaker fast, without an assistant.
MINUS: occasionally gets fooled
What They’re Saying: If you’ve ever gone nuts looking for the right circuit breaker, you’ll love having a Sperry CS550A Circuit Breaker Finder.

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