How toTrace Your Electrical Circuits at the Breaker or Fuse Box

(or Labeling your breakers)


Multi-unit residential and business-Please jump to the multi-metered building section and read the whole thing before you do this section. That section has some warnings about how shutting off your breakers may affect the adjacent units. After reading that section, come back here to trace and identify your circuits.  multi-metered building

Find your breaker or fuse box:
Your breaker or fuse box and main breaker or main switch are probably located in your basement or utility room or the buildings basement. For multi unit apartment buildings, ask your maintenance man where your breakers or fuses are. They may be in your apartment or condo or they may be in the buildings basement or utility closet. if in the basement, check for labeling that indicates the unit or apartment that the breakers or fuses serve, and make sure it is your unit or apartment.

The main breaker switch is usually at the main panel directly above the sub breakers as pictured to the right. It is labeled "main breaker" in the picture to the right. The grey box to the right of the main panel is a sub panel for pool area and utility room that was added to the basement. We will not have to shut off the main breaker in any of these procedures.

If you are unfamiliar with your box, have a professional explain how to work with your particular box. Circuit breakers are protective devices that control the power going to a particular route of wiring. In case of an overload or a short, the breaker trips and automatically shuts off power to that circuit.  
Fuses will burn out if overloaded or shorted. If a breaker trips over and over or if a fuse keeps burning out, call an electrician to correct the problem before you proceed.

How To Map Electrical Circuits - Breakers - Fuses       

Even if the breakers are labeled, you should chart them out anyway, so you can verify exactly what is being fed through each breaker. 

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 1 hour

Here's How:


Click to see full picture

1. Locate your breaker or fuse box. If itís a breaker box, it will probably look a lot like the one pictured above. At the top is the main breaker, with 24 individual breakers underneath. Actually, some of these are double breakers that supply 240 volts to some equipment in the house (dryer, electric water heater, electric stove, electric baseboard heating, water pump, etc.)
2. Turn off and unplug all sensitive electrical equipment (TVs, computers etc.) Get a piece of notebook paper so you can jot down the breaker number, and everything that is powered from that breaker.

if the breakers are not number in the breaker box, then number them yourself. Later you can put this information onto index cards and put them in a safe place. You can also label the breaker box.

3. Turn on all lights in and around the house. Get a lamp or radio or electrical outlet tester to check for power at each outlet. An electrical outlet tester is inexpensive-fewer than five dollars- and can diagnose problems in your wiring. It is well worth the money.
4. Identify the double breakers first. Do you have a well with a water pump? If so, locate its double breaker. Do this by turning some faucets on in order to draw some water which will start the pump. Then turn off double breakers until the pump goes off. Turn the breaker back on and if the pump goes back on, you have found the water pump breaker. Do you have electric baseboard heat? If you do, each section of baseboard heater should have its own double breaker. Turn the thermostat temperature up and shut off one double breaker at a time. Give the sections a minute or so to cool down and the cool one is the one that is controlled by the double breaker that you turned off. Repeat to identify all double breakers that control the sections off baseboard electric heat. Use the clock or plug on your electric stove to find its double breaker. Only use a burner as a last resort and don't forget to turn it off. Find your electric dryers breaker by turning the dryer on and shutting off double breakers until dryer goes off. If you have built in air conditioning (not the portable unit that plugs into the wall socket in any room) turn on the air conditioning and turn off double breakers until the air conditioning goes off. One of the hardest 240 volt (double breaker) circuits to find is an electric water heater because it makes no noise when it is operating. So try to find this breaker after all the others have been identified. By the process of elimination you should be able to isolate the electric water heaters double breaker. When you do you can verify this by shutting off the double breaker and running the shower until you use up the hot water.( I know this is a silly way to locate this breaker but the only other way is to take one of the covers off the water heater and test for voltage and this exposes you to live voltage which we do not want to do)

5.Singlle breakers usually control lighting and wall sockets. Now determine what each single breaker controls by turning each one off -one at a time- and using the lamp or radio or outlet tester to test the electrical outlets. Observe which lights go out also. In this way, determine which individual breakers control the electricity to all the electrical devices and lighting in each room. in When this is all done you will know exactly what devices are using the power that you are paying for.

6.By now, all of your breakers should be identified. If there are any breakers left, they may be spares so don't worry about them for now. Here are a few things that are easily missed.  Attic fans, gutter heaters (in cold areas), outdoor services for lighting that may have been damaged or buried  but are still energized, outdoor pool area where wiring may have been buried or damaged but is still energized , sump pumps , sewer pumps, outbuilding power supplies ,radiant heat systems in ceiling panels ,water pipe heating tape( in cold areas) and aquarium heaters . Check your basement, attic, garage, and all outbuildings for anything that could use electricity.

OK, lets move on to the next section doing the breaker test


Home ]

Disclaimer: Even small amounts of electricity can kill you. If you are unsure of what you are doing at any time as you read this web page, I urge you to stop and consult with a licensed, qualified electrician. The small cost of professional assistance may mean the difference between a job successfully completed and a tragic ending. Do not risk injury or death if you are not exactly sure of what you are doing. We take no responsibility for damage, injury or death.



Hit Counter