Keeping Current on Voltage-Testing Options

Among the most basic tasks for electrical contractors is testing for the
 presence – or absence – of electrical voltage. Whether it’s simply to 
determine if a system is de-energized and safe to work on, or part of a 
more complicated troubleshooting exercise, voltage testing is a critical
 element in any contractor’s job. Choosing the right tester can be more 
than an issue of convenience, it also can make a difference in an 
electrician’s productivity – and, more importantly, safety. IDEAL Industries

Chuck Ross

Among the most basic tasks for electrical contractors is testing for the presence – or absence – of electrical voltage. Whether it’s simply to determine if a system is de-energized and safe to work on, or part of a more complicated troubleshooting exercise, voltage testing is a critical element in any contractor’s job. Choosing the right tester can be more than an issue of convenience, it also can make a difference in an electrician’s productivity – and, more importantly, safety.

For a simple determination regarding the presence or absence of electrical current on a line, electrical pros (and do-it-yourselfers) have two options. The most basic is a non-contact voltage tester, which can sense the presence of current in wiring that’s covered in insulation. A unit will emit an audible and/or visual signal if a wire or electrical device being tested is electrified.

While non-contact models are compact enough to carry around in a shirt pocket, a more durable option for the detecting the presence or absence of voltage can be found in solenoid testers. These models are known for the physical vibration they produce when voltage is detected. Though they don’t indicate precise voltage levels, some contractors say they’ve learned to approximate what those levels might be by the strength of the solenoid’s vibration.

Digital testers are the tool of choice when more precise voltage measurement is required. This might be the case when attempting to trace motor problems or in other situations where equipment is sensitive to more than just the on/off presence of an electrical current.   

“Solenoid voltage testers ‘indicate’ the approximate voltage level in coarse steps, suitable to detect live circuits and possibly miswired outlets,” explains Dave Kadonoff, a field sales engineer with manufacturer IDEAL Industries. “Digital readout voltage indicators display precise voltage levels which are required to ensure voltage tolerance level compliance.”


Photo courtesy of IDEAL Industries