How to Find an Electrical Wire in a Wall

How to Find an Electrical Wire in a Wall

If you’re looking for an electrical wire in a wall, you’re likely doing repairs or an update on your home. Congratulations! Tackling DIY home improvements can be a rewarding experience when it’s done right. But, it can also come with challenges if you’re working without all the information and expertise you need to ensure your safety. But with the right tools and a little guidance, you can find electrical wires in your walls and complete another step on your home reno journey.

Before You Begin: Know The Risks, and Call in an Expert if You Aren’t Sure

Blindly looking for electrical wires can lead to some nightmare scenarios. How do you know if it’s safe to drill into a wall? Potentially drilling into wires can cause electrical damage or electrocution. Drilling into plumbing can cause a water leak inside the wall. 

Whenever you approach an electrical job, always shut the power off at the panel box before starting. Better yet, consult with a licensed electrician. The professionals at Express Electrical have valuable knowledge that can help you achieve the upgrade you want, without causing damage or putting you in danger of shock or electrocution. We can even offer advice about the permits and inspections required in the Southern California area.

Is there a way to trace electrical wires in walls?

There are many ways to find electrical wires in walls. Wires can also run under floors, in ceilings, horizontally through, and vertically along studs. Studs are wooden or metal beams that are part of the wall frame. Assuming your home was built according to the California Building Code, the studs should be no more than 16 inches apart in the center. Under the same assumption, the electrical receptacles should be no more than 12 feet apart.

Wires will either run parallel to the floor, in line with the receptacle levels, or vertically, stapled to the stud, running up to from the receptacle. 

Now that you have a general idea where the wires are, you can choose one of these tools to help you pinpoint a precise location. 

Stud finder

There are several stud finders on the market today. The least expensive model is electric. They can find metal and wood studs by sensing changes in the density of the wall. Magnetic stud finders, however, detect metal beams, metal pipes, and metal nails in the studs. 

Most models are straightforward to use. They have LEDs that light up when you find a stud and push buttons to activate the device. Place the finder against the wall, press the buttons to activate it, and slide it along the area until you locate the stud.

Once you’ve identified the studs, mark them with painter’s tape. To confirm the electrical wire trace, cut a small 4’’ x 4’’ square out of the drywall to view the wires, or use a drill with a 1/2 ‘’ bit and a camera scope to view the wires. The latter assumes you have a camera scope. 

Wire detector

Like stud finders, there are an assortment of wire detectors on the market. Some require wires to be live, while others don’t. Higher-end devices can also detect plumbing in the wall. If you suspect plumbing pipes in the wall, proceed with caution or call the technicians at Express Electric. We service Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California.

To use a wire detector, plug the transmitter into a nearby outlet and hold the receiver as shown in the manual. Depending on the model, it may need to be flat against the wall or held at an angle. Activating the transmitter/probe sends a signal that reaches the receiver once wires are detected. 

Use painters tape to mark the wire locations. Turn off the power to the circuit at the panel box before continuing with any electrical work.

Wire/circuit tracer

Wire trackers, circuit breaker tracers and circuit breaker finders are commonly used terms for circuit tracers. Wire trackers trace energized and de-energized wires. A circuit breaker tracer detects de-energized wire. A circuit breaker finder detects live wire. They come in contact and contactless models, and rechargeable battery operated. 

How to use a tracer varies from model to model. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for accurate results. 

Once you’ve located the wires, mark the location with a pencil or painter’s tape. Continue to look for the wire’s return path by moving the device in a straight line, listening for persistent audio cues. Mark the wall as you go. 

Voltage detectorsVoltage detectors locate live currents on outlets, arc circuits, and switches. Some have a probe to detect the electrical current, and other models are non-contact. 

Plug-in circuit analyzers measure grounded outlets. Non-contact voltage detectors and wand detectors locate and measure voltage. Neon circuit testers measure the voltage and grounded outlets. 

Tone generator

If there’s a tangle of wires, a tone generator can help determine which wire goes where when used on both ends of a circuit. Better yet, call Express Electrical Services for fast, effective service.

Continuity tester

The continuity tester doesn’t test whether there is voltage, but whether the pathway is continuous. Use each end of the dual-ended tester along two points of an electrical path. Only use a continuity tester when the power to the circuit is turned off.

What Is The Best Tool To Detect Electrical Wires In Walls?

The best tool to find electrical tools in walls is one that can do more than one job like a multimeter, solenoid voltage testers, or a digital clamp meter. All three measure multiple values. Whichever method you choose, working with electrical wires can be dangerous. Better leave it to the experts at Express Electrical Services.

Contact Express Electrical Services

Our licensed electricians are experienced with all types of home wiring and rewiring work. We can find wires and mapping out circuits quickly, before cutting or drilling. We work fast and can address your wiring needs with minimal disruption. Contact us for service in the Los Angeles area and other parts of Southern California.