How to use an outlet tester

Monday, August 28, 2017

How to use an outlet tester


When working on electrical outlets, a must have tool is the outlet tester. In this episode of House of Hacks, Harley show how to use one of these inexpensive tools to test receptacles for proper power and ground wiring. They are also an easy way to test an outlet to see if the power is off prior to working on the wall plug.

A list of 110 receptacle testers from different manufacturers (Affiliate link)

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For a written transcript, go to How to use an outlet tester

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 3.0.
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing" by Kevin MacLeod at


If you do anything with 110 volt receptacles or outlets and wiring them, you need one of these. We're going to talk about what it is and how to use it, today at the House of Hacks.


Hi Makers, Builders and Do-it-yourselfers.

Harley here.

Wiring 110 volt receptacles or outlets are pretty simple and straight-forward for the average DIYer. There's only three wires to connect and they're all color coded. So as long as the circuit was installed correctly originally, replacing the outlet is really trivial.

But when you do replace an outlet, you do want to make sure you use one of these tools. They're designed to tell you if things are wired properly or if you have safety issues. They're really inexpensive and you can pick them up on Amazon for less than $5. I'll leave a link to a bunch of them down in the description below.

To use one of these, all you do is you just plug it in. It has three lights on it that light up and, depending on what order the lights are lit and which ones are lit, it'll tell you the status of the outlet.

The best condition is that it's lit up as correct and you're good to go.

There are a number of problem that may occur. The first one is open ground. This is where the ground wire is not connected. The ground wire is typically green or copper without any insulation on it at all and in this case you need to make sure it's connected and make sure it's properly connected to ground on the other end.

The next one is open neutral. This means the white wire is not connected for some reason. You need to go in there and trace the white wire and find out where the disconnect is.

The next one is open hot. This means the black wire is not connected properly. In this case nothing will work when you plug something into it because there is no power actually reaching the outlet.

The last two are safety concerns because if you plug something into the outlet with these configurations then you may have power exposed to the user in ways that are unsafe. Which is why one of these tools is really important to use to make sure everything is good.

The first of these two critical ones is hot neutral reversed. And this means the black wire and the white wire are backwards. You just need to take the plug off and reverse those two wires and you should be good to go.

And the last one is hot ground reversal. This means that the hot wire and the ground are backwards which are the black and the green wires or the plain copper one, depending on the wire that's used. And in that case, just these two need to be switched around.

That covers all the error cases and also the good case. So, make sure you use one of these anytime you're wiring up an outlet just to make sure everything's safe for your users.

And until next time, go make something.

Perfection's not required. Fun is!