Electricians know each time they open a service panel that the circuit breaker directory on the inside of the door is legible and accurate. Service work can begin right away without having to trace circuits to breakers. Time doesn’t need to be wasted walking back and forth from the service panel to the light or outlet in question to determine if the right breaker was shut off. Customers never have to be inconvenienced when their appliances or computers have to be shut down. There’s no need for the Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI in this day and age, right?
Very wrong! But don’t we all wish?
Fortunately, we have tools like the Southwire 41210S Circuit Finder to save time and limit inconvenience for the vast majority of times when there’s not an accurate or legible directory if there’s one at all.
There’s not a whole lot of variance among circuit breaker finders with regard to design, although this one has a GFCI tester on the transmitter which isn’t standard. However, there certainly can be a variance with regard to accuracy that we’ll investigate soon. Otherwise, the transmitter has a red LED to indicate a circuit is live.
The handheld receiver features a translucent red nose with an LED inside, a green LED on top of the receiver, and a reset button. It’s all quite simple – the transmitter’s design is to send a signal through the wires that the receiver traces to the complementary breaker in the service panel. Southwire also makes a screw-in adapter for sockets and alligator clip plug for bare wires, although both items are separate purchases.
The Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI package includes a 9V battery to power it as well as a two-prong adapter for older outlets. I left my usual circuit breaker finder in the truck and headed into the historic auditorium of a local school where I had some new lights to install along the walls.
Breaker One-Niner, Come In Circuit
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the ability to quickly find the correct circuit breaker in the panel saves time and avoids inconvenience, but both of those things really flow from the cardinal rule of electrical service – make sure to shut off the power! And the second rule – once you’ve shut off the power, verify that you’ve shut off the power!
Many Pros use a non-contact voltage tester (NCVT) to make this determination, which is a great idea. The Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI doesn’t function exactly like an NCVT, but it will detect live voltage easily. I plugged the transmitter into the outlet whose breaker I needed to find and saw that the red LED lit up, indicating that there was power flowing through the circuit. This LED also lights up to indicate a GFCI outlet is in working order when you press the GFCI Test button on the transmitter. Establishing that power is flowing where I expect it to is key. I can’t perform any work on that circuit until I find the complementary breaker that will shut off the power.
Verify the outlet is dead by confirming the red LED on the transmitter is off.
To do that, I grabbed the receiver and headed to the service panel in the next room. Before I started scanning the breakers, I pressed the reset button on top of the device and the LED inside the nose lit up to indicate that the correct breaker hadn’t been detected. Then I gently and slowly dragged the receiver’s translucent red nose over each breaker until the red LED in the nose switched off, the green LED on top of the receiver switched on, and the solid tone sounded. I switched the breaker off and the green LED went dark while the tone went silent. I returned to the transmitter to find its red LED was dark – a confirmation that the Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI had easily detected the correct breaker.
Because the breakers are so close together, it’s easy to see why it’s so important that the receiver gives an accurate reading. It has to pinpoint the breaker without falsely indicating the one above, below, or beside it. I found the receiver to be very accurate throughout my use – more accurate than my regular circuit breaker finder – although a short instructional video that Southwire provides says that sometimes a second scan of all the breakers is needed (without pressing the reset button in between) to determine the strongest signal. I didn’t need to scan a second time, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The Bottom Line
Circuit breaker finders save time and money and ensure safety on the job by tying outlets and breakers together quickly. Except for the GFCI circuit tester on the Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI, there’s not a lot of difference in design between it and other testers. The real distinction between them comes in the form of accuracy. Since breakers are clustered so closely, a circuit breaker finder’s receiver has to pinpoint the correct breaker through which the transmitter is sending the signal.
The Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI worked flawlessly during my use so far. In fact, it’s more accurate than my normal finder. The receiver picks up and indicates the correct breaker quickly and easily. Even though the instruction say there may be a need for a second scan in some cases, I haven’t needed to.
$35.98 is a pretty solid price for an accurate tester that includes GFCI outlet compatibility. With a lot of options out there, it’s nice to find one with accuracy at a reasonable price point. The Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI is a better bet than my usual finder so guess what? It’s hired!
Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI Features
- The transmitter sends locator signal through outlet wiring
- For use on 120 volt energized circuits
- Receiver picks up signal to pinpoint correct breaker
- Advanced design pinpoints single breaker to prevent service interruption
- Transmitter also tests GFCI protected outlets
- UL Listed
Southwire Circuit Breaker Finder with GFCI Features
- Item Number: Southwire 41210S
- Operating Voltage: 120V AC
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches (114 x 58 x 28mm)
- Dimensions: 7.5 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches (191 x 61 x 36mm)
- Weight: 0.59 pounds (268g)
- Price: $39.98