Electrical Receptacle Tester & Code Updates

Here’s a handy-dandy electrical outlet testing gizmo that shows in an instant whether or not an electrical outlet is wired correctly and functioning properly. The model in this photo includes a small red button that tests the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt function (GFCI, for short) of corresponding receptacles.

The device pictured, Commercial Electric MS6860H, costs about $8.00 at a big box store, and slightly less online. Plug it into any electrical outlet and its combination of indicator lights will tell you the wiring status. Pretty handy if you just moved into a new home or office, or want to make sure your contractor’s work is A-OK.

This model appears to work fine, but I am not excited about the build quality. The colored lenses that cover the indicator lights snap into the unit’s housing. However, there is so much play that the lenses come off easily when inadvertently pulled. In addition, the label showing what the indicator lights mean is applied to only one side of the device. Given that sometimes receptacles are installed upside-down or sideways, it would be very helpful to see that label on both sides. My old tester, a CircTest 3579-4 made by F Circle Industries (yellow one in photo), has lenses that appear pretty much fused to the body, but it does not include a GFCI test button nor two-sided labeling.

UPDATE: A newer electrical outlet tester, the Sperry Instruments GF16302 GFCI, is reviewed hereIt is my top pick!

While I have your attention, let me take this opportunity to bring you up to speed on two related changes to the National Electrical Code.

  • When you install a new electrical receptacle, they must be tamper proof in most cases. This means that the outlet will not accept a plug unless both prongs are pushed into the receptacle simultaneously. Why? It is to protect children who try to insert a knife or other metal object from receiving an electric shock. With the tamper proof version, little Johnny would have to insert two knives at the same time, which is less likely to happen. See childoutletsafety.org for more info on related code requirements and exceptions.
  • If you plan to install a new electrical circuit other than a GFCI, most are required to be ‘arc’ protected. Also referred to as AFCI circuit breakers, Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation of which arcs will cause these breakers to trip (such as from a broken lamp cord), and which arcs will not (such as an arc produced by a light switch). Unlike GFCI protection with can be built into either a receptacle or a circuit breaker, AFCI is available in circuit breakers only.

Happy wiring, and please be safe!

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