Outlet Tester

Outlet Tester Solid State Home Inspections

According to the professional standards of practice for home inspections, home inspectors are required to test a sample of outlets in the home. This task has been made very easy by the simple plug in outlet tester available at any hardware store for less than $20.

What Does the Tester Detect?

Outlet testers are looking to see that the outlet has been wired correctly for home occupant safety. A correctly wired outlet will have the hot and neutral electrical lines on the correct side of the outlet and a separate ground line. Common testers use a series of lights to indicate if the outlet is 'ok' or if there is a wiring error. Common errors testers can detect are:

  • Hot/Neutral Reversed - Most electrical devices work fine if wires are reversed however there is a risk to home occupants that parts of an electrical appliance may be 'hot' unexpectedly. This is particularly important at the washer and dryer as if the washer is wired backwards, the metal body could short to the metal body of the dryer and injure the user.
  • Open Ground - This means the ground wire is not connected to the panel (or in some older homes, there may not be a ground wire)
  • Open Neutral - The neutral wire is not connected at the outlet
  • Open Hot - The Hot wire is not connected at the outlet
  • Hot/Ground Reversed - This is a serious error code in that the ground wire, which is normally in reserve for emergencies, may be in use to carry electricity.

All errors on electrical outlet testers indicate incorrectly wired outlets which should be fixed by a qualified electrician.

What is the Button on the Tester for? (or, why don't I have a button on my tester?)

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI's) should be installed on all electrical outlets in wet environments like in bathrooms, outdoors, and near kitchen sinks. In order to test if a GFCI is present or operating correctly on a circuit, the button on some outlet testers can be used to send a test signal to trip the GFCI. Not all outlet testers have a GFCI test button but it is a handy feature for home inspectors to have on their outlet testers as GFCI's are to be tested in a home inspection.

There is an argument made by GFCI manufacturers that GFCI outlet testers are not as reliable for testing GFCI's as the 'test' button built in the GFCI itself is. Whenever possible, the 'test' button on a GFCI should be used as it is the most reliable test system. However, when the test button is not available or an inspector is checking an outlet that may be on a GFCI circuit chain, the test button on the outlet tester is a functional alternative.

Final Thoughts

Outlet testers are inexpensive and easy to carry around and should be in every home inspectors tool kit. As they are small and prone to be lost, it is a good idea for home inspectors to carry back-ups of these little devices to save an emergency trip to the hardware store.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.