On my Tool Pouch resides an Ideal Voltage Tester, see the Featured Image at the top of this page. Elsewhere in the house, my Fluke T3 Electronic Voltage Tester. See below.
I’m not sure they make this model anymore, because despite the Fluke’s important features, it needs batteries to operate and an early Model, the T2, had problems with the batteries not making contact, and thus, when you looked for a voltage, it said there was none, but there was. A solenoid Tester doesn’t need batteries (except on some models for the continuity feature). But it needs a solenoid, and if that coil opens, it too will indicate no voltage where voltage does, in fact, exist.
The best way to be sure your meter is working is to test it on a known Hot Source, then to test the wires or connection point you want to test, then to test the meter again on a known good source.
If you look at the Fluke T3 immediately above, to be sure the batteries are connected, they added a feature of touching the lead together (for continuity) illuminates an LED at the top of the Tester, and it stays illuminated while in use and for a few minutes afterwards. And Truth be Told, using the T2, I always Touched the Leads together (as I removed them from their recesses in the Tester, and it would Beep and Briefly Illuminate an LED for Continuity, so I always knew my Tester was powered, and I just did this neurotically, no one or no instructions, told me to do it. But you don’t know if the Tester electronics are working, so Testing on a Known Hot Source immediately before and after Testing a point for voltage is still the best way.
The newer Fluke Testers use a Strip of LEDs that show if the circuit is hot whether batteries are in it or not. There’s a model without the LCD Display as well.
At some point, Category Rated Meters/Testers were required at work, Cat III or IV to be exact (of I, II, III, and IV Categories available).
Cat III and CAT IV refer to the ability of the Meter/Tester to shield against massive overcurrent situations caused by an Unexpected Voltage Spike or Mistaken Connection to a source you should not have used the Meter/Tester on. With too much current, the Meter/Tester can explode.
If I was testing at the incoming lines to the Main Breaker in a home, and a Spike Occurred from the Power Lines, the Meter/Tester could blow up. Actually what happens is that the Meter/Tester Fails to Stop the Excess Voltage from making it from one Test Lead to the other, and the Voltage Flashes Across and is sustained in an Arc Flash, and this is what can be deadly or cause serious injury.
Stock Multimeter Explosion
But on the Protected Side of a Breaker, say 15, or 20 Amp Branch Circuits, the Breaker Trips with Excess Current through the Meter/Tester if it fails, at least Limiting the current somewhat. In any case, my workplace pulled their Ideal Testers and issued Fluke Testers that were Cat III or Cat IV Rated. Two Ideal models I just checked are Cat III at 600V, and we had voltages much higher, so they may have opted for a 1000 Volt Cat III rated Flukes.
The Ideal Tester uses a Solenoid that has a Limited amount of time the voltage can be applied. The greater the Voltage, the more the Solenoid Indicator moves, and it is indexed to approximate voltages. AC or DC voltages produce a reading, and is indicated by one or two Neon Lights on the face of the Tester, as well as which lead, on the DC, is connected to the Negative Side.
61-076 Vol-Con Solenoid Voltage Continuity Tester
Of the Solenoid Voltage Tester, I found the following, online:
The (Fluke) T5 is a great tool, BUT it still can’t do a few tests that the wiggy (or traditional solenoid tester) can do.
A ghost voltage can occur when several wires are ran together for a distance. If a live wire is ran together with a dead wire in a conduit run, that dead wire will pick up voltage from the live wire. Those wires ran together act like a big capacitor, and the voltage couples into the dead wire. If you put a Fluke T5, or any DMM, on that dead wire, you will read voltage. That is because DMM’s , and the T5, have a very high input impedance, and draw almost no current from the voltage they are measuring. Since you draw no current, you read that coupled (ghost) voltage on the “dead” wire. The solenoid tester has an input impedance of around 10,000 ohms, so it will draw about 12 milliamps off the voltage it is measuring. It puts a good “load” on the circuit. Since that ghost voltage has no ability to supply the current the solenoid tester needs, you will not measure that ghost voltage. That is why a solenoid tester is a good tool to determine live circuits, and is still used by so many people.
The many references to construction is because you have ghost voltages all over the place. When you are pulling new wire, and looking for live wires, there are good chances there are a few dead ones in the group. I want to know for sure which are live, and which are not, and the T5 will not do that for me. Some DMM’s like the Fluke 117 have a low Z setting to eliminate ghost voltages, and those can be used. But, it easier to use the wiggy.
Another advantage of a wiggy is testing GFCI outlets. Since they draw about 12 mA, they will trip a good GFCI outlet if you measure between hot and ground. If the outlet does not trip with a wiggy, it is defective.
So, solenoid testers DO have their place in construction. It not about how much money you spent, or how big your tool is.
Yes, Solenoid Testers (I know for sure the Ideal 61-076 Vol-Con Solenoid Voltage Continuity Tester) can be used to test GFCI Receptacles. In a receptacle, the standard 120 Volt U.S. style, the shorter prong is the Hot Side, and the Wider Prong is the Neutral Side. If I apply one lead to the shorter side (Hot), and one lead to the Receptacle ground (this simulates the condition of a person being shocked), a GFCI Receptacle will Trip since the meter requires substantially more current to operate than a Digital Model.
The GFCI monitors the Hot and Neutral for a difference in current flow, if the current is the same in the Hot and Neutral, it won’t Trip, but if the current flow is Higher in the Hot Lead than the Neutral, it means current is flowing to ground and it Trips. There are GFCIs designed to trip at 6 milliamps (.oo6 Amps) to protect people, and others, Circuit Breakers, that need more current imbalance to trip (20 milliamps or .02 Amps) used to protect equipment, be sure to use the correct Breaker for your situation (most likely it’ll be 6 ma to protect people).
People on the thread said all you need is a Receptacle Tester with a GFCI Test Button. But if the ground is open or non-existent, the Receptacle Tester GFCI Test Button will not work, but the Ideal Tester, just place one lead in the Hot Side, and one lead to anything Grounded (a water pipe in a home plumbed with Copper, or use another receptacle ground) and the GFCI will trip if it is functioning. Older homes, without grounded outlets, are permitted to use GFCI Receptacles to protect the owner from shock hazards if the appliance is faulty.
There is an important point to be made here, namely that the Test Button built into the GFCI Receptacle DOES NOT REQUIRE A GROUND TO WORK, but a Receptacle Tester with a Ground Test Button does. The preferred method of Testing a GFCI Receptacle is by using the button built into the Receptacle.
But using the Ideal Solenoid Tester, I can quickly test a GFCI Receptacle for Voltage (From Hot to Neutral), for Neutral Wired Correctly (if the Receptacle is Grounded, from Neutral to Ground), and to see if the Hot is Wire Correctly (from Hot to Ground), which will trip the Receptacle, checked as a consequence of testing the Hot.
My kitchen, rewired to the Max, has a unique situation. The refrigerator is on one circuit, a Receptacle Near it, for the Coffee Machine, is on another circuit. In the Coffee Machine Receptacle (this is a 4″ by 4″ Box, so there are 4 Outlets) is a GFCI that is wired to protect the other Receptacle in the Workbox with it, and it also protects the Sink Area Receptacle across the room from the Coffee Machine GFCI Receptacle (they can protect Receptacles Down Stream). As there is no Test Button on the Sink Area Receptacle, using the Ideal Tester, I just touch the smaller receptacle opening (the Hot) with one Test Lead, and the Ground, the Receptacle Screw, or the Sink, with the other, and the Coffee Machine area Receptacle Trips across the room, like it’s supposed to.
See the section on Ghost Voltages too, these were a problem at work, with Digital Voltage Testers, phantom voltages that are impressed into a deenergized conductor by an energized conductor nearby.
But, there is one thing that Solenoid Voltage Testers may do that is bad, and that is, when used in Circuits, applying the Leads Across the Contact can be interpreted by the circuit that the contacts closed, and entire processes can be started or shut down (i.e. Bad Things) unexpectedly, and, thinking about it now, this may also be a reason my employer moved from Solenoid Testers to Fluke Testers with higher Input Impedances.
But around the House, and in Offices, on the Current Limited Side of Breakers (Protected Side) they are quite handy and useful. I’m sure with proper attention to the ratings and proper protective PPE, use on the Incoming Side of Lighting Panels can be checked with these meters, but due to massive amount of current available at this point, great care must be taken.
I like my Ideal Tester, I grabbed it the other day for this:
The house was completely rewired, this is under the Refrigerator, we had water leaking from it, mostly in the summer. I looked up at this, some of the white stuff is mold, some Spider Web, and there us an Abandoned Cable just cut off. There is a chance it’s energized, but I went to my tool pouch, retrieved the Ideal Tester, and using the Copper Pipe as Ground I applied the other lead to each wire, and there was no indication of voltage. I then verified that the Pipe is Grounded by touching one lead to a known grounded “lighting workbox”, and one lead to the Pipe, the Continuity Tester lights up. So, this is likely out of the Refrigerator Workbox, but stapled in the Wall, preventing it’s removal. In any case, it is not energized.
These are currently made, durable, and useful testers, if one remembers the limitations, but all Meters, and all Testers, have limitations.