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The Critical Eye!

Michael Leavitt’s professional inspection related blog.

Circuit Analyzers - Which Should I Buy?

Circuit Analyzers - Which Should I Buy?

Testing electrical outlets is very important. The selection of testing tools is vital to making accurate assessments. Knowing what your testing device is telling you is also critical as you convey your findings to your clients. So what tester should you use. What if somebody was purchasing a tester for you, which one would you choose?

Longtime inspector from Hawaii, Michael Stewart asked:

Aloha all,  Are there any opinions out there on which circuit analyzer performs best in our line of work, the Ideal Suretest or the Amprobe INSP-3?Online reviews seem to favor the Amprobe but I seem to recall the Suretest as being the one to have from some you out there.My bride is purchasing the one I want as a late Christmas gift and I sure want to get it right. Thanks, Mike Stewart - Honolulu, HI

Mike raises a great question and several responses were shared...

Mike, I have 2 Sure test units. One that plugs direct and the other with short cord on it. I have had both for 7 and 8 years with good success! Perry Hawkins - Oregon

Mike, Happy holidays! Send some of that warm Aloha weather this way, I am tired of the rain.
Was looking them up to just get some information on them and ran across this small video on Suretest analyzer and they are using a amp volt probe to verify findings.I have had three of these amp volt probes and have a hard time understanding why some wires show they are hot when they are not? It appears in the video that the hot neutral bootleg ground is very dangerous and would need pointed out to the home owner/selling agent asap.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_04HmpFBxdQ
Darryl Piatt - Oregon

I also chimed in with...

Mike: Aloha! We got two more inches of fresh snow on top of the 6 from yesterday. What is the weather like in paradise?
It all depends on what you are trying to do with it. All of them have their limitations as far as results. Are you looking for this to be your use it every day in every outlet tester, or are you looking for it to be the big gun when you really want to know what is going on tester? Do you want to wear it on your tool belt, or do you want to bring it out in a special case on rare occasions. Do you want to get paid extra money when you do use it, or is this going to be a standard inspection tool?
Let me know the answers to those questions and I’ll do a little comparison chart for you to consider before you pull the trigger on a purchase.
Aloha! Michael Leavitt – Orem, Utah – www.TheHomeInspector.com

Mike responded back...

Aloha all, The weather is wonderful, even able to turn the A/C off and enjoy the cool nights (upper 60's this time of year) and save a bit of money.

My thought on adding one of these circuit analyzers is more about the type of residences that we come across here.  There are older communities here where the homes are single wall with knob and tube or just a two wire system.  Many of these homes have been expanded over the years into what they refer to as "Ohana" (family) homes where they accommodate multi-generational living.  I have even come across homes in one area of the island that are recorded as being built in the early 70's but they were actually single wall homes with knob & tube that were built in the 40's and 50's but were relocated in the early 70's to there present location.  

I am looking for an analyzer that can reliably tell me if there are ground/neutral conditions.  I don't remember who recently posted it but there was a post where one of our inspectors was suspicious of an outlet and pulled it out and discovered a jumper between the ground/neutral.  I am wondering if these circuit analyzers will detect this condition without increasing too much time beyond the average 3 hours I currently spend on a standard size single family.  I don't want to have to start pulling outlets as I think that begins to go too far beyond the SOP's, but a reliable tester may be do the trick.

Thanks everyone for you inputs thus far. Mike Stewart - Honolulu, HI

I responded...

b2ap3 thumbnail Ideal61165Michael:
Either tester will partially fit your needs. For bootleg grounds, both will identify the condition. The SureTest does NOT require the 9 volt battery like the Amprobe does, but you do have to scroll through the menus to see the results of each test with the SureTest. Neither does very well when you stick a 3-prong to 2 prong adapter on the end to use on your older housing stock. On normal inspections of older houses, these tools are very quick to pull out and use when you have a 3 prong outlet that tests fine with a cheapo tester but you suspect it has a bootleg ground. This is done by plugging in and seeing the readout. This feature does not work when the outlet is located within 15 feet of the panel because it reads the ground and any amount of connection wire shorter than 15’ will give the reading. This means that if you have a washing machine with an older approved ground wire connection to the water piping near the outlet, then it will show false ground, even though it is a good old fashioned approved ground. You have to be careful what you report.

PERRY’S THOUGHTS: If you have the money (About $150), then SureTest makes a small to medium size tester that is an incredible everyday every outlet type of tester. It has the same drawbacks of a cheapo tester, but you feel like a “Real man” when you pull it out for testing. Mine dies about 3 years ago and I have not been able to justify the expense in this down market (My kids always seem to need shoes). This tester will provide AFCI and GFCI, but not do any of the false ground, voltage drop, ground impedance, etc…

DARRYL’S VIDEO: I am amazed at the focus on a reverse bootleg ground. This makes a reverse polarity bootleg that makes both the neutral and the ground hot and the hot is a neutral. I doubt that we will ever find this because the homeowner would have identified it long before our arrival as they would have shocked or burned up someone or something.

So in summary, I recommend that you invest in either unit and add it to your quiver, while learning their limitations. I lean more towards the SureTest because of a long track record for making quality analyzers. I also hate having battery operated tools and avoid them when I have the option. But not having to scroll is a good feature and the one that Amprobe is hanging their hat upon. The current $267 isn’t bad either.

Hope this helps!
Michael Leavitt – Orem, Utah – www.TheHomeInspector.com

These links may help.

AMPPROBE INSP-3 PURCHASE LINK - Currently $268.60 w/Free Shipping

IDEAL SURETEST 61-165 PURCHASE LINK - Currently $325.06 * TESTING DEPOT - $321.20 with unknown shipping charges * PROFESSIONAL EQUIPMENT - $316.95

IDEAL SURETEST 61-059 PURCHASE LINK - Currently $170.00 w/Free Shipping or TESTING DEPOT - $162.47 with unknown shipping charges.

SIZE

The final issue may be size. I wear the Idea 61-165 on the back of my tool belt. I know that if I do not have the tool with me, then it is rare for me to take the time to head back out to my vehicle to get it. My custom tool belt makes all the difference to my inspection style.

AMPROBE INSP-3: Unavailable - Look at photo below. It looks real similar to the Ideal 61-165, but it definitely will not slip into your front jeans pocket.

12/28 - Amprobe responded back - The approximate dimensions of the INSP-3 are 7.25 x 4 x 1.75 inches

IDEAL: 61-165: 6.4" (L) x 3" (W) x 1.4" (D)

b2ap3 thumbnail AmprobeINSP3 B

Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - www.TheHomeInspector.com

What tester do you use/recommend?

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