How to Debug Electrical Circuits


If you are experiencing difficulties with an electrical circuit, then there could be a variety of scenarios that are preventing it from working properly. Part of the complexity of diagnosing electrical problems stems from the vast number of components that can be incorporated in a large-scale circuit. Alternatively, smaller circuits, such as those used for science experiments, may be easy to diagnose and fix. Regardless of the type of circuit that you are dealing with, knowing how to use a few basic tools will help to troubleshoot and debug your circuit.

Things You'll Need

  • Circuit schematic
  • Wire strippers
  • Extra wiring
  • Outlet tester
  • AC tester
  • Multimeter
  • Soldering iron
  • Soldering wick
  • Test one end of your electrical system. It is best to go from end to end when diagnosing electrical problems rather than jumping throughout the circuit testing multiple different components. If you are testing and diagnosing a circuit within your home, use an outlet tester to plug into your wall socket to see whether or not electricity is flowing through it and it is wired correctly. If the outlet tester lights up the green LED, then it is wired correctly. If it lights up the red LED, then the wiring is not correct.

  • Expose the circuit at its next junction or joint to test that location. Use an AC tester pen to hold up to the wiring for the circuit. If electricity is flowing through the circuit, then the AC tester will light up when it touches a live wire. This can also help to prevent you from being shocked if the circuitry wiring is exposed.

  • Use a multimeter to check soldered joints, splices and other connections. Set the multimeter to measure infinite resistance and touch the wire with the two probes. One needs to be touching the exposed wire before the join and the other probe should touch the wire after the join. If the multimeter reads infinite resistance, then there is a break in the circuit's joints that are not allowing electricity to flow correctly.

  • Undo the joint where the circuit is not allowing electricity to pass. Desolder the joint by heating up a solder wick for a few seconds and then heating up the solder. Touch the solder wick to the joint and allow it to suck up the solder. Unwind the wires and re-solder the joint. Test the finished joint with a multimeter once the solder has dried. If the joint is made using a wire nut, unwrap any electrical tape, remove the nut, untwist the wires and inspect them. If the wires are not burnt or frayed, re-twist them and put the cap back on.

  • Smell for any burns or shorts in the circuit. If your circuit has any burns, then you may either have a short or too much voltage or amperage coming through the circuit. Use a wire sizing chart to make sure that your wires and cables are the correct size. If wires are too small, then shorts and burns may result. If the wire is too large, then you may experience increased resistance, decreasing the efficiency of your circuit.

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