How to Detect & Trace Electrical Wires Buried Underground or in the Wall

| Updated on November 9, 2023

Knowing the location of your wires in the wall or underground can also help you in emergencies and in daily life. For example, suppose you want some repairs done in your home, or have planned for some improvements or renovation, or you want to make your home safer with better electrical protections; you’ll need to trace the wires because if you accidentally cut them off or damage them, it can result in severe mishaps.

And you must be non-invasive in your pursuit of finding them. Because if you start drilling holes in your wall randomly, you’ll be left with a maddening confusion and an unsightly wall. For underground wires, this tracing needs to be even more precise. Otherwise, you’ll be digging for an eternity. 

But always keep in mind that safety is of paramount importance. Anything related to high amounts of electricity can be dangerous and fatal. In addition, defective wiring can damage life and property. That’s why, for serious concerns, always contact electricians. 

Also, before starting any project, know the local laws. Always cut off power when you’re working on wiring or lighting. Wear gloves and glasses if you need to cut or drill into walls. Never try to touch or reach into wall spaces if you don’t know if the wires are live. Use non-conductive instruments. 

So, you need to know the correct way to do it and the tools you’ll need to trace the wires in these scenarios. Here are some tips:

For Wires Inside Walls:

You’ll need tools for detecting wires inside the walls. One of them is a ‘stud finder. They have many variations for various needs with variable power. The magnetic one simply locates nails inside wall studs through magnetic attraction. The electronic variety generates a small electrical field that will change if it touches the denser portions, such as the surrounding area of studs, and it’ll inform you of this change through light or a sound. Some finders can even trace the flow of current beneath walls. These will provide an approximate location but not the exact number of wires.

Another helpful tool is a ‘voltage detector.’ These are essential for tracing wires and ensuring safety, as you can be sure that the circuits are okay and they’re turned off before you go and modify them. These can find wires and consequently check whether they’re live or not. There’s a pretty cheap version of this that you can easily find in electrical shops, known as neon circuit testers (as these use neon bulbs). 

You can also opt for voltage detectors with audible alarms, called volt ticks or probes. These produce a sound whenever they detect live wires. Or you can also alternatively use a metal detector if there are not too many wires or other objects than electrical ones like nails etc.

You can consider all-in-one wire tracers that will offer detailed instructions on how to do it. In addition, some models of stud finders have special wire sensors to trace specific wires under walls. Choose the tools according to your needs and purpose.

For Underground Wires:

Most of the failures or accidents that involve malfunctioning underground wires trace their roots back to the inability to locate all of them. If contractors fail to track the underground cables before any excavation, don’t use CATs or ‘Cable Avoidance Tools’, or don’t take necessary precautions, it can get messed up pretty easily.

So, if you’re planning to build or reconstruct anything that needs underground cable management, try to locate all the wires through cable plans and other information about the land underground. And if you want to make it easier for future modifications, consider installing cable locating devices. And if you need ready assistance, you’ll need an underground wire tracker.

underground wire tracker

You can use hum devices which are receivers that detect any kind of magnetic field created by live wires. These are useful when there’s a steady flow of current in those wires. 

There are radio frequency detectors, which can also catch low-frequency signals from cables and metal pipes. However, the results can be confusing if there are far too many metallic objects. 

Then, there are transmitter-receivers. These cable locators are best in difficult situations, but they also need skilled operators. And finally, you can use metal detectors in this case as well. They’ll easily locate the metal covers and joint boxes, though they can be hit-or-miss when locating cables running deep underground.

Also Read: How to Get Synthetic Monitoring to Work in New Relic?


If you know exactly where and how the wires are placed behind your walls or underground, you can make better decisions on any electrical investment. 

The chances of overloading and fractured applications because of irregular voltages will be much lower. So, in a way, it saves you a lot of money in the long run.

But your home will become safer, too, in terms of short-circuits, fire, or severe electrical damages. And there’s no price you can put on life, of yourself and your dear ones.



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