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How to Map House Electrical Circuits

Having a map of your home’s electrical circuits can help you identify the source of a problem.

Electricity travels in a circle. It moves along a “hot” wire toward a light or receptacle, supplies energy to the device (called a load), and then returns along the “neutral” wire (so-called because under normal conditions it’s maintained at 0 volts, or what is referred to as ground potential) to the source. This complete path is a circuit.

In house wiring, a circuit usually indicates a group of lights or receptacles connected along such a path. Each circuit can be traced from its beginning in the service panel or subpanel through various receptacles, fixtures, and/or appliances and back.

Inside your service panel, you may discover that an electrician or previous homeowner has notated which circuit breakers or fuses control which circuits. If your panel doesn’t contain such a reference, it’s a good idea to map your circuits so that when the need arises you can quickly find the right circuit breakers or fuses to shut off or reset. Though the following instructions refer to circuit breakers, the same procedure applies to panels that utilize fuses.

If the circuit breakers aren’t already numbered inside the electrical panel, number them. Make a list that you can post on the inside of the door. Numbers should correspond to each circuit breaker. After each number, note which devices the breaker controls.

For an even more thorough mapping, you can sketch a floor plan and make notes on it that identify the breaker numbers for each light and receptacle throughout the house. (Another helpful tip: Mark the back of each switch and receptacle cover with its circuit breaker number. The circuit map below is of a typical two-bedroom house. Note that the dashed lines indicate which switch controls which fixture; they do not show wire routes.)

Mapping your circuits is something you should do in daylight with a helper. Be aware that all of your home’s power will be off at some point in time, so when you’re done you’ll have to reset clocks, timers, and the like. To make your mapping easier, remember that receptacles are usually on circuits separate from lighting, and major appliances such as furnaces, microwaves, washing machines, electric dryers, and electric ovens often have dedicated circuits.

repair a ceiling fan breaker

Individual circuit breakers control each circuit. ©HomeTips

1At the electrical panel, turn off all the circuit breakers.


2Identify any large, double (240-volt) circuit breakers first. Flip one on. Determine which major electrical appliance(s) it supplies by turning on each electrical appliance (don’t forget equipment such as the furnace and the pool pump) until you find the right one(s). Repeat with the other large circuit breakers and major appliances.

3Have your helper plug a small lamp (or any small electrical device) into a standard room receptacle. Turn breakers on and off until you find the one that turns on the device. Leave that breaker on and have your helper plug the device into other receptacles; note all the ones controlled by that breaker.

4Repeat this process, switching on room lights one by one, and note the circuit breaker that controls each set of lights.

Mapping Home Electrical Circuits


About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. So glad I came across this article. I am almost finished with identifying each device in the house and it’s related breaker. For me that is not enough, just the way I am. Is it possible to identify w where each breaker start? And from there, can I trace the circuit from it’s intial entrance point?

  2. Help, my room mate plugged her hair dryer into an outlits in her room. It tripped the breaker and when I flipped it back on I thought things were fine only now there is no power to any of the outlits in the master bedroom, her room , and the wall in the living room closest to the master bedroom ..the lights work but not the outlits. I’ve turned off all the breakers and turned them all on again. What would cause this ?? This is a brand new condo building basically.

    • Just taking a guess, I would say that the wire plugged into the back of the outlet has come loose. Many contractors take a shortcut of using the plug-in connectors rather than taking the time to use the more reliable screws on the side of the outlet. When they do this, the current to the other outlets must travel through the outlet device. This is known as daisy-chaining. It can almost be compared to as an old style Christmas tree light string. Once that circuit comes open in one of the outlets, it will kill the others down the line. You need to have someone who knows what they are doing take a look at the outlets to find out which one went bad. As an electrician, I see this all of the time.


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