How to Detect an Electrical Wire in a Wall

Billy Brainard

Beginning a remodeling project or simply drilling into a wall to hang a picture can seem simple enough, but steps must be taken beforehand to determine if electrical wires are present within a wall.

Using an electronic stud finder with an electrical wire-detection feature can take the guesswork out of knowing exactly where the wiring is located. This will allow you to make the necessary cuts into a wall without the danger of cutting into a live, or "hot," electrical wire.


Be sure to follow the manufacturer guidelines for your particular model electronic detector.


Make sure the batteries are charged and working inside your electronic detector to ensure accurate results.

Test the electronic detector in a know area where electrical wires exist to make sure it is operating properly.

  1. Locate any electrical outlets or wall switches on the wall you will be working with. If the wall is an interior wall, check both sides. If the wall also has an exterior side, check the exterior side for any outdoor outlets. Note these outlet and switch locations for later reference.

  2. Locate an entrance to the attic and use a flashlight to check the top of the wall plate on the designated wall to see if there are any wires running down into the wall. If a basement is available, check the basement for any electrical wire entry points on the wall.

  3. Turn the electronic stud/wire finder on, and slowly move it left and right until the detector beeps, indicating it has found an electrical wire. Start in an area on the wall that is close to a switch or outlet, move the detector up the wall and mark the wall to form a trace line of where the electrical wire is located as the detector beeps.

  4. Repeat step three on any additional areas on the wall until you have identified all the locations where the electronic detector indicates there are electrical wires.