Wire Tracing

Posted by John Hamilton

Wire TracingWire Tracing

Wire Tracing and electrical troubleshooting is one part - science, one part - art, one part - experience, and one part - luck. In this article we are going to focus on wire tracing along a path, how to do it, and look at the challenges of wire tracing.


The Equipment

wire tracing 521A product imageOne of the most common types of wire tracing equipment used for direct burial wire and cable is manufactured by Greenlee products. Golf Irrigation Consultants utilizes the 521A series model which is very functional and cost effective. Greenlee makes a variety of tracing equipment, but we have found that the 521A best suits our needs for most electrical troubleshooting issues and wire tracing on golf courses.

Although manufacturers will claim that wire tracing equipment such as the 521A will track both wire paths and find ground faults, we rarely rely upon wire tracing equipment to locate ground faults.

Wire Tracing the Wire path

The first thing we recommend when tracing a wire path is to isolate the circuit. Remember, the goal is to identify and mark the path (with marking paint) of the wire run! Don't forget or skip this step, or you may find yourself chasing your tail all over the place.

  • Step 1 - Disconnect the power wire from the terminal block in the Satellite.
  • Step 2 - Cut the solenoid wire off the circuit at the valve or VIH. This is important! (See note below)
  • Step 3 - Connect the power source from the Greenlee 521A on the Power wire (Red) at either the clock or the valve (VIH) to trace the wire path.
  • Step 4 - Trace the wire path
  • Step 5 - Mark the wire path with marking paint.

*Warning! (And we speak from years of experience in wire tracing)

*It is imperative that you disconnect the solenoid from the wire path at the valve (VIH). Remember that we are tracing a wire circuit, and if you leave the solenoid on the suspect circuit, then you are asking for problems. The power from the Greenlee 521A will travel not only through the power wire, but it will also travel back through the common wire (green). On most golf courses, there could be up to 30+ stations (often more) which are wired up to the same common wire. Based on that, if you do not isolate the single wire by cutting off the solenoid, you could be walking all over the golf course wire tracing the common. We will be honest here.....we have done that, and have wasted hours by skipping this simple step .

What to listen for when wire tracing

Wire Tracing toneWhen you are over the wire path, you will start to pick up specific tones from the receiver which will give you the location of the path. Typically you will hear a dull tone which will increase in volume the closer you come to being right over the wire path. When you are right over the path itself, there will be a null sound (silence), and then once again will become louder after you pass the centerline of the wire path as you wave the wand across to the other side of the wire path. (See photograph)

There may be times when you hear the tone drop off in intensity and you think you have found the problem. You must remember that your goal is to utilize this equipment to solely trace the wire path and not try to locate the ground fault. There have been many times where we thought we were 100% sure we found our problem, only to waste a 1/2 an hour digging in hard soil without finding a problem in the world.

The only time that the wire tracing equipment will find a ground fault is when there is a complete break along the wire path. If there are small nicks due to wire degradation, gopher activity, or shovel nicks; the power from the transmitting unit from the 521A will continue along the wire path and will NOT identify the cause of your problem. 

What if you have a cut or nicked Common Wire

If there is a common (normally green) that is nicked and is grounding out, then more than one station will definitely be effected and not working from the satellite or central computer. This is due to the fact the common wire can serve multiple stations along the wire path run. If you find this type of scenario when you try to identify the source of your problem, then advanced wire trouble shooting techniques and isolation will be necessary to find the source of your problem.

In the next article, we will discuss how to utilize Ground Fault locating equipment to pinpoint the exact location of the source of your electrical problems.

If you have any any electrical troubleshooting issues or wire tracing which you need assistance or education on, please feel free to contact us to address your needs.

Golf Irrigation Consultants - 415-342-1030