How to Use a Multimeter

Use an Analog or Digital Multimeter (DMM) to Diagnose Circuits, Measure Voltage and Current

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

A typical digital multimeter and leads
A typical digital multimeter and leads
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I’ll be the first to admit it – electrical troubleshooting is not my favorite DIY task. Give me a woodworking project, give me a wall to tape and float; ahh, now you’re looking at a happy camper. But when I do have to jump in there chasing electrons, the first thing I reach for is my digital multimeter.

Digital VS Analog

Multimeters are also called multitesters, which is perhaps a more descriptive name. The digital models might be newer than the analog ones but the concept is the same. Like analog watches and clocks preceded digital ones, the same is true with electrical testing meters. The same might be said of aneroid vs digital barometers.

Is one better than the other? Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been told that the digital is more accurate than its analog cousin. I don’t really care though. I’m not likely to be measuring anything down to the nana-micro-tinyvolt level of granularity. Besides, I really like that little needle flicking around. I guess it reminds me of those old science fiction B movies. But alas, my old analog doesn’t work anymore so I’ve gone digital.



Multimeter Functions

For such a small gadget, the multitester really packs a punch with respect to functionality. Check out some of the things this little gizmo will do for you:

  • Continuity Testing: This is probably the simplest function. No mystery here, it’s just what it sounds like. It checks to see if the electrical current is continuous from point A to point B.
  • Voltage Testing: Again, very straightforward. For example, to test a light switch or an outlet, set the meter to AC (Alternating Current), set it to the voltage closest to what you’re measuring (110 – 120 for an outlet), and put one probe in each slot. Almost all portable electronics use DC (Direct Current). As a simple example, consider an AA battery. Connect the black probe to the meter’s ground or COM port and the red probe to mAVΩ (the 10A port is for large currents (greater than 200mA). Touch the probes with a little pressure against the positive and negative terminals of the AA battery. If you’ve got a new battery, you should see around 1.5V on the display (this battery is brand new, so its voltage is slightly higher than 1.5V).
  • Measuring Resistance: It also tests resistance in a circuit or device. Your instruction manual will go into detail for your specific model, but basically just set the knob to Ohms, plug the black lead into COM jack, the red into the OHM jack. Then put the leads across the device in parallel and read the resistance. Note: If it reads 1 or -1, try testing in a larger range.


  • Measuring Current: Reading current is one of the trickiest and most insightful readings in the world of embedded electronics, such as you might find in a smart Wi-Fi weather station. Why is it tricky? Because you have to measure current in series. Where voltage is measured by poking at VCC and GND (in parallel), to measure current it is necessary to physically interrupt the flow of current and then place your meter in-line.


Using a multimeter is not something that most of us will use every day but having one and knowing how to use it will come in handy time and time again. When choosing one, everyone has his preference, generally speaking, multimeters that have continuity are preferred. Every other feature is just icing on the cake.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Your Stove: Gas for Efficiency or Electric for Better Air Quality?

by Kelly R. Smith

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Cooking dinner on a gas stove range
Cooking dinner on a gas stove range

Does your home have a gas stove for energy-efficiency or an electric one for better air quality? If you have a gas line to your home you’ve got a choice but if you don’t, you are locked into the electrical stove version — unless you want to pay to have a natural gas line installed. Each type of appliance has its pros and cons.

The Pros of Natural Gas vs. Electricity

The primary benefit of natural gas appliances, and stoves/ranges in particular is that they are more energy-efficient (on an operating cost basis). Why? Simply put, it takes gas, or some other fuel source, to generate electricity. That is an extra production step. On the other hand, electrical power is much better for your health, especially if you are prone to asthma issues.

Natural Gas Contributes to Indoor Air Pollution

Burning gas to cook food on any stove produces particulate pollutants, the worst of which is nitrogen dioxide, or NO2,, and sometimes also carbon monoxide. You know what they say about closed garages with the car engine running.

This is why the air around your stove or any other gas-fueled appliance such as a water heater or downflow gas furnace should be vented to the outdoors. Even brief exposure to air containing elevated concentrations of NO can result in coughing and wheezing for people with asthma or other respiratory issues. Prolonged exposure to this gas can result in the development of those conditions, according to the EPA1 who says, “NO2 along with other NOx reacts with other chemicals in the air to form both particulate matter and ozone. Both of these are also harmful when inhaled due to effects on the respiratory system.”


How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Gas Appliances


References

  1. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Pollution, https://www.epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2

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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Should You Do Your Own Electrical Repairs or Upgrades?

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This can be a tricky issue. Usually it boils down to:

  • Are you competent to complete the task?
  • Does the local electrical building code specify a licensed electrician and building permits?
  • What is the scope of the remodeling project?

Regular Maintenance or Full-Blown Remodeling Project?

We all have situations where we are simply fixing small issues. These usually involve tasks such as replacing GFCI receptacles in the bathroom or kitchen, replacing ceiling fans, and hard-wiring a new oven. These are likely considered regular maintenance.

These are all things that the average homeowner can handle. A project that goes beyond that may involve having to pull building permits and having the job inspected and signed off on. In this case you will likely have to hire a licensed electrician. Always check you local code to be sure.

For example, if you are doing a kitchen remodel, there is likely to be some electrical work. Kitchens are very electric-intensive because of all the appliances. Plus, there is the issue of water and electricity. They don’t usually play well together.

Bathroom remodels face similar issues. There might not be so many appliances but the water issue is at least, if not more, critical. With kitchen and bathroom issues you will likely have to hire a licensed electrician.

Preventative Maintenance for Electrical Repairs

We never know when electrical problems will arise. Who among us has had a circuit breaker or fuse trip in the middle of the night? (It’s always at the worst possible time, right?)

Anyway, now is the time to cover your backside, before fate slaps you upside the head. The most basic thing you can do is to map electrical circuits. This way, when you do have an issue in the wee hours or you are wiring an appliance, you will know just which breaker is involved. The builder made these decisions and they don’t always follow logic.


Speaking of the circuit breaker box, I always keep a padlock on mine. Why? Well, it just happens that one of the things that would-be burglars will do is to flip the main switch to cut power to your house.

Does this qualify me as a bona fide paranoia whacko? Perhaps, but at least I’ve got my (imaginary) ducks in a row (or mallards in a queue if you are reading this across the pond).

The bottom line of this post is that you should know which electrical projects you can and should tackle from both a legal and frugal standpoint. Stay safe and enjoy your kilowatts.


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