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When a meter in connected to a circuit, it acts like a load with current going through it.

Meters with a high input impedance draw almost no current through the meter while testing a circuit. Multimeters have high input impedance (you can measure low voltage on logic circuits). They give precise measurements but may give a false voltage reading with photocells, dimmer switches, a poor connection, or parallel wires (voltage may be present, but not be able to operate a load).

Meters with a low input impedance draw a small amount of current through the meter while putting a small load on the circuit. You will get false readings on low voltage logic circuits with a low input impedance meter. Solenoid testers have low input impedance. They give approximate voltage measurements and accurate (but not precise) voltage reading with photocells, dimmer switches, or parallel wires. When a voltage is present, but not be able to operate a load, a solenoid tester will absorb the voltage and show there is no voltage.

Input Impedance

Meter connects to a receptacle that has power turned off.

120 V

Voltage induced from adjacent hot wire. 48.2 volts measured with high impedance multimeter.

0 volts measured with low impedance solenoid meter.

Magnetic field is present when a wire has voltage on it.

Induced Voltage on Adjacent Wire Clamp Multimeter Showing 48 Volts

Induced Voltage

Input Impedance and Voltage Readings

The high input impedance multimeter below shows 48.2 volts on a 120 volts receptacle where power is turned off. This receptacle is fed by one of the hot wires of a 12-3 NM cable. The other hot wire is turned on. A low input impedance solenoid meter will show 0 volts on a circuit that is turned off.

This 12-3 NM cable contains four wires, two hot wires (black and red), one neutral wire (white), and one ground wire (bare). All four wires are bundled close together inside NM cables from this receptacle to the electrical panel.

The meter at left is measuring the voltage of the black wire with power shut off. The red wire that travels next to the black wire has power turned on.

The magnetic field from the red wire induces voltage to the black wire. This voltage is unable to supply a load or an electrical shock.

When measuring the output of certain photocells or dimmer switches with a high impedance multimeter, it may show a reading of 120 volts when they are turned off or have failed.