Introduction: $2 Carabiner AC Amp Sensor (aka Current Transducer, CT Sensor, Amp Meter, Split Core Clamp-on Ammeter)
Impressed by the usefulness of AC current sensors but put off by the prices? Me too! So I decided to make one. Purchasing a new split-core current transducers costs around $25. Here is a $2 option.
Here are some creative uses of current sensors:
Real-time Web Based Household Power Usage Monitor
What you need:
-cheap carabiner (what other use for those fake caribiners!)
-or use a $1 c-clamp for better results
-3' of small gauge wire
-a store bought clamp-on current sensor
Once complete, read your sensor with a millivolt meter ; such as, a multi meter, micro controller, arduino, etc
Step 1: Wrap the Carabiner and Calibrate
Wrap your carabiner with enough turns to achieve the required resolutions. I initially used 30 turns with no resolution so I doubled to 60 turns as shown below.
Next, slice/separate the wires of an extension cord in order to test/calibrate your CT sensor. If you try to sense both the load line and neutral line, the magnetic fields cancel and no current is induced.
Next, plug something into the extension cord. I used a space heater. Measure the amperage with a store bought clamp-on meter.
I measured 11.8 amps with my Field Piece meter.
The field piece has been calibrated so that 1amp AC is equal to 1milivolt AC (1AAC/1mVAC). My Caribiner sensor measured 0.3 milivolt.
11.8 amps / 0.3 millivolts = 39 AAC/mVAC
If you are considering putting this around any high voltage wiring, consider wrapping all exposed metal parts in electrical tape.
Step 2: Ferrous Core Materials
On further investigation, an aluminum carabiner does not encourage inductance. A ferrous material is needed. According to this inductor manufacturer, a "core material with a higher permeability than air confines the magnetic field closely to the inductor, thereby increasing the inductance." Classically described, iron has unpaired electrons in its orbital shells that create a polarized atom and these atoms easily arrange and encourage inductance whereas aluminum's electrons are not organized to create a polarized atom and hence the atoms do not arrange about a magnetic field.
Steel alloys are mostly iron. The results were outstanding.
Starting with the highest resolution:
1-1/2" C-Clamp ~$1.00
0.45 AAC/mVAC consistent within 0.21 amps between 5 to 12 amps
5/16" steel/zinc U-Lock ~$1.00
1.0 AAC/mVAC consistent within 0.50 amps between 5 to 12 amps
1/4" x 2" zinc U-bolt with nuts $0.75
1.70 AAC/mVAC consistent within 0.65 amps between 5 to 12 amps
1.5" Key Ring ~$0.70
Lastly, results may improve with tighter wrapping of the wire to the core material.
Step 3: More Carabiners
The 16 gauge wire on the large carabiner yielded the best results for aluminum but poor compared to steel at 13.3 AAC/mVAC.
The thin gauge red wire on the large carabiner yielded 30 AAC/mVAC.
Next I tried the cheap $0.50 carabiners.
The yellow and black wire on the green carabiner yielded 40 AAC/mVAC.
The red wire on the blue caribiner yielded 24 AAC/mVAC.