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Electrical Cable Basics You Need to Know

By December 10, 2018No Comments

If you’re considering taking on a DIY wiring project, there are some basics you need to know before diving in. We’ve compiled a list of the most important steps you can take to help avoid an electrical disaster.

Know the Differences Between Cable and Wire

While most people use the two terms interchangeably, there really is an important difference between the two. Wire is one strand of wire with an insulated coating. Cable is two or more strands of wire insulated together to form one cable.

Know the Wire Gauge

Wire comes in different thicknesses, or gauges, in order to deliver the correct electrical current. It may seem backward, but the smaller the number of the wire, the larger the current. Big appliances such as air conditioners and hot water heaters will often use 6 or 8 gauge wires, while most other smaller residential items use 14 or 16 gauge wires.

Know the Numbered Cable

An electrical cable has two numbers separated by a hyphen. The first number indicates the gauge of the wire and the second number indicates how many wires are contained within the coating. So, a cable labeled 14-2 contains two strands of 14 gauge wire. The cable also contains a copper grounding wire.

Know the Color Coding Basics

In more recently made cables, there’s a color system in place so you’ll know what type of wire you are handling. It’s important to note that not all wires and cables are color coded, so don’t rely on this system; if in doubt, it’s always best to check the numbers. Here’s a quick rundown of the color code for cables:

  • Gray: underground cable. All underground cables are gray, so you’ll need to check for more specifics.
  • White: 14 gauge wire, 15 amp circuit
  • Yellow: 12 gauge wire, 20 amp circuit
  • Orange: 10 gauge wire, 30 amp circuit
  • Black: 8 or 6 gauge wire, 45 or 60 amp circuit

For wires, there is a separate color coding system:

  • Black or red wires are hot, or carrying the current from the panel to the device
  • White wires are neutral, carrying the current from the device back to the panel
  • Bare wires or green wires are ground wires, providing an emergency escape for the current to travel back to the panel

Know the Difference Between Stranded vs. Solid Wires

Some wires are one solid piece of metal, while others are several strands bunched together to make one larger strand. Stranded wire is more flexible than solid wire, while solid wire is easier to pass through a conduit. Consider carefully the type of wire you will want to use for your project.

Know About Metal Clad Wire

Some types of wire come in a metal casing. This is typically to protect the coating on the wiring in areas where the wire might get damaged.

Armed with these basics, you should be ready to tackle your first DIY wiring project. But, if you don’t have the proper tools, it’s probably best to call in the professionals. Only tackle electrical projects when you really understand what you’re doing!