In new construction and renovation of older homes, it is essential to install electrical systems with adequately sized wiring. However, you can improve the energy efficiency of your home by asking your electrician to use larger gauge wiring than the minimum recommended size.
Upgrade the electrical wiring in your home for additional security, flexibility and scalability benefits. Here's what you need to know about wiring and wire sizes in your home.
Wires conduct electricity when electrons pass through the metal material that makes up the wire. Rather than being efficient racers through the wire, electrons bounce back as they reach your outlets and appliances. In a standard 10 amp, 12 gauge copper wire, individual electrons move only about 1.2 inches per minute.
It takes longer for an electron to travel through a smaller wire than through a larger-diameter wire. Think of the larger wiring as a highway and the smaller wiring as a two-lane road. The larger diameter of the larger wire provides more area for electrons to move through the circuit.
For this reason, smaller gauge wire has a lower amperage (current) limit than larger gauge wire. The smallest common household wire can carry 15 amps of current. The largest common wire type (usually only used in electrical service panels) can carry a maximum of 95 amps.
If you have an outlet in your home that is connected with a 15 amp cord and you plug in a 20 amp appliance, you are asking your wiring to supply more current than its rated capacity. Your circuit breaker should trip and stop the current flowing through the circuit. The circuit breaker will interrupt the current to protect the affected wires.
Why do I need to protect the wires? When you overload a wire by plugging in a device that requires more current than the wire is rated for, the wire can become very hot. Overheated wires can melt their protective insulation. Exposed wires are an electrical shock hazard to anyone who accidentally touches them.
If exposed wiring is located near flammable materials, these wires are a significant fire hazard. Attic insulation and other flammable materials behind walls can catch fire from the heat of exposed wires. If your circuit breakers are not working properly, you could have a house fire due to overloaded wiring in your home.
Adding a higher capacity breaker or disabling the breaker to allow over-rated devices to work can also increase the risk of burning down your home. A new circuit will not save your home from the consequences of overloading it with wires that are too small.
Even if your wiring is properly rated for the current strength you need, smaller wires will get hotter than larger-diameter wires when both carry the same current load. Smaller wires lose more power due to heat loss than larger-capacity wires.
For example, 100 feet of 12 gauge wire carrying 15 amps of current will lose 77 watts of energy. A 10 gauge wire of the same length will only lose 48 watts of energy when carrying the same load of current. Over time, larger wires will reduce your overall energy costs because you will lose less energy in your electrical system.
Depending on the size of your electrical system, you can recoup the cost of larger wiring in two to three years due to energy savings. Remember that most labor costs are the same whether you use standard wiring or larger wiring. Most of your investment in larger wiring goes into the wire itself.
Using a larger AWG wire provides more flexibility in the layout of your electrical system. Your electrician can add more sockets as your wiring increases the current potential. Larger wiring can sometimes be installed in hazardous areas where smaller wiring is not recommended.
If you decide to upgrade your home's wiring in the future, you may not need to install larger wiring when you already have a higher grade of wiring in your home. If you plan to add outlets or make other upgrades to a room later, installing increased capacity wiring now will save you the hassle of removing walls to increase the size of the wiring in the future.
Larger wiring also prevents voltage drops that can reduce the performance of electrical equipment and appliances. For example, improper wiring can cause lights to dim when a refrigerator's compressor kicks in. Voltage drops are frustrating and can damage motors and other electrical equipment over time.
If your fuses are blowing frequently or your toaster is too slow, your wiring is not providing the current you need. Improve the safety, energy efficiency and future electrical scalability of your home by hiring an electrician to install larger wiring for you.
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