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2020 Buying Guide to Electrical Cables

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What types of electrical cables are there?

In this publication of article, we will teach you in a detailed and simple way what types of electrical cables exist so that you know better these products, and you can choose the right one depending on the use to which it is going to be used.

We will also get to know aspects such as the most frequent measurements and colors of the cables, the types of insulation used, and the conductors’ types.

What do you think if we start? Come on, let’s get to it.


What is an electric cable?

An electric cable is an element manufactured and thought to conduct electricity. The main material with which they are made is copper (due to its high degree of conductivity), although aluminum is also used, although its degree of conductivity is lower, it is also cheaper than copper.

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Parts of an electric cable

Electric cables are made up of the conductor, insulation, a filler layer, and a jacket. Each of these elements that make up an electric cable fulfill a purpose that we will know below:

  • Electrical conductor: It is the part of the cable that carries electricity and can be made up of one or more copper or aluminum wires.
  • Insulation: This component is the part that covers the conductor. It ensures that the electrical current does not escape from the cable and is transported from beginning to end by the conductor.
  • Filler layer: The filler layer is located between the insulation and the conductor. It ensures that the cable maintains a circular appearance since, in many cases, the conductors are not round or have more than one wire. The filling layer achieves a round and homogeneous appearance.
  • Cover: The cover is the material that protects the cable from the weather and external elements.

So far, everything is very interesting, right? Well, if you think so, we are going to know what types of conductors, insulations, cables according to voltages, colors and measurements exist.

 Types of electrical conductors

 We remember that the conductor is the component that carries electricity.

Bare wire conductor

Bare wire conductor

It is a single wire in solid-state; it is not flexible and has no coating; an example of this type of conductors is the use of grounding together with the ground rods.

Insulated wire conductor

Insulated electrical wire conductor

It is the same as the bare wire conductor with only one difference; in this case, the conductor is covered with a layer of plastic material insulation so that the conductor does not come into contact with any other elements such as other conductors, people, or objects. Metallic. Insulated wire is used much more than bare copper in both homes and offices.

Flexible cable conductor

Flexible cable conductor

The flexible electric cable is the most commercialized and the most applied; it is composed of many fine wires covered by plastic material. They are so flexible because being many fine wires instead of a thick conductor wire makes it possible to bend easily; they are very malleable.

Cord conductor

Electrical Cord conductor

They are made up of more than one cable or wire; they all come together and are wrapped together a second time; that is, they have the insulation of each conductor plus one that brings them all together in a single set.

Types of electrical cable insulation

Remember that almost all cables have a coating or insulation layer to prevent them from coming into contact with each other and causing a short circuit.

You can identify the type of insulation that a cable has in the inscriptions that appear on it; they are abbreviations of English. The cables used for installations in homes and offices are THN, THW, THHW, and THWN. The meaning of these abbreviations is as follows:

 1 – T (Thermoplastic): Thermoplastic insulation (all cables have this.

 2 – H (Heat resistant): Heat resistant up to 75 ° Celsius (167 ° F).

 3 – HH (Heat resistant): Heat resistant up to 90 ° Celsius (194 ° F).

 4 – W (Water resistant): Resistant to water and humidity.

 5 – LS (Low smoke): This cable has low smoke emission and low content of polluting gases. 

 6 – SPT (Service parallel thermoplastic): This nomenclature is used to identify a cord that is composed of two flexible and parallel cables with plastic insulation and that are joined together and also called a duplex cord.

Types of electrical cable insulation

What is the insulation of the cables made of?

In the insulations of electrical cables, we find two types of insulators, thermoplastic insulation, and thermoset insulation.

Thermoplastic insulation

  • PVC: Polyvinyl chloride
  • PE: Polyethylene
  • PCP: Polychloroprene, Neoprene, or Plastic

Thermoset insulation

  • XLPE: Cross-linked polyethylene
  • EPR: Ethylene-propylene
  • MICC: Clad Copper, Mineral Insulated

Tensions of electrical cables

Depending on the voltage for which they are prepared to operate, the cables are categorized into voltage groups that go by ranges of volts.

Very low voltage cables (Up to 50V)

Low voltage cables (Up to 1000V)

Medium voltage cables (Up to 30kV)

High voltage cables (Up to 66kV)

Very high voltage cables (Above 770kV)

Measurements of electrical cables

The measurements of electrical cables and wires are usually categorized in gauges if we talk about the AWG (American Wire Gauge) system; however, it is more common to know them depending on the diameter of the cable in the decimal metric system and categorize them in square millimeters depending on the diameter of the section. The following table is also very useful to know the caliber equivalences in millimeters.

4 gauge wire diameter 4 25mm2 Very high Central air conditioners, industrial equipment (requires special installation of 240 volts).
6 gauge wire diameter 6 16mm2 High Air conditioners, electric stoves and electric power connections.
8 gauge wire diameter 8 10mm2 Medium – high Clothes dryers, refrigerators, window air conditioners.
10 gauge wire diameter 10 6mm2 Means, medium Microwave ovens, blenders, home and office contacts, heavy duty extensions.
12 gauge wire diameter 12 4mm2 Medium – low Lighting wiring, house contacts, reinforced extensions.
14 gauge wire diameter 14 2.5mm2 Low Low consumption extensions, lamps.
16 gauge wire diameter 16 1.5mm2 Very low Electronic products such as thermostats, doorbells or security systems.

What amperage do copper cables withstand?

Below we show you a table with the amperage that copper cables support . 

Amperage that copper cables support
Temperature level 60℃ 75℃ 90℃ 60℃
type of insulator TW RHW,THW,THWN THHN,XHHW-2,THWN-2 SPT
Measure/Cable Calibration Amperage support Measure/Cable Calibration Amperage support
14 AWG 15A 15A 15A 20 AWG 2A
12 AWG 20A 20A 20A 20 AWG 2A
10 AWG 30A 30A 30A 20 AWG 2A
8 AWG 40A 50A 55A 18 AWG 10A
6 AWG 55A 65A 75A 18 AWG 10A
4 AWG 70A 85A 95A 18 AWG 10A
3 AWG 85A 100A 115A 16AWG 13A
2 AWG 95A 115A 130A 16AWG 13A
1 AWG 110A 130A 170A 14AWG 18A
1/0 AWG 125A 150A 195A 14AWG 18A
2/0 AWG 145A 175A 195A 12AWG 25A
3/0 AWG 165A 200A 225A 12AWG 25A
4/0 AWG 195A 230A 260A 12AWG 25A

Colors and meaning of electrical cables

Electric cables are normally insulated in one of the following colors: Blue, bicolor (green and yellow), brown, gray, or black.

Green and yellow electrical wire

It is the ground wire. In the past, gray or white cables were used but, to avoid confusion, this more striking two-color cable was used.

Blue electrical wire

It is the neutral wire. Until 1970 the red cable was used; check the cables of this color before using it.

Brown electric wire

It is the phase cable, although it can also be black or gray, depending on the aesthetics of the device that displays it. Previously, the color green was used, so if you find a green cable, it would be better to check it before using it, as it may be dry or broken.

Black electric wire

It’s a phase wire, too, and it’s visible in the vast majority of installations and cables. Like white, it can respond to aesthetic reasons.

White wire

The white wires are your neutral wires. These are also grounded but only connect to the transformer to bring the power back.

Colored wires with stripes

Colored wires with a stripe (also called a “guide” are wires that are as neutral as white wires. These types of electrical wires are used to identify which neutral wire goes with which color wire.

Colored cables

All colored cables (except those with a stripe) are current (or charging) cables. The most commonly used is red. When there are many cables, it is easier to identify where each cable goes if you use the colored ones.

Final conclusion

As we have seen, it is very important to know the electrical cables before using them since each one is intended for different use and application, we hope that thanks to this analysis you will know a little better the types of electrical cables that exist and that it has been helpful utility.

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