What Is The Importance Of Knowing The Amp Rating Of A Wire?

Monday, January 17, 2022 1:50:45 AM

What Is The Importance Of Knowing The Amp Rating Of A Wire?



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Electricity Explained: Volts, Amps, Watts, Fuse Sizing, Wire Gauge, AC/DC, Solar Power and more!

The more power and equipment you have, the larger the wire needs to be. What can happen when you use too small of wire size for your equipment? Using proper gauge wire is very important for several reasons. If too small of a size is used, the wire could melt because of the large amount of current flowing through it compared to how much the cables can handle. The smaller the wire diameter, the higher the resistance there will be to the flow of energy. When you have high resistance you create heat, which can turn into a fire hazard. A good example of this is a toaster. Damage can occur to the amplifier when there is not enough current flowing to its circuits, especially when the music peaks.

This page was created to help explain concepts and give an overview of wire capacity and what is factored into deciding on the wire size to use in a given application. This page should not to be considered an authoritative source of exact numbers on what wire size to use. Consult other sources such as wiring codes and manufacturers recommendations on the piece of equipment you are installing for more details. I am not telling you what wire size to use - the information here is provided as-is and without any guarantee as to it's accuracy or completeness. Any issues caused by the use of this information are not my fault - be smart, use common sense, and use this information at your own risk. The amount of power a wire can safely carry is related to how hot it can safely get.

All wires have resistance, and as power flows through a wire that resistance causes heat - and it can be quite a bit of heat. The more power you put through a wire, the hotter it gets. Insulation breaks down as it gets hot, and at some point it will melt away leaving the wire exposed to whatever is around it - other wires, grounded metal, people, etc. The heat can even be enough to start a fire in the surrounding material in some cases.

Electrical fires are nasty and tend to start in the hardest to reach places - where the most heat builds up back in dark corners and tight spaces. This is why using the right size wires is important for your safety and for safety of others using your wiring work. In some respects, the capacity of a wire is actually best measured in watts, not amperage.

Because a watt is a unit or power that is a combination of amperage volume , voltage pressure , and resistance to the power flowing through that wire. Watts measure the amount of power aka, heat a wire can safely dissipate. However, most wire charts are done in amps. This is unfortunate because it means the wire chart is sort of assumed to be at a single voltage level. For most usage, this is fine because the chart has an assumed usage.

As an example, charts for amperage ratings of of various sizes wires for V AC house current charts are popular and reasonably well-known. For example, a 12 gauge wire is commonly rated at 20A for V AC home usage, but in automotive 12V DC use 12 gauge wire is commonly used for circuits carrying 60A! A prime example would be the main charging wire from the alternator to the battery and out to the main electrical circuits of the car. I thought I had a satisfactory explanation posted here previously, but a few folks took aim at it and blew gaping holes in my understanding - without actually explaining what I was trying to understand or explain here.

As of yet, I have not gotten a satisfactory explanation for this discrepancy. No one I've talked to as of yet has been able to explain it to me, but if you think you know the magic answer, please let me know. Maybe I'm missing something obvious. Maybe I'm just not understanding this as well I as think I am. Who knows At any rate, the chart below reflects the difference in V AC vs. Remember, if in doubt, it's always better to put in too big of a wire than too small of a wire.

This one is a bit of a mind-boggler, but it's important. When electricity flows through a wire, it mostly flows on the surface of the wire, not through the middle. This means that a "wire" of a given size that made up of many smaller strands can carry more power than a solid wire - simply because the stranded wire has more surface area. This is one reason why battery cables in your car and welding cables are made up of many very fine strands of smaller wire - it allows them to safely carry more power with less of that power being dissipated as heat.

However, this "skin" effect is not as pronounced in a typical 12V DC automotive application, and the wire and cable used there is stranded for flexibility reasons. When looking at a chart or description of wire capacity, take note of whether it is referring to stranded or solid wire - some charts may not specify but instead assume a default based on the typical wiring used in a given application.

For example, almost all automotive wiring is stranded while almost all home wiring is solid. For most applications, flexibility or the lack thereof will be more important, but for very high frequency AC applications, stranded wire might be a requirement. Heat is the primary determiner of the maximum amount of power any wire can carry, and the ability of that wire to dissipate that heat has a large impact on the final rating.

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