Have you ever asked yourself or your friend what a 14 gauge wire is used for? Well, you are at the perfect place to find the answer to such a question.
There’s a huge range of electrical wires available. Wires are made of a variety of different metals, such as copper and aluminum, and they are made in a variety of different thicknesses to suit different purposes and applications. The thickness of a wire is called a gauge.
For electrical installation safety, you need to ensure you’re using the correct wire gauge as the electrical properties of the wire vary with the gauge.
So, what is 14 gauge wire best used for? It is a common household wire size used today and typically, it is used in household electrical wiring, lighting, switches, small low-power electrical devices, and extension cables.
In this article, I describe the wire gauge system and the standard wire gauges available. I then explore why a variety of different wire gauges are needed – this will help you select the right wire gauge for your job-in-hand.
I’ll conclude by providing clear guidance on the use of 14 gauge wire.
Table of Contents
What Are Wire Gauges?
In simple terms, gauge means thickness. The value of each gauge number tells you the wire thickness. The confusing thing is that a small gauge number means thicker wire gauges, whereas higher gauge numbers represent thinner wires.
Fortunately, there are standard wire gauge measurement systems. In North America, the American Wire Gauge (AWG), also known as the Brown & Sharpe gauge, is used.
This is a standard method originally devised in the 19th century to measure and classify, a single strand of round-shaped metal electrical cable, excluding any protective insulation surrounding the wire.
In the UK the Standard Wire Gauge is used and is based on similar principles to the AWG. Other countries use the international wire cross-section classification which is measured in mm2.
The AWG categories range from 0 to 40, with 40 representing the smallest diameter wire, and 0 the largest. The electrical wires used in most residential and commercial properties range from gauge 2 to gauge 14.
What Is a 14 Gauge Wire Used For?
It is possible to apply 14 gauge wire in15-amp lighting circuits and outlets that serve lower power devices and appliances in living rooms, bedrooms, hallways, family rooms, etc. However, 12 gauge wire is needed in some areas e.g. kitchens to serve more power-hungry devices such as electric kettles and toasters.
Common uses of 14 gauge wire include the following:
- Interior and outdoor lighting
- 15-amp outlets serving TVs games consoles, soundbars, printers, cable TV boxes, laptops, cellphone chargers, etc.
- Ceiling fans
- Smoke detectors
But What About Those Multi-Strand Wires?
The AWG value is based on a single strand of wire, but many household wires are multi-strand. So, how does that work? AWG still works with multi-strand wires by giving the total single-wire equivalent, assuming all of the individual strands are combined together.
A stranded wire comprising of a number of different strands is usually defined by three numbers. These are the total AWG value, the number of individual strands, and the separate AWG values of each of the strands.
So, for example, if you saw 23 AWG 5/30 embossed on the coating of a stranded wire, this would have five separate strands within the insulating coat, each of which is 30 AWG, and the total AWG value is equivalent to one 23 AWG wire.
Wire Gauge And Electrical Safety
Electricity is a complicated subject. Keeping things as simple as possible – power-hungry devices such as heaters, hairdryers, dishwashers, and power tools require more electric current (measured in amps) and thicker (lower gauge) electric wires.
According to Cerrowire Ampacity Charts – Cerrowire, under normal household temperature conditions, the maximum current rating for a 14 gauge copper wire is 15-amps, and for a 12 gauge copper wire, the maximum rating is 20-amps.
While 12 and 14 gauge wire circuits are common, most homes also have some 30-amp circuits to provide power to specific devices such as dryers, stoves, and water heaters.
The minimum wire size for 30-amp (240-volt) circuits is 10 gauge.
The use of the correct wire gauge will prevent the wires from overheating
12 Guage or 14 Gauge?
I can’t really talk about 14 gauge wires without also talking about wires of 12 gauge.
For 15-amp general-purpose and lighting electrical circuits common in North American homes, it is possible to use 14 gauge wire.
The more power-hungry appliances would be run from the 20-amp/12 gauge circuits, whereas general purpose outlets and lighting can be run from the 15-amp/14 gauge circuits.
For a mixed lighting and outlet circuit, you could use wire at 12 gauge as a safe choice on either 15- or 20-amp electrical circuits.
Kitchens and bathroom outlets must be on circuits with a 20-amp breaker, fed by wire at 12 gauge.
Circuit amps can be checked at your breaker box.
Wire at 12 gauge does have some advantages over thinner 14 gauge wire. It is more versatile in its use as it is thicker so it can safely handle higher amperages without overheating and risking a fire.
The thicker 12-gauge wire also allows longer cable runs with less risk of voltage drop.
However, 14 gauge wire does have some advantages too. It is less costly, and also has more uses. And, whilst wire at 14 gauge is acceptable for many residential low-power wiring needs it cannot be used in every single outlet in the house.
Electrical wires come in a wide variety of thicknesses, or gauges. The higher the gauge the thinner the wire. High power load electrical appliances require lower gauge/thicker wires.
15-amp and 20-amp circuits and outlets are common in domestic electrical networks. 15-amp circuits can be run using 14 gauge wire, whereas 20-amp circuits require thicker 20 gauge wire.
15-amp circuits are fine for lighting and for areas in the house with outlets that serve lower power demand appliances – TVs, laptops, etc.
20-amp circuits are needed in kitchens where outlets serve more demanding devices such as electric kettles and toasters.
Please remember that the installation of electrical wiring can be dangerous and, if not done correctly, can result in injury. Safety comes first, so please consult the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70®: National Electrical Code®), or better still, use a qualified electrician.
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