Have you finally settled down and built the house of your dreams? Or perhaps you bought one and planned to renovate it. In any case, dealing with the wiring will be on your to-do list. But did you know that you can’t just pick up a random cable in your nearest hardware store? Doing so may put your life at risk.
You might have noticed AWG written over every cable in the store. Is an 18 AWG better than a 10 AWG? How thick should yours be? What are the best speaker options? And should you go for solid or stranded wires? At first glance, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. Fortunately, we will walk you through the topic one step at a time.
Table of Contents
How do AWG gauge wire sizes work?
The American Wire Gauge is the most commonly used system in the US. As a consumer passionate about home improvement, you should at least know its basics.
While complicated formulae hide behind the AWG standard, you don’t need to worry about them. It’s enough to know how the AWG numbers affect the specs of your wires. This value ranges from 1 to 40. The lower the number, the wider the cable’s diameter is. And the wider it is, the more current it can handle without overloading. It is especially important when you purchase high-wattage appliances such as portable heaters. Choosing the wrong size can endanger your entire home.
Why does the AWG value matter?
Although knowing these specs might seem pointless at first, you’ll need this information when you change your wiring in any way. If you don’t select the proper product, your circuit might catch fire.
What makes one AWG size different from another is the amount of current it can handle. It is because of electrical resistance. Every type of metal provides some degree of resistance to the current that passes through it. The thinner the wire is, the higher the resistance will be. If a strong current passes through a very thin wire, it will heat up quickly. If left unchecked, your wiring might melt. When it does, it might lead to the dangerous arcing phenomenon. It occurs when the current ‘jumps’ from one conductor to another. When this happens, it can create extremely hard temperatures – enough to start a fire.
When shopping, you must consider the type of appliance you’ll plug into the circuit. Placing a high-demand appliance into a low-amp circuit can be life-threatening. The device will try to draw more power from it. However, thin wires can’t withstand this demand and will melt eventually. On the other hand, plugging low-demand devices into high-amp wires is generally safe – the device will only draw as much current as it needs.
How does wire length affect voltage?
Unfortunately, the length of your wiring also affects the overall performance of the circuit. The longer it is, the greater its electrical resistance will be. Not only can this lead to overheating if the wire is particularly long, but it can also lead to voltage drops.
According to the National Electrical Code, your voltage drop should never exceed 3 %. Thus, each AWG size has a recommended maximum length. Keep in mind that these values are different for 120-volt and 240-volt circuits. For instance, a 14-AWG wire shouldn’t exceed 50 feet in a 120-volt circuit and 100 feet if it is in a 240-volt one.
Below, you can see a chart with the maximum recommended lengths for the most common AWGs:
|AWG||120-volt circuit||240-volt circuit|
The most common AWG sizes and their specs
The maths behind the AWG system is quite complicated. Fortunately, you don’t need any calculations to find the diameter of each size. We’ve prepared this list to make this task much easier for you.
4-gauge wire diameter
This AWG size can withstand up to 70 amps. Because of this, you can use it for large electric furnaces or portable heaters. These appliances would otherwise fry thinner cables. It has a diameter of 0.2 inches and is 5 millimeters in metric units.
6-gauge wire diameter
A 6-gauge cable has a diameter of 0.16 inches (or 4 millimeters). It can easily handle up to 55 amps. It’s used mostly in the kitchen for cooktops and ranges.
8-gauge wire diameter
An 8-gauge is about 0.13 inches in diameter. If you favor metrics units, it’s roughly 3 mm. This AWG can handle up to 40 amps. It makes it ideal for kitchen appliances such as the cooktop or oven.
10-AWG gauge wire
A 10-AWG gauge is about 0.1 inches (or 2.6 mm) in diameter. It can bear up to 30 amps without problems. This size has a wide range of applications – from clothes dryers and water heaters to 24-volt A/Cs. Similarly to the 8-gauge, it’s sometimes used in kitchen circuits.
12-AWG gauge wire – is it a good for speakers?
12-AWG gauge cables have a diameter of 0.08 inches (or 2 millimeters). They are suitable for circuits whose amperage doesn’t exceed 20 amps. These types are used in kitchen and bathroom outlets. 120-volt air-conditioners also sport these cables. It’s one of the most popular choices for speakers too.
14-AWG gauge wire
A 14-AWG cable has a diameter of 0.06 inches (or 1.6 millimeters). Because it can handle only up to 15 amps, it’s not suitable for demanding appliances. It’s mostly used in lighting circuits, although it also works with home theater speakers.
16-AWG gauge wire
With a diameter of 0.05 inches (1.3 millimeters), a 16-AWG gauge has a low ampacity and can withstand only 13 amps. Thus, it’s usually used in light-duty extension cords. It can be used to connect home theater speakers to a circuit too.
18-AWG gauge wire
An 18-AWG gauge has a diameter of 0.04 inches (1mm). It can only handle up to 10 amps. Therefore, we recommend using it for low-amp lighting and lamp cords. If you use it for any high-demand device, it will certainly overheat and melt.
What is the difference between 14 AWG and 16 AWG?
The main difference between a 14-AWG and a 16-AWG one lies in its size. 14 AWG is thicker and thus has lesser electrical resistance. As a result, it allows the current to flow freely without overheating your circuit.
But that doesn’t mean a 16-AWG is useless. It ultimately comes down to what you plan to install into your circuit. Usually, you can find 16-AWG in extension cords. On the other hand, the 14-AWG ones are used mainly to connect lighting to a power source.
Solid vs. Stranded Wires: Which one is better?
Now that you know how cable size works let’s take a closer look at the two most common types. These are the solid and stranded types. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.
What is a solid wire?
A solid wire contains one long piece of a metallic conductor. Because of this, it’s much heavier and thicker than its stranded counterpart. However, it has several advantages. Thanks to its low surface area, it can carry current over much longer distances without any power loss. Its simple design also means that it’s very easy to manufacture. Thus, it’s the more cost-efficient option.
Furthermore, it’s incredibly durable. It can withstand adverse weather and regular movement. This makes it an excellent choice for outdoor applications.
What is a stranded wire?
Stranded wires feature a much more innovative design. Instead of a single metallic unit, they’re made of multiple tiny strings woven together. The tiny strands are much more flexible. Thus, you can use them even in less accessible places. They also handle ambient vibration much better. This type is popular for home theater speakers because of this reason.
However, stranded cables have one major drawback – they’re considerably costlier. It is because they are more difficult to manufacture. Additionally, the multiple strands result in a higher surface area. As a result, they don’t conduct current well over long distances. But since they are used mostly inside, this usually doesn’t matter.
Which one is better?
Both types have their flaws. Which one will better suit your needs depends on where you plan to use it. Solid wires are better for outdoor uses and longer cables. On the other hand, stranded wires offer better flexibility. It makes them excellent for wiring the appliances in your house.
How to choose the best speaker wire
Speaker wires are used to connect speakers to the amplifier. Most of them are stranded to allow for more flexibility. But how exactly do you choose the best cable for your home theater speakers?
First, you should know that the so-called ‘speaker wires’ are not that much different from common stranded wires. While the manufacturers may claim that their products have some special benefits, it’s seldom worth the price. At home, you’re unlikely to notice any difference in sound quality. So if you want to save up some money, you can invest in a regular stranded option.
The most important factor to look out for is resistance. The lower the resistance, the better the current flow will be. As a result, the sound quality will be much better.
As mentioned above, flexibility is very important. We recommend against buying solid wires for your home theater speakers.
Lastly, you’ll need good insulation. Exposed conductors will not transmit current as well. Additionally, they are prone to oxidizing, which reduces their lifespan.
Speaker wire gauge chart: Which is best?
As a rule of thumb, you should strive to reach the lowest resistance possible. The best way to achieve this is by opting for lower AWG cables. However, it’s not always necessary. When buying one, you should factor in its length and the impedance of your speakers. Impedance is the opposite force of a current. It takes into account both resistance and reactance.
For shorter cables, high AWG values will work just as well. Thinner ones might sometimes be necessary if you work with a limited amount of space. The higher the impedance of your speakers, the longer your cables can be without losing any power. So while low gauge values are generally better, it depends on the circumstances.
If you’re unsure what the maximum length can be without sacrificing performance, check out the chart below. We’ve prepared values for various impedances too:
|AWG||2-Ohm Load||4-Ohm Load||6-Ohm Load||8-Ohm Load|
|10||50 ft||100 ft||150 ft||200 ft|
|12||30 ft||60 ft||90 ft||120 ft|
|14||20 ft||40 ft||60 ft||80 ft|
|16||12 ft||24 ft||36 ft||48 ft|
|18||8 ft||16 ft||24 ft||32 ft|
|20||5 ft||10 ft||15 ft||20 ft|
|22||3 ft||6 ft||9 ft||12 ft|
The AWG value tells you how thick your cable is and how much amperage it can hold without overheating. As the AWG size increases, the ampacity and width of the cable decrease. Thus, higher AWG isn’t always the best option. For high-demand devices such as portable heaters or electrical furnaces, you should buy cables with a very low AWG rating. Otherwise, you risk damaging your wiring and potentially starting a fire.
In terms of performance, a 14-gauge cable is superior to a 16-gauge one. It is because it has a larger diameter and lower resistance. Low resistance means better current flow and, thus, better performance. We recommend getting a larger AWG size to compensate for the voltage loss if you need a longer cable. However, it may be slightly more expensive.
We recommend using stranded wires to connect your speakers as they are more flexible. Additionally, they handle vibration much better. As far as the AWG sizes are concerned, the most common ones range from 10 to 18.
However, it’s all about reaching the lowest possible resistance. For short cables, even as little as 20 AWG may work. For longer ones, you’ll need thicker wires. For more details, check the chart above the FAQ.
It depends on the type and settings you want to use it. Nearly all speaker cables are stranded. It is because they are much more flexible and vibration-resistant. For the most part, you can use them interchangeably with a regular stranded option. When shopping for the right parts, you might notice that some cables are designed specifically for speakers. However, you’re unlikely to notice any difference in your home theater. These specialized speakers are used mostly in cinemas or at concerts, where they can improve the overall sound quality.
Bear in mind that most speaker wires are between 10 and 18 AWG. Thus, you shouldn’t use them for high-wattage appliances, or they will melt.
All told, AWG is a system commonly used in the US. It tells you how thick your cable is and how much ampacity it can handle. The lower the value, the greater the diameter will be. Using the wrong size can lead to fire hazards, so make sure you know what you plan to connect to your circuits. Regarding speakers, you should use stranded wires with AWG ranging from 10 to 18. These will help you reach maximum flexibility and current flow.