Wiring Basics for Alternating Current

man working on wiring in a wiring control panel
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  • Intermediate
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What You'll Need

Having a basic knowledge of AC wiring can help with every instance of home electrical installation. AC stands for alternating current. As opposed to DC or direct current, AC is the kind of electrical power supplied to homes and other buildings (while DC power is primarily for different specific applications). Most commonly found in batteries, Direct Current (DC) has a wide range of applications. AC wiring, however, must be understood in order to power your home. As always, when working with electrical circuits and wiring in the home, if you are at all unsure about what you are doing, you should stop immediately. Do not jeopardize your safety and the proper functioning of your home’s electrical system. In that case, it is always better to hire a professional.

How AC Power Works

AC power is produced by reversing the direction of the current within a generator. As opposed to DC power where the terminals are always either positive or negative, AC current continually changes the polarity. While DC power is just as effective at storing and supplying electrical energy as AC, AC power is easily transformed and sent over long distances. This is how power stations supply power efficiently over a large expanse. Electrical power is produced, converted into extremely high voltages and distributed to various transforming stations. There it is converted to a common 120-volt supply and provided to homes and buildings for their power.

AC in the Home

Once this voltage reaches the home, it is used to power every electrical appliance, tool, gadget, and light inside. Voltage is supplied to the main circuit panel consisting of several breakers each allotted a certain amount of current measured in amps. The voltage multiplied by the current produces power measured in watts. When wiring the home, this must be taken into consideration. A single circuit breaker is designed to supply only a certain amount of power. Too much on one circuit will cause it to overload and trip. In other words, the breaker is designed to cease power to an overloaded circuit.

AC Wiring

When wiring to supply power, you are creating an electrical circuit. A continuous circuit consists of a hot wire, a neutral wire, and a ground. Electricity flows through the hot wire to a device or power receptacle and back through the neutral wire. The ground wire is meant to dispel any extra charge, using the earth as the dispeller. Parallel circuit wiring is the most common type in homes. A single circuit provided it can handle the load, powers several things like lights, outlets and other devices. Some home appliances require their own circuit because they require a lot of power. Switch wiring allows a circuit to be disrupted and stop the flow of electricity to a particular location. Switches are installed along the hot wire and are what allow lights, fans, and outlets to be turned on and off.

If you are preparing to wire a circuit, always turn off the power to that particular circuit at the main panel. Make sure you understand the procedure when doing any wiring. If you don’t, you’re better off having a professional do the job.