Insulated Wire: Everything Traditional Buyer Guides Will Not Tell You For Free

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Insulated Wire


Insulation is a critical component in electrical safety. Therefore, the chance that you need an insulated wire for your wiring application is pretty high.  Can you visualize the consequences of handling an exposed wire connected to the primary power grid? Without insulation, countless reports of deadly accidents involving electrocution will have been the order of the day. Unfortunately, most people face significant challenges when shopping for this type of electrical wire because it comes in different variations.

Let us assume you want to buy from an insulated wire home depot or order from a cable manufacturer. How exactly do you figure out the right option for your specific application? Usually, you would determine your voltage needs and the cable length, and you are good to go. When dealing with an insulated cable, the decision-making process is more complex. This is because there are different types of insulation, each equipped for specific applications. The most common insulation materials include;

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Silicone
  • Rubber
  • Cross-linked Polyethylene (XLPE)

In this publication, we will cover some essential information that will help you make the right choice. In essence, we will look at everything you ought to know concerning electrical wires with insulation. Failing to mention that this is the kind of information you usually have to pay for would be unfair. So, please sit back and read with the knowledge that you just saved some of your hard-earned money.

1. What is insulated wire?

Insulation is generally defined as a conductive layer surrounding and offering adequate protection to a cable’s internal components. Thus, in layman’s terms, any wire that contains any form of protection is an insulated wire. Insulation is a crucial safety feature for any electrical cable, considering that exposure to different elements can be hazardous. For instance, water triggers a corrosive effect when it comes in contact with an electrical wire. Corrosion of a wire raises its resistance and, subsequently, a heat build-up in the system that might cause a fire.

Generally, there are different options depending on the type of conductors and the insulation materials. When dealing with conductor types, these wires can be categorized into copper insulated wire and aluminum insulated wire. Copper is often the best option because it is a better conductor of electricity compared to aluminium.

Regardless of the conductor type, the color of the insulation material communicates the specific intended application of the wire. Typically, red represents the positive wire. Black represents the negative wire, and green and yellow colors represent an insulated ground wire. It will help if you grasp these color codes before you attempt to perform any installation by yourself.

You also need to consider the type of insulation when choosing an ideal cable for your application. There are several aspects that we take into consideration when selecting insulation material for specific electrical wires. Some of these aspects include the material’s electric, mechanical, chemical and thermal properties.  The most common types of insulated wires categorized according to their insulation materials include;

i. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) insulated wire

pvc insulated cable

As the name suggests, this type of wire consists of PVC insulation. It is popular in a plethora of applications because it can hold up under various conditions.  Polyvinyl Chloride is less costly than other materials, is easy to use, and has several valuable properties. Some of the most notable properties include;

  • It is flame, moisture, and abrasion-resistant
  • It can withstand exposure to oil and several other chemicals, including acids and alkalis
  • It has excellent dielectric strength, which implies that  it can withstand an incredible amount  of electrical field intensity without damage
  • It is non-toxic and odorless, making it the ideal option for the food and medical industries

It would be best to note that PVC insulated cable voltage rating is the most crucial thing you ought to consider. Can the wire withstand the electric current you intend to run through it? Its size largely determines a wire’s current carrying capacity. For example, a 16 gauge solid copper core insulated wire can safely transmit 19 amperes at around 800 Celsius. The same cannot be said about other sizes. So, it would be best to consider the wire size when selecting the ideal option for you.

ii. XLPE (Cross-linked polyethylene) wire

XLPE Insulated Cable

Cable manufacturers use XLPE material when building insulation for various wires, especially those dealing with high voltage.  The cross-linking process vulcanizes the rubber through the addition of some chemical additives.  Essentially speaking, the process elevates the stability of polyethylene when subjected to extremely high temperatures. XLPE is often used to make insulation for insulated wire due to its remarkable properties.

An XLPE insulated electrical wire is undoubtedly your best option if you intend to transmit high voltage power from one location to another. This type of wire boasts of several suitable properties, including;

  • Outstanding  electrical, thermal, and physical properties
  • Perfect resistance to moisture
  • Flame-resistance
  • Extreme thermal and mechanical force resistance
  • XLPE improves the insulated wire current rating when dealing with short circuits

Still, you need to check and ensure that the cable meets all necessary cable construction specifications before purchasing it. Popular informative platforms such as the American insulated wire catalog provide essential information about cable construction standards. The IEC 60502 is one of the leading international standards governing this type of cable construction.

iii. Silicone insulated wire

silicone insulated wire

This type of wire is not as popular as PVC and XLPE wires, especially because silicone is expensive. Nevertheless, it has several benefits, especially when dealing with industrial applications. Apart from its unrivaled flexibility, silicone possesses outstanding thermal properties. In essence, it can function optimally at temperatures as high as 2000 Celsius and as low as -900 Celsius. Silicone does not have the same mechanical properties as PVC, XLPE, and other popular insulation materials. However, leading manufacturers take appropriate measures to improve the mechanical resistance of the silicone insulated wire.

In addition to the wires mentioned above, there are several other types of cables with insulation. The most notable ones include;

2. What is copper insulated wire?

As its name suggests, it is any wire that comprises a copper conductor and non-conductive insulation material. The most popular non-conductive materials applied in the cable manufacturing industry include PVC, XLPE, and Silicone, to name a few.  Whether it is a house wiring wire or an appliance wire, there is a significant chance it is copper insulated wire. Logically, copper is not the only conductive material that can transmit electric power. Nonetheless, it is the most preferred material for making electrical conductors because of its excellent properties. The most notable ones include;

  • High electrical conductivity

What do you understand when somebody says copper is a highly conductive metal? Well, it means that electric current can easily pass through it. Fundamentally, any copper-based wire, including the thin insulated wire, guarantees top-notch performance.

  • Copper is a relatively cheap conductor

Copper is an excellent conductor of electricity. It is also relatively cheap compared to other prospective conductor materials, including silver and gold.  If you were to go for a gold electrical wire, you would be wasting your money. Copper is the de-facto standard for electrical cables because it offers the necessary top-notch conductivity at a more affordable cost.

  • Copper is a highly ductile metal

Generally, you need to bend and flex electrical wires to a certain degree when performing an installation. This is primarily because they mostly have to move through walls, ceilings and other close-fitting spaces. Copper insulated wires are popular because they can bend and flex without damage. Copper conductors can transmit electrical current optimally even under the most extreme flex situations.

Generally speaking, copper-insulated cables are the best option for you. However, it would be best to keep in mind that different types of electrical wires have copper conductors. Essentially, insulated copper wires come in different voltage ratings, number of cores and nominal cross-sections.

Thus, it would help if you were pretty careful when selecting an ideal cable, especially when dealing with cable sizes. An electrical wire’s size determines its current carrying capacity. For instance, 22 gauge insulated copper wire can transmit 8 to 13 amperes depending on the insulation material and ambient temperature. It would help to understand the voltage ratings of different copper insulated cables before picking out the most suitable one for you.

3. How much is insulated copper wire worth?

Well, there is no fixed insulated wire price because there are several types of insulated copper-based wires. So, the first thing you ought to do is learn the basics of identifying your specific needs. An essential aspect of electrical wire identification is its sizing. Generally, the American Wire Gauge System (AWG) denotes the sizes of different cables and wires.  You can rest assured that the pricing of a 14 gauge copper insulated wire is different from that of a 22 gauge insulated wire. Therefore, you need to be sure of what you need before buying a wire to avoid unnecessary expenditures.

Knowledge and taxonomy of an insulated cable also help when shopping for an electrical wire. NEC dictates a system of letters that allow buyers to identify various wires and their aptitudes. The most common ones for insulated wire identification include THHN, THW, and THWN. Each of these wires has a different price point depending on their capabilities.  As far as cables are concerned, you need to note that different types of copper-based electric wires. The most popular varieties include;

Whatever copper insulated wire you need, you have to remember that they are generally sold by the foot. Thus, you need to determine the exact length you need to avoid unnecessary expenses. It would also help to visit different sales platforms and compare prices before settling on the most affordable seller. However, cheap often translates to low quality and therefore, you have to find a perfect balance between price and quality.

4. When to use an insulated ground wire

For the most part, NEC regulations permit the use of bare and insulated ground wire interchangeably. Thus, you are free to choose between a plain and insulated wire. However, there are some situations where it would be sensible to use the insulated option. What are some examples of such cases?

Sometimes you may be forced to perform installations in high-risk areas. In such sites, you may accidentally ground the wire to objects not meant for grounding. Using an insulated option may minimize the chances of such an unfortunate occurrence. It would be best to choose the protected option when dealing with aluminium conductors, especially in wet areas. Still, it is essential to remember that NEC regulations explicitly limit the colour-coding of ground wires to yellow and green.

5. Where to buy insulated copper wire

Well, there are countless places where one can buy an insulated copper wire. In fact, you can type in “insulated copper wire near me” on your Google search engine, and the results will amaze you. Nevertheless, you need to pick out a supplier who can guarantee quality at an affordable price. Considering that prices tend to increase as commodities move along the supply chain, it would be best to order direct from the manufacturer.

Does this mean you should order from any manufacturer near you? Well, the answer to that question is most certainly, no. Not all manufacturers can warrant the quality of a cable or electrical wire. It would be best to order an insulated wire from a leading manufacturer such as ZW Cable. It doesn’t matter which part of the ecosphere you reside in. You can count on us to deliver quality cables at an affordable price to any part of the world within a reasonable time. All it takes for us to arrange is a message outlining all your specific needs.


Last Updated on August 22, 2021 by Richard

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About Me

Richard Zi

Hey, I am Richard Zi, General Manager of ZW Cable and expert in cable industry for over 15 years. I would like to share my experience in cable field. ZW Cable is leading Chinese cable manufacturer. We can choose right size cable and solve all your cable problem. If you have any question, please feel free to contact me. I will try my best to give your cable solutions.

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