Low voltage wire powers many of the appliances, communication systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices found in smart buildings and modern homes, and this is just the beginning. As a result, the requirement for safe, environmentally friendly facilities are increasing, and by 2026 the low voltage cable market is projected to reach USD 155.52 billion.
Low voltage wires and cables are increasingly necessary due to energy challenges and consumer desire for smart, environmentally friendly homes and workplaces. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with low voltage cable that does not adhere to industry standards, which presents a problem for security integrators and system end users alike.
In this article, we will cover all the basics of low voltage wiring including the different types of wiring and voltages. Then, we go over important information to provide your contractor or integrator before your next low voltage wiring project.
Low Voltage Wiring Basics
Low voltage wiring basics are almost a misnomer because the basics are extensive but not impossible to grasp. Low voltage wiring is a specific kind of wiring exclusively engineered to transfer lower voltages. Simply put, low-voltage cabling (also called structured wiring) is electrical wiring and trim that requires less current to power infrastructural technologies such as telecommunications, security and safety systems, and a growing number of IoT devices.
Low voltage wiring is essential for smart home products like thermostats, garage door opener controls, and landscape lighting. Additionally, the physical security systems in modern buildings, such as the alarm system, video surveillance, access control, and anything else requiring an internet connection, are also powered by low voltage wiring.
Here are some of the basic things that most people overlook when it comes to low voltage wiring:
- The majority of low voltage installation happens concurrently with basic electrical work.
- Low voltage wiring is required for most home and business devices.
- Low voltage is used in some way by everything that needs to communicate with other devices, including phones, the internet, and security systems.
Which type of wiring is used for low voltage?
Low voltage wiring consists of twisted pairs of wires that carry signals enclosed in a cable covering. Because of this, cables must have a buffer running through the center between the pairs. Common low voltage wiring options include:
- Category 5 (Cat 5) and Category 6 (Cat 6) used for high-speed computer networks and to carry audio and video signals.
- Fiber optic enables the transfer of data with wider bandwidth and is widely used in internet networks.
- RG-6 is primarily used for cable and satellite signal transmission for residential or commercial installations.
Depending on the installation and speed requirements, many business applications will likely choose Cat6 or Cat6a low voltage wiring, though companies willing to pay for the best performance possible will choose fiber optic cable.
How do you know which wire is low voltage?
Finding low voltage wiring will vary depending on the location, access to the property, and experience. Before searching for wires, it is advisable to contact a trained professional or certified security integrator for safety purposes.
Property owners, managers, security directors, and even homeowners with the original systems installed may face low-voltage switches, relays, or transformers that no longer operate. Look for wires that transmit 50 volts of electricity or less. Low voltage products are typically 12V, 24V, or 48V.
Low voltage wiring safety considerations
Low voltage work has many of the same hazards as any other construction trade, so you should not overlook safety considerations. Even low-voltage professional installers can experience unsettling dangers if working in an unsafe environment.
According to research, even when there are no outward indicators of injury, low voltage electric shocks can nevertheless result in electrocution and deadly injuries.
When working with low voltage wiring, safety considerations include:
- Always use insulated tools and avoid all contact with bare terminals and grounded surfaces.
- Check each of the relays, especially near the 120V connections in the lights or other switched devices themselves.
- Follow all safety precautions and guidelines.
Is 120V considered low voltage?
High voltage, line voltage, or standard voltage all refer to 120V. The majority of homes run on 120V. Although 120V lighting is regarded as high voltage, security integrators typically use it when vast areas need to be lit with a lot of light output.
A licensed electrician must make all 120V connections in most localities, but it is best to check your state’s regulations. 12V is unquestionably the safer and superior option for landscape lighting in homes. Industry professionals highlight CAT6A as the most cost-effective option. Cat6A speed is at least 500 MHz which facilitates 10 Gbp/s (Gigabits per second) up to 328 feet (100 meters).
The difference between Cat6 and Cat6a is that the former max speed is 250 MHz and only supports 10 Gbp/s to 165 feet (55 meters) under ideal conditions—less in heavy crosstalk environments.
Is 12V more energy efficient?
Low voltage systems are more energy efficient than 120V systems. For example, low voltage 12V typically uses 20 to 40 percent less electricity than 120V. This kind of innovative lighting system offers lots of benefits. It is widely used not only for residential use, but commercial buildings use high-quality brilliant luminance as a deterrent.
What is the advantage of 12V lighting?
Lower voltage lights are energy efficient and powered by electricity in the range of 12 volts. Regarding the electricity bills and recurring operational costs to run exterior lights outside, you will get lots of additional benefits from low voltage lights.
Can I use Cat6a instead of Cat6?
Many industry professionals indicate that CAT6A is the most cost-effective option. Cat6A speed is at least 500 MHz which facilitates 10 Gbp/s (Gigabits per second) up to 328 feet (100 meters).
The difference between Cat6 and Cat6a is that the former max speed is 250 MHz and only supports 10 Gbp/s to 165 feet (55 meters) under ideal conditions—less in heavy cross-talk environments. The crosstalk creates a certain voltage in that wire that will emerge from both ends, the near and far ends.
What is the most common cause of electrical crosstalk?
Crosstalk is usually caused by undesired capacitive, inductive, or conductive coupling from one circuit or channel to another. Crosstalk is a significant issue especially when it comes to structured cabling. The infrastructure on which low voltage wiring operates is called structured cabling. As it relates to structured cabling, crosstalk is electromagnetic interference from one unshielded twisted pair (UTP) to another.
What is structured cabling?
From a multifamily apartment complex to an office building, structured cabling serves tenants across industries. Low voltage setups are becoming more popular, especially since efficiency and sustainability are more significant priorities for your clients. The buildings you’re working on will have a standard wiring network that usually uses voltage at 120V or 140V. So, to properly and safely install structured cabling, you’ll need to build a separate low-voltage network on top of any existing wiring.
Structured cabling installation
Structured cabling installation is different from installing regular electrical cable. Structured cabling refers to the overall system that includes all the infrastructure components necessary for functional low voltage wiring, such as insulation and cable sheaths.
Most of a home’s wiring uses a separate network rather than a structured wiring system for residential wiring. Low voltage cables can be installed after the primary electrical system of a house is set up. A structured cabling system needs an innovative design to function at its peak. Some of the most frequent cable types used in low-voltage wiring include the following:
- Cat 6 or 6a cables are the UTP cables and are most frequently used in homes today.
- Fiber optic cables are usually utilized for long runs and require specialist connectors and crimping tools.
- Security system wires usually have two or four conductors with an average wire gauge of 18 or 24.
- Coaxial cable (coax) — These three models—RG-59/U (.64mm core and single shield), RG-6/U (1.024mm core and double shield), and /RG-6/UQ (1.024mm core and quad shield)—are the most often utilized in homes and small offices.
Select a reputable vendor for your low voltage wiring
Selecting a reputable vendor for your low voltage wiring project is critical if you are looking for quality work that meets industry standards. A licensed system integrator, also known as a low voltage contractor, can design, install, and manage your low-voltage projects. In addition, the right system integrator can help ensure that the technology you purchased is installed correctly and efficiently.
Hiring an integrator is a great way to ensure you get the most out of your investment. Important information to provide your integrator before a project includes:
- Clear project scope with a summary of what the low voltage project involves.
- Confirm the objectives and goals of the Project
- Provide an approximate schedule of the project.
- Establish a change control process.
From advanced physical security systems to home automation, knowing the low voltage basics helps homeowners and property managers optimize their facilities. If you are in the market for a licensed low voltage wiring partner that will provide you with quality service, we can help.
For more information on The Network Installers services, installation and support, and a free quote, give us a call or fill out a form on our contact us page.