Electrical Terms 101
When an electrician comes to your house, or when you’re looking at electrical items at the hardware store, you might be exposed to some language you absolutely do not understand. Here we provide some plain English definitions of some of the most frequently used terms.
Current – The rate of flow of electricity. There are two types of currents – alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).
Alternating Current (AC) –Current in which the direction of the flow of electrons switches back and forth at regular intervals or cycles. Current flowing in power lines and normal household electricity that comes from a wall outlet is alternating current. The standard used in the U.S. is 60 cycles per second (i.e. a frequency of 60 Hz) meaning that the direction changes 60 times a second.
Direct Current (DC) – Current which moves in a single direction. Batteries and most electronic devices operate on DC current.
Conductor – A material that conducts electricity. Copper is the most common conductor. Silver and occasionally gold can also be used.
Amperage (Amps) – The unit of measure of current. Think of it as the amount of water flowing through a pipe.
Voltage (Volts) – The force driving electrical energy through a conductor or wire. Think of it as the pressure of the water flowing through a pipe.
Wattage (Watts) – A unit of power. Wattage is calculated as Voltage x Amperage.
Ground – A connection between an electrical device and the earth, or at the voltage defined as zero.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) – An electric wiring device that disconnects a circuit when it detects that the electric current is not balanced. Receptacles that may require a GFCI are located in bathrooms, garages, outdoors, in unfinished basements, kitchens, laundry/utility rooms and by pools or spas.
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