Electrical Glossary

Electrical Glossary: A

Amp – a measure of the electrical current flowing through a circuit.

Antioxidant – a paste-like material applied to aluminum wires to prevent corrosion and help keep the connections safe.

Armored cable – two or more insulated wires wrapped together in a protective metal sheath.

Electrical Glossary: B

Ballast – a transformer used to regulate the voltage in a fluorescent bulb.

Battery backup – a device that supplements an appliance’s power source, used to provide emergency power in the event of an outage.

Box – an easily accessible metal or plastic enclosure where electrical connections can be made.

Building code – a set of rules governing safety levels for buildings and nonbuilding structures. Building codes are put in place to protect public health, safety, and general welfare.

Bus bar – a power terminal where circuits are attached in a fuse or breaker box.

Electrical Glossary C

Cable – two or more insulated wires wrapped in metal or plastic sheathing.

Carbon monoxide alarm – a device that detects levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in the air and sounds an alert when levels get dangerously high.

Circuit – the path taken  by electrical current from the power source, through an outlet, and back to the ground.

Circuit breaker – a switch, housed on a breaker panel, that automatically interrupts the flow of electricity if the circuit gets overloaded or shorts out.

Codes, electrical – laws and other regulations that govern safe wiring practices.

Combination arc fault circuit interrupter (CAFCI) – a special type of circuit breaker designed to protect against electrical arcing caused by frayed wires, damaged insulation, etc.

Combination smoke alarm – a single unit that Includes both a smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm.

Compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) – a light bulb that produces efficient fluorescent light

Conductor –anything that carries electricity.

Conduit – Rigid or flexible tubing, typically made of PVC or metal, through which wires are run.

Electrical Glossary D

Dimmable CFL – compact fluorescent bulbs that can be adjusted using a dimmer.

Dimmer – A rotary or sliding switch that lets you vary the intensity of a light.

Electrical Glossary E

Electrical metallic tubing (EMT) – thin-walled conduit used for wiring indoors.

ENERGY STAR – a government-backed program designed to promote energy efficiency and help businesses and individuals protect the environment.

Electrical Glossary F

Fixture – any electrical device, including lights, that is permanently attached to your home’s wiring.

Flexible metal conduit – bendable tubing that can be easily shaped by hand.

Flood lights – a type of light bulbs that shines brightly in all directions, “flooding” a wide area with light.

Fluorescent bulb – an energy-efficient light source that produces ultraviolet radiation, which becomes visible light when it hits the coated inner surface of the tube.

Four-way switch – a switch that controls light from three or more locations.

Fuse – a safety device designed to halt electrical current if the circuit shorts out or overload.

Electrical Glossary G

Grounding – a term used to refer to the fact that electricity will always seek the shortest path to the earth. Neutral wires are used to carry electricity to the ground in all circuits. Additional grounding wires as well as the sheathing of metal-clad cables or conduits  can also protect against shock from a malfunctioning device.

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet – a safety device designed to sense shock hazards and shut off a receptacle in the event of a hazard.

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breaker – a circuit breaker that cuts off power to a circuit or portion of a circuit when an overload of current, a short circuit, or a line-to-ground fault causes it to short.

Electrical Glossary H

Hot wire – a conductor that brings current to a receptacle or other electrical device.

Electrical Glossary I

Incandescent bulb – a type of light bulb that creates light by burning a metal filament with white heat.

Insulation – a protective covering that surrounds wires and other electricity carriers.

Ionization smoke alarm – a type of smoke alarm that detects electrically charges particles released during a fire. Best used to detect flaming fires.

Electrical Glossary J

Junction box – an enclosure used to connect wires to each other instead of to a switch, receptacle, or fixture. Used to split circuits into different branches.

Electrical Glossary K

Kilowatt (kW) – one thousand watts.

Kilowatt hour – the standard measure of electrical consumption. Equates to one kilowatt of power expended for one hour of time.

Electrical Glossary L

Lead – a short wire coming from a stranded fixture that is used in place of a terminal.

Light-emitting diode (LED) – a highly efficient, long lasting light source that produces very little heat.

Lumens – a measure of the amount of light a lamp produces.

Lumens per watt – a measure of lumens generated per power consumed.

Electrical Glossary M

Meter – a device used to measure the amount of electrical energy consumed by a home, commercial building, or electrically-powered device.

Multitester – a device used to measure the voltage in a circuit, among other things.

Electrical Glossary N

Neutral wire – a wire that carries electrical current from an outlet back to ground. Neutral wires are noted by their white insulation.

Electrical Glossary O

Outlet – any potential point of use in a circuit. The word “outlet” can refer to receptacles, switches, and light fixtures.

Ohm – a unit of measurement that determines the electrical resistance in a material.

Overload – the result of a circuit carrying more amperage than it was designed to handle. Overloading causes wires to heat up, which in turn blows fuses or trips circuit breakers.

Electrical Glossary P

Photoelectric smoke alarm – an alarm that senses when smoke particles interrupt a beam of light. Best used to detect smoky, smoldering fires.

Power – the rate at which energy is converted.

Power inverter – a device used to convert direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).

Electrical Glossary R

Receptacle – the typical wall outlet, used to supply power to lamps and other plug-in devices.

Recessed lighting – a light fixture set into a wall cavity such that the lens and trim are flush with the ceiling.

Rigid conduit – metal tubing used to carry wires. Can only be bent using specialized tools.

Electrical Glossary S

Short circuit – the result of hot and neutral wires coming into contact each other. Short circuits can present a major fire hazard.

Spotlights – directional lighting used to emphasize an object or draw attention to specific features, areas or displays.

Stripping – exposing wire or sheathing from a cable by removing insulation.

Subpanel – a fuse or breaker box linked to a service panel that has run out room for additional circuits.

Surge protector – a device inserted in an alternating current (AC) line and/or telephone line to prevent damage to electronic equipment from voltage spikes called transients.

Electrical Glossary T

Transformer – a device used to adjust voltage up or down. In home wiring, transformers step down current for use with low-voltage equipment such as thermostats and doorbell systems.

Electrical Glossary V

Volt – a measure of electrical pressure.

Electrical Glossary W

Watt – a measure of the power an electrical device consumes, equal to Volts x Amps.


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