How Electricity Conductors Work

Two electrical wires

 Sami Sarkis / Getty Images

When you think of the term conductor, you think of anything that conducts electricity through something, often wires. Electrical wires may be made of copper or aluminum metal, both of which conducts electricity, but copper is a much better conductor than aluminum and a safer option. When electricity flows from one point to another through something such as an electrical wire, it is called conductivity. The wire would then be called the conductor.

What Is a Conductor?

A conductor is anything through which electrical currents can flow. Metals typically make the best conductors because they don't get damaged when they come in contact with electricity. For instance, you could technically be a conductor, but you would become electrocuted in the process.

Likewise, large conductors that transport power from utility substations to individual homes are called service conductors. Don't forget the service entrance wires that feed your electric meter and electric service disconnect. From there, the conductors feed the electrical panel and the individual wires, called branch circuits, feed switches and outlets in your home.

Lightning rods and the wires connected to them running the length of your home's roof to a ground rod in your yard is a conductor, thus a path to ground if lightning would hit your home. The idea is to divert the path of the lightning harmlessly to the ground instead of your home taking a direct hit.

Have you ever dragged your feet across the floor and then touched someone else, only to shock him or her? That's an example of conducting electricity. Sometimes the static electricity is stored up in your body until you touch something grounded, such as another person.

Good Conductors vs. Bad Conductors

Some items are not good conductors such as plastic, rubber, or wood. These items insulate or isolate flow and are not very good conductors. These items are often used to separate items from electrical components to stop conductivity. However, in the case of wood, it is possible that wet wood could carry current, so be careful.

Some of the better conductors and most commonly used types are copper and aluminum wires called conductors. Copper by far is the industry standard, although aluminum wire was used in past years with an unfavorable result in homes. As a cost saver for homeowners, aluminum wire was used in homes. Being a much softer wire, it has more resistance than copper wire and is prone to heat up when under load. The problem then becomes that the wire in the connector or wire nut could become loose, and become a potential fire hazard.

Conductor Uses

Conductors are used for grounding systems and lightning protection to channel the lighting immediately to a ground potential and away from your home. They are used as a safety channel to take dangerous electricity to ground. If the hot wire goes to ground, the circuit breaker will trip or the fuse will blow. It is a built-in safety measure present in today's wiring, making it much safer than that of years ago. Remember, in earlier wiring just 50 years ago, there was no ground wire for safety.

Don't forget about low-voltage wiring that is used for things such as doorbell wiring that runs between the doorbell and the doorbell button. There is also thermostat wiring that controls your heating and cooling in your home. If you have a stereo system, there is speaker wiring that runs from the stereo to the speakers. TVs have a cable that has a center conductor and a ground shield that wraps around the inner jacket of the cable. These are just a few of the many low-voltage conductors.

The next time you hear the term conductor, make sure the wires in your home are connected properly so that they are the conductors and that you are not.