All metallic elements conduct electricity, but some are better at it than others. The two most commonly used metals for creating electrical wire are aluminum wire and copper wire and for good reason. While both are sufficient conductors, each one has its specific uses.
For the last few decades, copper has been the number one electrical conductor used in the construction of commercial and residential buildings. The composition of the pinkish-orange metal allows it to transport a large amount of electrical energy in a short amount of time. Gold and silver are both superior to copper in terms of conduction, but they’re both very expensive metals. Copper is a perfect cheap alternative in almost every case.
As a conductor, copper also functions well due to its ability to combat oxidation, withstand a great amount of pressure, and carry more electrical energy through a smaller volume of material. For these reasons, copper wiring can be created thin without fear of incidental damage or insufficient electrical supply. Copper is an especially good option for small rooms and hidden spaces.
Copper may seem like a no-brainer to use in most electrical situations, but compared to aluminum, it’s tougher, denser, and more expensive to use for certain projects. Avoid copper wiring if you need to set up a long, intricate electrical system in a large building, like a residential complex or factory. Otherwise, you’ll likely exceed your budget and end up with a sub-par result.
Aluminum wire has been in use for electricity for a while as well, and it was used solely in utility areas for many years. Currently, aluminum wiring is being built into giant industrial, commercial, and residential buildings. Many homes have a small amount of aluminum wire somewhere, most often in their breaker panels. Despite its reasonable cost and wide application, aluminum has some notable drawbacks when it comes to conducting electricity.
Expect to create large wires if you’re using aluminum, because it only conducts half as much electricity through a specific volume as copper does. Because of the difference in density and malleability, aluminum is more lightweight than copper and will require a bigger diameter when shaped into the wiring. Fortunately, aluminum wiring can be strengthened to increase its malleability and durability. To prevent the natural expansion and contraction from damaging the wiring, electricians can install dual rated lugs.
Copper wire doesn’t oxidize very quickly, but when it does, it can actually help conduction. Oxidized aluminum, on the other hand, is a full-on insulator. Coating aluminum wires with a specialized grease can stop oxidation from occurring in high-risk areas like moist or open sections. In situations where copper cannot be used as an electrical conductor, aluminum metal is a great substitute. With its many uses, it’s cheap, effective, and easy to access.
Aluminum and copper can both be used in many different commercial, residential, and industrial buildings. Each project will call for a specific setup, influenced by factors like cost, safety, and space. For more information, talk to us at Aaluminum Sheet & Wire.