For nearly 200 years, copper has been the material of choice for electrical connectors. Since the invention of the electromagnet and the telegraph in the early 1800s, it’s become even more widespread, especially with the invention of the telephone in 1876.
Today, copper electrical connectors are still used in telecommunications, power generation, distribution, and transmission.
Why is copper used for most electrical wiring?
To get an electrical current to flow through metals, the power source has to fight against resistivity. The lower the level of resistivity, the more electrical conductivity a metal has. And since copper wire has a low level of resistivity, it’s a fantastic electrical conductor.
Copper is also an incredibly flexible material. Electrical connectors and wiring need to handle large loads of electricity at a time, but most metals that take on these loads don’t bend easily. Copper, on the other hand, has the ideal level of thickness to handle household levels of electricity, while still being maneuverable.
Lastly, copper is less oxidative than other metals. You’ve likely heard of oxidation when talking about rust. It happens when the oxygen and moisture in the air react with a metal’s surface. This reaction corrodes the metal which makes a film-like covering.
Copper doesn’t rust but it will produce a greenish patina called copper oxide. Unlike rust, however, this coating protects the metal from corroding without interfering with the conductivity.
How does aluminum wiring compare to copper?
While aluminum can also be used for everything electrical, copper has the upper hand for several reasons.
For starters, aluminum has lower conductivity than copper and is also more prone to oxidation. The aluminum oxide that forms on the surface is not conductive like copper oxide, which means it can slow the flow of electricity. To combat this oxidation, aluminum needs anti-oxidant cream to flow smoothly.
When you’re comparing aluminum to copper electrical connectors, you also need to consider safety issues. Aluminum expands and contracts as it heats and cools, so aluminum wiring can loosen over time—which makes it a major fire hazard.
While these safety issues can be mitigated, it’ll require special considerations. These could include unique fixtures that complement the aluminum wiring, Arc Fault Interrupters, and “pig-tailing” copper wire for the ends of aluminum wires. Copper wiring, on the other hand, is much safer to use, and requires fewer precautions.
These traits make copper a much better material for electrical wiring in tight spaces. Between the flexibility, the resistance to heat expansion, and the overall safety considerations of the metal, it’s simply a better choice.
What are some best practices for copper electrical connectors?
Even though electrical copper connectors have fewer safety issues than aluminum, electricity is still hazardous. So if you’re working on a wiring project, be sure to follow proper safety precautions.
When using copper electrical conductors, make sure to:
- Use the proper copper wire connector for the size and number of wires you’re connecting.
- Only use electrical copper connectors that UL (Underwriters Laboratories) recommends.
- Make sure wire ends are completely covered by the connector. Electrical tape is not a safe alternative for covering exposed wire.
- When you’re reconnecting wires, it’s possible that the ends could be damaged. Trim the ends and restrip the insulation to ensure the safest connection possible.
- Once you’re done, test that the connection is secure by giving the wires a gentle tug.
Mead Metals stocks copper products in a range of sizes and tempers. We can also support quantities to accommodate high volume and low volume copper needs. If you need copper coil or copper sheet products, contact Mead Metals today to get a free quote on the reliable electrical wiring you’ve been looking for.