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A Short Glossary of Electrical Terms

What you should know about how volts, amperes, watts, conductors, and resistance work


Just as water pours from a faucet when the spigot is turned on, so does electricity move through a wire when a switch is turned on. In both cases, the release of pressure causes the flow of energy, and, in the case of electricity, this flow is measured in volts. Utility companies usually set the voltage level for households at 120, though current can vary from 115 to 125.


How much current moves through a wire in one second is measured in amperes. Basically, the larger the size of wire, the greater the ampere capacity.


The amount of electricity consumed per second is measured by what are called watts, calculated by multiplying volts times amps. Most household electrical usage is billed in kilowatt hours, or the amount of hours times 1,000 watts.


Anything that allows electricity to flow through it is called a conductor. Copper wire is an excellent conductor since it allows a free flow of electricity with very little resistance. Less expensive alternatives are aluminum and aluminum clad with copper.


Anything in an electrical circuit that impedes the flow of current is referred to as resistance, or impedance. Resistance is measured in what are called ohms.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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