What Is Low-Voltage Wire?

Low-voltage wire refers to electrical wiring that carries a voltage lower than 30 volts. It is commonly used for things like doorbells, thermostats, landscape lighting, security systems, and other applications that require a small amount of electricity.

Key Features of Low-Voltage Wire

Low-voltage wire has some defining characteristics that differentiate it from standard 120-volt and 240-volt electrical wiring:

Lower Voltage

As the name suggests, low-voltage wire operates at a lower voltage than standard electrical wiring. Typically, low-voltage wire carries between 12-24 volts, compared to the 120 volts in a typical household electrical circuit. The lower voltage means low-voltage wiring is safer and has less restrictive installation requirements.

Two Conductors

Low-voltage wire contains two insulated copper conductors – a positive and negative. This allows electricity to flow in a loop and power low-voltage devices. The small size of the conductors enables more flexibility compared to standard electrical wire.


The copper conductors in low-voltage wire are covered by insulation to prevent electric shocks and short circuits. Common insulation materials include PVC, silicone, Teflon, and polyethylene. The thickness of insulation varies based on voltage and application.

Stranded Construction

Low-voltage wire uses many small copper strands bundled together rather than a single solid conductor. This stranded construction makes the wire more flexible and resistant to fatigue from bending and vibration.

Thinner Gauge

With less voltage and current, low-voltage wire can use thinner copper gauges than 120V or 240V electrical wiring. Typical sizes for low-voltage wiring range from 18 AWG to 24 AWG. The thinner gauge allows for easier installation in tight spaces.


Low-voltage wires usually have colored insulation so that the polarity can be identified. Red, black, white, and green are common low-voltage wire colors. Properly connecting positive and negative is critical for low-voltage systems to function.

Common Types of Low-Voltage Wire

There are a few specialty types of low-voltage wire designed for particular applications:

Landscape Lighting Wire

Designed specifically for low-voltage outdoor landscape lighting systems. The insulation withstands temperature extremes, moisture, and UV rays. It’s available with direct burial insulation for running wiring underground.

Thermostat Wire

Used to connect smart thermostats and HVAC systems. The wire is color coded and labeled to correspond with particular functions like power, heat, cool, and fan. Typically 18-22 AWG size.

Alarm Wire

Used for security system sensors, keypads, motion detectors and alarm panels. It’s flexible and available pre-bundled for easier pulling through conduits. The insulation is designed to resist abrasion.

Doorbell Wire

Specialized wire for connecting modern wireless doorbells. It provides power and transmits signals between the button and chime unit. Withstands the elements well.

Speaker Wire

Used for connecting speakers to amplifiers and sound systems. Typically contains two insulated 18-16 AWG stranded conductors. Available in a range of insulation colors.

Coaxial Cable

Contains an insulated copper wire core surrounded by a grounded shield for noise reduction. Used for video surveillance cameras, TV, and networking. RG-59 and RG-6 are common types.

Low-Voltage Wire vs. Line-Voltage Wire

It’s important to understand the key differences between low-voltage wire and standard 120V/240V electrical wire:

  • Voltage – Low-voltage operates at 0-30V, while line-voltage handles 100-250V.
  • Safety – The high voltages in line-voltage wiring make safety training critical. Low-voltage is safer for DIY installation.
  • Conductors – Line-voltage typically uses a hot, neutral and ground. Low-voltage only needs positive and negative.
  • Circuit Protection – Low-voltage circuits don’t require GFCIs or overcurrent protection like standard wiring.
  • Insulation – Low-voltage wire insulation is lighter since less voltage means thinner, more flexible insulation can be used.
  • Wiring Method – Low-voltage cabling is less restrictive in how it’s installed and secured since it handles lower power.

Common Uses for Low-Voltage Wire

The applications of low-voltage wiring encompass many areas of residential, commercial, and industrial systems:

Landscape and Garden Lighting

Low-voltage landscape lighting uses 12V or 24V wire to power path lights, spotlights, well lights, pond lights, deck lights, and more while minimizing the risk of electrocution and electrical fires.

HVAC Controls

Thermostats, sensors, and HVAC control boards use low-voltage connections for communication and to control 24V signals that operate heating/cooling equipment.

Security and Alarm Systems

Alarm control panels, motion sensors, security cameras, access control systems, and more utilize low-voltage cabling for safety and reliability. Low-voltage allows for wiring sensors in damp areas.

Home Theater and Audio Systems

In-wall speakers, surround sound systems, and TVs use specialized low-voltage wiring like speaker wire and coaxial cable for creating high-fidelity home theaters.


Modern wireless video doorbells use low-voltage wiring to carry power to the doorbell chime and transmit the video/doorbell signal wirelessly to the indoor monitor.

Smart Home Automation

Connecting smart home devices like voice assistants, lighting controls, motorized shades, and more is made easier and safer with flexible low-voltage cabling.

Computer Networking

While network cabling carries low-voltage data signals, PoE (Power over Ethernet) can supply low-voltage DC over network cables to power devices like access points, cameras, and phones.

Choosing the Right Wire Gauge

When selecting low-voltage wire, one of the most important factors to consider is the wire gauge. This refers to the diameter of the copper conductors inside the cable. Here are some tips on choosing the appropriate gauge:

  • Consider the length of the wire run and the power requirements of the devices being connected. Longer wire runs may require thicker gauges to minimize voltage drop.
  • Heavier wire gauges (lower numbers) can carry more power. For example, 18 AWG can handle around 7 amps, while 24 AWG can only handle 1 amp safely.
  • Devices like LED lights and electronic controls only draw small amounts of current. 24 or 22 AWG is sufficient for many low-voltage applications.
  • Extend wire runs and connections increase resistance, which reduces voltage at the devices. Using a heavier gauge wire than required can compensate for this.
  • Wire diameter, material cost, and installation difficulties increase with lower gauge numbers. Only use thick, heavy-gauge wires when the application requires it.
  • Consult manufacturer instructions for gauge requirements and voltage drop limits for the wire run length.
  • The National Electric Code (NEC) contains regulations on wire gauges for various types of low-voltage wiring.

Installing Low-Voltage Wiring

Low-voltage wiring involves some important installation considerations:

Safety Precautions

  • Use caution when working with any electrical wiring and cables. Power should be disconnected at the breaker.
  • Wear insulated gloves and eye protection when handling low-voltage wiring.
  • Avoid pinching or damaging wire insulation during installation to prevent shorts.

Cable Routing

  • Plan wiring routes between the power supply and devices prior to installation.
  • Avoid running low-voltage wiring parallel to or in the same conduit as line-voltage electrical wiring. Crosstalk can cause interference.
  • Use staples, clips, and wire ties to secure cables every few feet along runs according to code. Do not allow cables to lay on the ground.
  • Low-voltage wiring can often be surface mounted since it’s not subject to the same restrictions as high-voltage electrical wiring.
  • Leave some slack at connection points to avoid stress on the wires.
  • Outdoor buried cables should be approved for direct burial, like irrigation wire or direct burial landscape lighting cable.

Cable Connections

  • Ensure connections are made properly by matching the positive to the positive wire and negative to the negative. Reversed polarity will prevent operation.
  • Use gel-filled wire nuts, crimp connectors, or terminal blocks to join wires securely.
  • Heat shrink tubing helps protect connection points from moisture ingress.
  • Avoid unnecessary splices, which can increase resistance. Use junction boxes when required.
  • Label wires clearly at the ends and connection points for easy troubleshooting.


  • Check for continuity before connecting devices to ensure wiring is complete.
  • Power up the low-voltage system incrementally to confirm devices are receiving the proper voltage and functioning correctly.
  • Check for loose connections by gently tugging on cables. Refasten any loose wires.
  • Use a multimeter to check for expected voltage and isolate faults.

Properly installing low-voltage wiring according to code and best practices will ensure safe, long lasting, and reliable system operation.

Differences Between Parallel and Series Wiring

Low-voltage lighting systems, as well as other low-voltage applications, can wire components in either a parallel or series configuration:

Parallel Wiring

  • Each device is connected to its own individual wire running directly from the power supply.
  • Allows for simple troubleshooting since each device can be isolated.
  • The voltage at each device remains constant regardless of how many are powered.
  • More wiring is required compared to series.
  • If one device fails, others continue working.

Series Wiring

  • Devices are daisy chained together in a single run of wire from the power source.
  • Less wiring is required but troubleshooting is more difficult.
  • The voltage drops across each device, so the last device receives less voltage than the first.
  • If one device fails, those further down the line will stop working.
  • Good option for limited wiring runs.

In practice, most low-voltage lighting systems combine parallel and series wiring:

  • Long wire runs are series wired to minimize wiring and voltage drop.
  • But individual fixtures connect via parallel wiring back to the main line for fault tolerance.

Understanding the implications of each approach allows for an optimal system design.

Low-Voltage Wire Safety Tips

Despite being lower power, installers should still take care when working with low-voltage wiring:

  • Use insulated tools and wear gloves/eye protection to avoid shocks from accidentally touching two conductors.
  • Keep wiring away from potential damage by lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, and other equipment.
  • Shut off power before attempting to access or modify wiring.
  • Use GFCI or AFCI protected power supplies for outdoor low-voltage systems.
  • Avoid overloading circuits by checking transformer or power supply capacity versus load.
  • Consider wire gauge rating and voltage drop when determining wire run distances from the power source.
  • Do not bury low-voltage wiring deeper than specified by code unless the wire is approved for direct burial.
  • Keep low-voltage wiring out of hot spaces like recessed lights according to fire safety codes.
  • Use conduit for exposed outdoor runs and where subject to physical damage.
  • Prevent tripping hazards by properly securing surface-mounted wires.

Though low-voltage itself isn’t hazardous, caution should still be exercised, and installations must meet all applicable electrical codes.

Common Low-Voltage Problems

While less prone to issues than high-voltage systems, problems can still arise with low-voltage wiring:

Short Circuits

Damaged or poorly insulated wires coming into contact can create shorts, immediately flowing full current. Shorts cause overheating that can melt insulation, damage connected devices, trip protection devices, and in severe cases, start fires.

Open Circuits

Broken wires, loose screw terminals, and damaged insulation can all cause open circuits interrupting current flow. No device power indicates an open circuit, usually at a connection point.

Voltage Drop

The resistance along long wire runs will cause the voltage arriving at devices to be lower than at the power source. Excessive drop will prevent proper operation.

Electromagnetic Interference

Running low-voltage wiring parallel to AC power lines or near motors can induce interference that disrupts signals or introduces noise.

Ground Loops

When device ground wires are connected to multiple points, current can circulate between the points, causing annoying hum or buzzing in audio systems.


Moisture contacting exposed copper or terminals causes corrosion buildup increasing resistance. Periodically cleaning connections helps combat corrosion.


Drawing excessive current through undersized wire gauges causes overheating, insulation damage, and potential fire risks. Overloads must be avoided.

Careful installation, overcurrent protection, surge suppression, and redundancy helps minimize issues with low-voltage wiring in residential and commercial systems.


What’s the difference between low-voltage and line-voltage wiring?

Low-voltage wiring operates at less than 30V, typically 12-24V, compared to the 100-250V range for standard residential and commercial electrical wiring. The lower voltages make low-voltage wiring safer, more flexible, and easier to install for DIYers.

What gauge wire should I use?

Choose a wire gauge adequate for the length of the wiring run and the power requirements of the devices being connected. Heavier gauges are needed for longer runs to minimize voltage drop. Things like LED lights and electronic controls only require thinner 24-22 AWG wire for many applications.

Can low-voltage wire be run outside?

Yes, low-voltage wiring can be run outdoors for things like landscape lighting, security cameras, and holiday lighting. Use wire rated for direct burial when undergrounding cables. Ensure outdoor power supplies are GFCI protected and cables are adequately secured and protected.

What’s the best way to make connections?

Use gel-filled wire nuts, crimp connectors, screw terminal blocks, or solder to securely join low-voltage wires. Ensure the positive and negative conductors are matched properly. Heat shrink tubing helps reinforce connections and prevent moisture ingress.

How far can low-voltage wire be run?

The distance low-voltage wiring can effectively run depends on the wire gauge as well as the power requirements of connected devices. Longer wire runs require thicker wire to minimize voltage drop across the line length. 24 AWG wire is typically limited to around 50 ft, while 18 AWG may reach over 300 ft in some applications.

Can low-voltage and line-voltage share the same conduit?

It’s typically recommended to avoid running low-voltage and line-voltage wiring together, especially in conduit where wires are bundled closely. This helps prevent interference and inductance problems from running AC power alongside low-voltage DC.

Is low-voltage wiring safe for DIY projects?

While exercising caution is still required, the lower voltages involved make low-voltage wiring safer and more DIY friendly than standard 120/240V electrical work that requires proper training and licensure. However, all installations should still adhere to local building codes and permitting requirements.


Low-voltage wire provides an efficient, safer method of powering and connecting lower power electronics and controls in residential, commercial, and industrial settings compared to traditional line-voltage AC wiring. Understanding the types of low-voltage wiring, proper gauges, installation methods, and potential issues allows wire runs to be integrated smoothly and safely when upgrading systems and buildings with the latest smart controls and technology. With proper installation and care, low-voltage wiring can provide many years of reliable service.