Can You Downsize Cable, Ground & Neutral Wire?

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If you’re a DIY contractor or electrician who deals with homes regularly, you’re probably familiar with the main wiring aspect: wire sizes. Homeowners often call in the professionals for these projects because it can get confusing.

The thought of downsizing wires due to high cost occurs to most homeowners and they may find themselves asking the question

There’s a lot to consider when wiring a circuit; cable sizing is one of the critical factors. Wires are designed to transport electricity across two points with the least resistance. Large wires carry more electricity than smaller wires. The insulation on the wire will melt if the current flowing through it is beyond its capacity. If you make electrical connections in your home, you must know when it’s okay to downsize the wires in a circuit.

Can You Downsize The Cable?

You can downsize the cable wire only but be careful not to violate NEC Codes. The cable consists of several current-carrying cables; to reduce the thread, you must consider the amount of current the line is expected to transmit. 100  amps current requires an 8 gauge wire.

However, if the electrical load in that outlet is minor, say 15 amps, you can downsize to a 12 gauge wire. It will not overheat, provided the current doesn’t exceed the limits for the outlet.

Can You Downsize The Ground Wire?

You can downsize a ground wire, but it puts your home electrical system at risk if there’s a power surge or a damaged circuit. The ground wire should not be smaller than the hot or neutral wire; it should be big enough to carry 120V and 15 amps current. The ground wire in a perfect circuit is not expected to have current. 

It’s a backup wire that taps stay voltage and disposes of it in the ground when there’s a circuit malfunction. A suitable grounding wire should be capable of transmitting the same current that flows through the hot wire.

In the US, the hot wire carries 120V and  15 amps; it’s a 14 gauge wire. The grounding wire can be a 14 gauge wire. It would help if you didn’t downsize the ground wire to a higher gauge. If the ground wire is too small, it’ll overheat if a high electric current flows through it.

Can You Downsize The Neutral Wire?

The size of the neutral wire has to be the same as the hot wire and cannot be downsized. The neutral wire in an individual circuit serves as a returning path for electric current coming from the load. It carries the same current as the hot wire, meaning it must be the same type of wire.

In the US, where the home electrical system receives 120V and 15 amps, the hot wire used is a 14 gauge wire, and the neutral must be the same gauge.

Should The Ground Wire Be Bigger Than Neutral?

The ground wire can be bigger than the neutral wire. A bigger ground wire doesn’t cause any damage to the electrical system. It’s a backup wire that only functions as a path for straying voltage from the electrical system to the ground. It should be enough to carry 120V and 15 amps. It can be more significant than the neutral regardless.

However, The ground wire can be the same as the neutral or hot wire but not smaller. In a working circuit, current flows from the hot wire to the load and returns through the neutral wire. The ground wire should be the same gauge as the neutral and hot wire, so it doesn’t get damaged if there’s a surge or circuit malfunction.

However, it can be bigger or smaller. The size of the ground wire is determined by its current-carrying capacity.

What Happens If Your Ground Wire Is Too Small?

The ground wire shouldn’t be smaller than the recommended 14 gauge for home electrical systems, or it may fail. The purpose of the grounding wire is to act as a short path for electric current to get to the ground. It must be big enough to carry the same load as the hot and neutral wire. If too small, it’ll overheat when the current passes through it and cause damage.

Also, The neutral wire must be the same size as the hot wire. This is so because the same amount of current flows through the hot and neutral wire. The hot wire carries current to the load; the current flows from the bag through the neutral wire. The same current but in different directions.

What Happens If The Cable Is Too Small?

The cable must be big enough to carry its designed load. If the cable is too small, the wires will overheat, and the line will deliver low voltage to the appliance you connect it to. The voltage drops because part of the energy is lost as heat. The consequence is that the device will not deliver maximum output since it receives less voltage than it needs.

When downsizing, you should never go below the recommended gauge for the load. An overheated cable can cause severe electrical damage in the home.

Can A Ground Wire Be Too Big?

You can use a big wire to ground your electrical system; there’s no risk. An oversized grounding wire will give you a tough time wiring due to its unusual thickness. Also, a big grounding wire is more expensive than the recommended gauge. If you’re using a big grounding wire, lay it in a conduit to make your connections neat. 

Conclusion

The ground, neutral, and cable wires are designed for different functionalities. One should not be mistaken for another one, especially when fixing a fault in the electrical system. You can downsize the cables, grounding wire, and neutral wires but consider the load on the circuit so you know if to reduce or not.

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