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What’s the Difference Between Low and High Voltage?

Whether you’ve seen it on fixtures, wires, or electrical panels, you’ve probably run across low and high voltage warnings. What’s the difference and how do you know which is better for use? The answers are actually rather simple.

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Official Difference

The difference in electrical potential between source and sink, or voltage as it’s more commonly known, is just one of the many measurements we use to rate devices and power lines. High voltage is usually considered to be anything that has the potential to cause harm or injury directly. The IEC ratings for voltage list high voltage devices and lines as anything over 1,000 volts for AC circuits and 1,500 volts
for DC circuits while low voltage circuits are between 50 and 1,000 VAC or 120-1500 VDC.

However, this places all home electrical wiring in the low voltage class (or lower). Housing voltage (also known as main or line voltage) is typically between 100 and 250 VAC. For home owners, this is considered high voltage. With this consideration
for the general homeowner, standard 5- to 24-volt devices are low voltage instruments. With more and more simple USB devices becoming the norm, the 5-volt USB outlet (and low voltage adapters in general) are becoming more common.

Use Cases

So how and where are these different voltages used? Most homes are wired on the 100-240 VAC standard. Light sockets don’t convert
the energy, they simply deliver roughly 120 VAC to the bulb placed in the socket. Most devices operate off this standard, even if they don’t use 120 AC electricity. LED light bulbs, CFLs, fans, even your computer plugs into at 120 volt outlet. Almost all of the electrical wiring in your home is going to be line or high voltage. This is because it’s easier to transmit at that voltage and it makes more sense for your device to convert the source voltage into an accepted standard than to tryand make all devices conform to the standard of your home.

While high voltage circuits are standard, low voltage circuits and devices are specialized for tasks. Electrical fixtures in yards or landscapes are a prime candidate for low voltages. Using a lower voltage system promotes safety for homeowners during yardwork after weather. The drawback to using a low voltage system is that it cannot run as far as a higher voltage circuit. Large yards would need high voltage cables,
which requires deep excavation and clear marking or recorded blueprints to prevent future mishaps while digging.

Smart systems and custom energy-efficient lighting are great candidates for low voltage wiring. LED lights that aren’t designed to fit in a standard socket operate off of low voltage DC lines. Installing a low voltage line for these lights means fewer conversions within your home. Likewise, creating a smart home uses multiple digital devices. Installing low voltage circuits to meet these demands may not be a bad idea depending on how many circuits you need.


Not sure whether you’re working on low or high voltage? Call Mainstream Electric. We’ll take a look at your voltage and we’ll even help you on your current project if you’d like!

Choose Smart! Call the Company with Heart! (866) 978-9297

For more information on home and business electrical inspections, visit Mainstream Electric online.