Outdoor Cable Decoding: Types and Applications

How do outdoor cables power our interconnected world? From residential security to industrial control, the significance of outdoor cables in today’s technology-driven environment is undeniable. Our blog delves into the diverse types of outdoor cables,  delineates their applications and answers common questions to guide your selections.

What is best outdoor cable?

Outdoor cables are cables designed for external use that can withstand a variety of factors that may compromise the performance of standard indoor cables, such as humidity, extreme temperature changes, weather (e.g., rain and snow), and ultraviolet radiation. With stronger sheathing and insulation material, outdoor electrical cable can support itself between poles or structures. In some cases, additional protective layers, such as armor, are added to shield the internal conductors from rodent attacks or digging activities.

Outdoor cables require specialized waterproof design and have a more complex structure, generally consisting of insulation, shielding, sheath layer, and other layers, widely used in outdoor buildings, roads, bridges, and other occasions.

outdoor cable

Moreover, there are several types of outdoor cables, each with specific features to meet different outdoor installation needs, let’s take a look at it.

What cable is suitable for outdoor use?

When choosing cables for outdoor applications, some may be a little confused between outdoor cables and directly buried cables, here we explain. Direct burial cables are cables that are specifically designed to be buried underground without the need for additional protective conduits, whereas general outdoor cables are suitable for a variety of above-ground outdoor applications and require conduits if they are to be buried underground. Below, we’ve listed five common waterproof outdoor electrical cables:

  • Fiber Optic Cable: A type of communication cable made of flexible, transparent glass fibers known as optical fibers that transmit data in the form of light; known for its high bandwidth and resistance to electromagnetic interference, fiber optic cable is the preferred choice for telecommunications, Internet, and advanced data networks. They are also resistant to certain mechanical stresses.

Fiber Optic Cable

  • Direct Burial Ethernet Cable: This network cable excels in wired setups, connecting various devices like computers, routers, and switches. Known for their swift data transfer rates, these cables are a staple in internet connections and local area networks (LANs). The outdoor versions often feature extra shielding, enhancing the signal quality by warding off electromagnetic interference.
  • Underground Feeder (UF) Cable: Typically referred to as UF-B cables, these are engineered for underground applications. They often route power from buildings to external installations, including lighting, pumps, and other outdoor apparatus. Sporting sturdy rubber sheath, these cables can be laid directly into the ground without conduit.

UF Cable

  • UV Cable: Specifically designed to withstand ultraviolet (UV) radiation, UV-resistant cables are generally black, embedded with UV-absorbing materials, and boast waterproof qualities. They’re primarily utilized for transmitting power, control signals, and data. Their ability to retain functionality and color vibrancy, even after extended sun exposure, makes them perfect for outdoor, overhead, or rooftop setups.
  • Armoured Cable: Heavy-duty outdoor electrical cable. Armored outdoor cables are specialized cables with an additional protective layer, usually made of steel wire (SWA), steel tape (STA), or aluminum wire (AWA). This armor provides enhanced mechanical protection against physical damage such as cutting, crushing, and impact, making outdoor armoured electrical cable ideal for use in industrial, commercial, and outdoor applications, including underground systems, power networks, and buildings that require additional protection. Armoring also provides some protection against electromagnetic interference and improves signal integrity in certain applications. metal-clad (MC) and metal-sheathed cables that can be used outdoors are generally referred to as armoured cables.

Armoured Cable

Having explored the various types of outdoor cables, we now turn our attention to examining the commonly utilized outdoor electrical wires.

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What type of electrical wire is used outdoors?

Compared to outdoor cables, outdoor-rated wires are usually thinner; common  outdoor thin electrical wire types are:

  • THWN or THHNWire:  Both THWN and THHN have PVC insulation and nylon sheath that are heat and chemical-resistant and are suitable for use in conduit and cable trays for service, feeders, and branch wiring. However, there are also differences between THHN and THWN wires, mainly in that THWN wires are waterproof and more suitable for humid environments
  • Coaxial Cable: A kind of low-loss cable for transmitting high-frequency signals; commonly found in telephone trunk lines, broadband Internet lines, high-speed computer data buses, and television signal transmission.

Coaxial Cable

  • CAT6 Cable: Standardized twisted-pair cable for Ethernet and computer networks that is backward compatible with Cat 5/5e standards. Cat 6 cable is widely used for high-speed data transmission in residential and commercial indoor and outdoor applications, including connecting to outdoor Wi-Fi access points and establishing connections between buildings. The difference between indoor and outdoor cat6 cable is that outdoor cat6 is constructed with additional protective layers to resist environmental elements like UV rays and moisture, whereas indoor cables are not.

Cat 6 Ethernet Cable

  • Outdoor Speaker Cable: Made of high-quality oxygen-free copper, these cables are used to connect outdoor speakers to audio systems; they can survive UV, moisture, and other external elements, and are suitable for direct underground or in-wall installation.
  • Outdoor lighting cables are designed to be weather-resistant and robust to connect outdoor lighting fixtures to the power source. Such cables are available in a range of sizes to cater to diverse lighting requirements, from the delicate ambiance of low-voltage garden lights to the robust demands of high-capacity street lighting systems, with the most commonly used sizes are 12-gauge and 10-gauge wires.

The selection of the right cable or wire for outdoor applications hinges on understanding the characteristics and intended uses of various types. Moving forward, an important consideration arises: is it feasible to use regular cables in outdoor environments? Let’s explore the suitability and safety implications of this approach.

Can I use normal electrical cable outside?

Normal outdoor electrical cables are not suggested because they are primarily designed for indoor usage and lack protection against outdoor conditions. If normal cables are used outdoors, they may cause cable damage, system failure, or even fire, electric shock, and other safety issues.

Utilizing cables rated for indoor use in outdoor settings is a violation of established electrical codes and regulations. Such non-compliance can result in substantial insurance liabilities. Consequently, it is imperative to select cables specifically designed for outdoor applications. This selection criterion ensures compliance with the performance standards required for outdoor installations. By doing so, not only is the performance of the electrical systems upheld, but adherence to legal and safety regulations is also ensured, eventually enhancing the overall safety of the installation.

Below, we will find out if armoring is necessary for outdoor cables.

Does outdoor cable have to be Armoured?

While outdoor cables are not inherently required to be armoured, the enhanced durability and protection offered by armoured cables make them a frequently recommended choice for such applications; Whether or not to use armoured cables in outdoor settings hinges on a multitude of critical factors:

  • Environmental Conditions: In scenarios where cables are destined for areas prone to significant physical risks—such as industrial zones, or locations susceptible to wildlife encounters, or the operation of heavy machinery—armoured cables are strongly advised.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Certain jurisdictions or specific usage contexts may impose regulatory mandates necessitating the use of armoured cables for outdoor installations. Adherence to these requirements is crucial.
  • Installation Specifications: For instances where cables are intended for subterranean deployment, armoured cables offer superior safeguards against environmental adversities, including soil-borne chemicals, moisture intrusion, and physical stresses.
  • Cable Type and Functional Purpose: Different types of cables, encompassing power, telecommunications, and data, each bear distinct outdoor usability standards and requirements.

In situations where outdoor installations do not explicitly necessitate armoured cables, alternative protective strategies such as the utilization of conduits or the application of reinforced insulation can be implemented. This ensures both the longevity and operational efficiency of the cable. However, it is imperative to consult and adhere to local building codes and standards. Additionally, a thorough evaluation of the specific environmental and mechanical challenges anticipated in the cable’s intended application is essential for optimal selection and deployment.

Bottom Line

Selecting the appropriate outdoor cable wire is crucial for any installation, be it for power, communication, or networking. With a clear understanding of each cable type’s unique properties, your outdoor installations can achieve optimal durability and safety. From the robust armored cables to the high-speed fiber optics, each type of outdoor cable serves a distinct purpose. When in doubt, consult with a cable expert like ZW Cable to obtain expert guidance, prices for electrical cable, and high-quality cable solutions.

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About Me
Richard Zi
Richard Zi

My name is Richard Zi, and serve as the General Manager of ZW Cable. With a deep and extensive background of more than 15 years in the cable industry, I am excited to share my wealth of knowledge and experience.ZW Cable is a renowned company in the field of cable manufacturing in world, we specialize in selecting the best cable sizes and effectively solving all your cable challenges. If you have any questions or needs regarding cable solutions, please contact me and I assure you of the highest standards of personalized and effective guidance and support.View All My Posts >>

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