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Speak Like an Electrician: Vocab Basics

Q: Why do we say extravagant when we could just say nice; why should we describe something as cerulean when we could just say blue?

A: Because being specific allows us to describe things as accurately as possible.

When it comes to something as detailed as electrical work, accuracy could be a matter of life and death. Over the years, our team has heard electrical terminology being misused. Below, you’ll find a simple guide that clearly defines some frequently misused electrical terminology:

A fuse box and a breaker panel/electrical panel both function to interrupt the flow of electricity if it exceeds a certain level. A breaker panel has switches that correspond to each circuit in the home. On the other hand, a fuse box either uses an electromagnet or a bi-metal strip to break the connection.

Essentially, a receptacle is a type of outlet into which a plug can be placed..

  • An outlet is the “point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment.” (National Electrical Code)

  • A receptacle is “a contact device installed at the outlet for connection of an attachment plug.”

  • And a plug is what goes inside an outlet or receptacle.

ACFI and GCFI are commonly mistaken for one another because they look very similar - but the similarities end there! They differ vastly in function.

  • ACFI (arc fault circuit interrupters) are receptacles that protect against fires.

  • GCFI (ground fault circuit interrupters) monitor the flow of electricity to protect against shock. Whether it’s electrical shock or a fire, both ACFI and GCFI will shut off electricity when sensing danger.

A romex or NM (non-metallic) cable is the outermost casing that bundles individual wires together. Naturally, wires are the electrical conductors inside a romex/NM cable.

All about light bulbs:

  • LED stands for Light-Emitting Diodes. They are the most energy-efficient and long-lasting light bulbs on the market.

  • In an incandescent light bulb, an electrical current passes through a filament wire and heats it until it glows. It’s unlikely you will encounter these lightbulbs frequently; they have declined in popularity due to their low efficiency.

  • Like the name suggests, halogen/xenon light bulbs use halogen to produce light. They are technically a category of incandescent lightbulb, but are distinct in its process involving halogen rather than argon.

  • CFL stands for Compact Fluorescent Lamps. Like the incandescent light bulb, the CFL generates heat to create light. Unlike its predecessor, the CFL gets its glow through a process in which an electrical current through a tube contains argon and mercury vapor.

The next time you’re trying to explain a problem to an electrician or diagnosing an issue for yourself, we hope this guide will help you be as accurate as possible. You never know, it could save a life!

Now that you know how to best describe an issue you might have, give us a call for electrical assistance!


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