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What is Electrical Conduit?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
  • Edited By: W. Everett
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  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Electrical conduit is a type of tubing or piping used to protect electrical wiring. These conduits can be run like standard plumbing pipes through the walls or ceilings of a structure, and the wire is then pulled through the conduits using string or special tools. Many building codes require contractors to use electrical conduit when constructing or renovating a home, though the type and design of the conduit can vary by location. Generally, electrical conduit helps to protect wires from damage and reduce the risk of fire within a building.

Builders can choose from several types of conduit based on local codes and the demands of the project. Rigid conduit includes a pipe-like material that's difficult to bend, yet offers a high level of protection for the wires within. Steel or plastic conduit represent some of the most popular options, with stainless steel used to reduce damage in corrosive or moisture-prone environments. Wiring that must be buried underground often requires special clay conduits that can hold up to harsh conditions for an extended period.

Flexible conduit serves as an alternative to traditional rigid electrical conduit. Known as Greenfield or flex cable, this conduit is easy to bend around obstructions within the wall cavity or ceiling. It consists of steel, aluminum, or copper tubing that bends similar to the links in a chain. While this type of electrical conduit is convenient, it's generally much smaller than rigid conduit and capable of carrying fewer wires.

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Lengths of electrical conduit may be joined together using special couplings or fittings. Elbows bent at an angle are used to join conduit at a corner or along the joint between the wall and ceiling. Short lengths of conduit known as nipples can be used to extend a length of conduit to reach a junction box or fixture.

One advantage to using electrical conduit is the high level of protection it provides to electrical wiring. Wires are protected from moisture, chemicals, and even pests that can chew through the wiring and cause a shortage. Conduit also makes it easy to add or remove wires at a later date, with minimal damage to the surrounding finishes.

Buyers should also be aware of the potential limitations and drawbacks to using electrical conduit rather than simply running exposed wires. Rigid conduit can be hard to bend, making it difficult and time consuming to install these conduits in some areas. Electrical conduit can also add to the cost of a project, and is generally considered to be too expensive in many residential settings. Finally, conduit can interfere with the wire's natural ability to dissipate heat. This makes it critical for installers to use conduit carefully based on local codes and industry standards to minimize the risk of overheating or fires.

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