Voltage Drop Calculator
This is a calculator for the estimation of the voltage drop of an electrical circuit. The "NEC data" tab calculates based on the resistance and reactance data from the National Electrical Code (NEC). The "Estimated resistance" tab calculates based on the resistance data estimated from the wire size. Click the "Other" tab to use customized resistance or impedance data, such as data from other standards or wire manufacturers.
When electrical current moves through a wire, it is pushed by electrical potential (voltage) and it needs to surpass a certain level of contrary pressure caused by the wire. The voltage drop is the amount of electrical potential (voltage) loss caused by the contrary pressure of the wire. If the current is alternating, such contrary pressure is called impedance. Impedance is a vector, or two-dimensional quantity, consisting of resistance and reactance (reaction of a built-up electric field to a change of current). If the current is direct, the contrary pressure is called resistance.
Excessive voltage drop in a circuit can cause lights to flicker or burn dimly, heaters to heat poorly, and motors to run hotter than normal and burn out. It is recommended that the voltage drop should be less than 5% under a fully loaded condition. This can be achieved by selecting the right wire, and by taking care in the use of extension cords and similar devices.
There are four major causes of voltage drop:
The first is the choice of material used for the wire. Silver, copper, gold, and aluminum are among the metals with the best electrical conductivity. Copper and aluminum are the most common materials used for wires due to their relatively low price compared with silver and gold. Copper is a better conductor than aluminum and will have less voltage drop than aluminum for a given length and wire size.
Wire size is another important factor in determining voltage drop. Larger wire sizes (those with a greater diameter) will have less voltage drop than smaller wire sizes of the same length. In American wire gauge, every 6-gauge decrease doubles the wire diameter, and every 3-gauge decrease doubles the wire cross sectional area. In the Metric Gauge scale, the gauge is 10 times the diameter in millimeters, so a 50 gauge metric wire would be 5 mm in diameter.
Still another critical factor in voltage drop is wire length. Shorter wires will have less voltage drop than longer wires for the same wire size. Voltage drop becomes important when the length of a run of wire or cable becomes very long. Usually this is not a problem in circuits within a house, but may become an issue when running wire to an outbuilding, well pump, etc.
Finally, the amount of current being carried can affect voltage drop levels; an increase in current through a wire results in an increased voltage drop. Current carrying capacity is often referred to as ampacity, which is the maximum number of electrons that can be pushed at one time – the word ampacity is short for ampere capacity.
The ampacity of a wire depends on a number of factors. The basic material from which the wire is made is, of course, an important limiting factor. If alternating current is being sent through the wire, the speed of alternation can affect ampacity. The temperature in which the wire is used can also affect ampacity.
Cables are often used in bundles, and when they are brought together, the total heat which they generate has an effect on ampacity and voltage drop. There are strict rules about bundling cables which must be followed for this reason.
Cable selection is guided by two main principles. First, the cable should be able to carry the current load imposed on it without overheating. It should be able to do this in the most extreme conditions of temperature it will encounter during its working life. Second, it should offer sufficiently sound earthing to (i) limit the voltage to which people are exposed to a safe level and (ii) allow the fault current to trip the fuse in a short time.
Voltage drop calculation
Ohm's Law is a very basic law for calculating voltage drop:
Vdrop = I·R
The resistance of the wires is often measured and given as length-specific resistance, normally in the unit of ohms per kilometer or ohms per 1000 feet. Also, the wire is round-tripped. Therefore, the formula for a single-phase or direct current circuit becomes:
Vdrop = 2·I·R·L
The formula for a three-phase circuit becomes:
Vdrop = √3·I·R·L
Typical AWG wire sizes
American Wire Gauge (AWG) is a wire gauge system used predominantly in North America for the diameters of round, solid, non-ferrous, electrically conducting wire. The following is a list of typical AWG wires and their sizes:
|AWG||Diameter||Turns of wire||Area||Copper resistance|
|inch||mm||per inch||per cm||kcmil||mm2||Ω/km||Ω/1000ft|