Armoured cables with two rubber-insulated conductors in a flexible metal sheath were used as early as 1906, and were considered at the time a better method than open knob-and-tube wiring, although much more expensive.
The first polymer-insulated cables for building wiring were introduced in 1922. These were two or more solid copper electrical wires with rubber insulation, plus woven cotton cloth over each conductor for protection of the insulation, with an overall woven jacket, usually impregnated with tar as a protection from moisture. Waxed paper was used as a filler and separator.
Over time, rubber-insulated cables become brittle because of exposure to atmospheric oxygen, so they must be handled with care, and are usually replaced during renovations. When switches, outlets or light fixtures are replaced, the mere act of tightening connections may cause hardened insulation to flake off the conductors. Rubber insulation further inside the cable often is in better condition than the insulation exposed at connections, due to reduced exposure to oxygen.
Rubber insulation was hard to strip from bare copper, so copper was tinned, causing slightly more electrical resistance. Rubber insulation is no longer used for permanent wiring installations, but may still be used for replaceable temporary cables where flexibility is important, such as electrical extension cords.
About 1950, PVC insulation and jackets were introduced, especially for residential wiring. About the same time, single conductors with a thinner PVC insulation and a thin nylon jacket (e.g. US Type THN, THHN, etc.) became common.
The simplest form of cable has two insulated conductors twisted together to form a unit; such unjacketed cables with two or three conductors are used for low-voltage signal and control applications such as doorbell wiring. In North American practice, an overhead cable from a transformer on a power pole to a residential electrical service consists of three twisted (triplexed) wires, often with one being a bare wire made of copper (protective earth/ground) and the other two being insulated for the line voltage (hot/live wire and neutral wire). For additional safety, the ground wire may be formed into a stranded co-axial layer completely surrounding the phase conductors, so that the outmost conductor is grounded.
Read more about this topic: Live Wire (electricity)
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