What Is 12 2 Wire Used For | Applications Explained

So many options exist for wiring, and depending on the project in question, you may have more choices than you know what to do with. When it comes to residential wiring, though, you will often come into contact with 12 2 wire, among others. 

So, what is 12 2 wire used for? While many home wiring projects may use the smaller 14-gauge wire, 12 2 is just as common and can handle a little larger electrical load. We’ll look at what different gauges mean, how they apply to 12 2 wire, why we use 12 2, and other factors below.

What is Romex 12 2 Wire?

Wire generally relies on this two-numbered system to designate how big the wire is and what’s in it. The first number tells you the gauge of the wire. Wire gauge refers to the size of the wire, and the thicker the wire, the smaller the gauge number. Heavier electrical loads require a thicker wire, so your kitchen stove probably uses gauge six-wire, while the average living room lamp uses 16 or 18.

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12 2 Romex Wire
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Romex 12 2 wire uses 12-gauge wire. The second number, in this case, two, refers to the number of conductors in the wire. Not included in this second number is the presence of the bare ground wire. So a 12 2 wire will contain two 12-gauge wires and a third bare ground wire.

Romex is a trading name and is often installed in residential wiring. The Rome Cable Corporation originally produced it in Rome, NY. After that company filed for bankruptcy in the early 2000s, Southwire Company acquired the Romex brand. While all Romex 12 2 wire is 12 2, not all 12 2 wire is Romex wire.

What Is 12 2 Wire Used For?

Most often found in residential applications, 12 2 wire handles lower electrical loads like those required by household electrical items like lights, alarm clocks, and your refrigerator. A good rule of thumb is that if the outlet is a run-of-the-mill two- or a three-hole outlet like one of these, it’s been wired with 12 2 wire.

A non-inclusive list of electrical appliances using 12 2 wires includes:

  • Electrical Outlets
  • Combination Switch And Receptacle
  • Power Tools
  • Kitchen or Bathroom Exhaust Fans
  • Grounded Receptacles
  • Dishwasher
  • Tumble Dryers
  • Lighting Fixtures With Outlets
  • Air Con Installations

How Many Outlets Can You Run On A 12-2 Wire?

Keep to the rule of 1.5 amps per outlet. Since your 12-2 wire probably runs at 15 amps, a maximum number of outlets would be 10. If you’re running 20 amps, you can go up to 13 outlets. However, that would put the usage at 100%, leaving no room for error. 

Many electricians recommend maintaining an 80% threshold, which would mean eight outlets at 15 amps or ten at 20 amps.

Can I Use 12 Gauge Wire For Lights?

In short, yes, you can. However, there is a voltage limit with a 12-gauge wire. When using it for wiring your lights, be sure that you do not exceed 30 volts. Using a 15 amp circuit breaker with a maximum of 30 volts will work well for you.

Smaller wire— specifically 14-gauge— will work in this application, as well, though it will carry a smaller maximum load.

Can You Mix 12-Gauge And 14 Gauge Wire?

Can you mix them? Yes. It is physically possible to pigtail the two gauges together. The real question, though, is, should you? Remember that the wire gauge depends on the amount of amperage the wire can handle. Since 12-gauge wire is thicker than 14-gauge wire, it can take more amps than the thinner wire.

Provided you do not use amperage too high for the smaller of the two-wire gauges you plan to combine, all should be fine. However, if you overload a wire, you run the risk of damage to the appliances, the wire, and even fire damage to your home. 

What Is The Difference Between 12 3 And 12 2 Wire?

The difference between these two is the presence of an additional wire. Inside a length of 12 2 wires, as we’ve mentioned, are three wires— two-conductor wires (one black, one white) and a bare ground wire. 

A fourth wire makes it into 12 3 wires, meaning three conductors and a ground. The third conductor wire is often green and comes into play when wiring two switches to the same appliance or when wiring to something like a ceiling fan with an added light kit.

FAQs What Is 12 2 Wire Used For?

We’ve covered a lot about 12 2 wire, but if you’re looking for specifics, we may not have touched on your question. Some of the more common questions related to 12 2 wire follow.