The Shocking Truth About Low Voltage Systems – Part 2

August 19, 2015

The Shocking Truth About Low Voltage Systems

– And How To Troubleshoot Them – Part 2

While the title of this blog post is provocative, the subject at hand is a serious one – regardless of whether a system is low, medium, or high voltage, it only takes a tiny amount of amperage to cause the heart to stop.  The National Electric Code defines a ‘low voltage system’ as anything under 49 volts – which could apply to a lot of systems in your house.  Today, however, we’d like to discuss the systems most commonly interacted with by our electricians – landscape lighting, doorbell systems, phone, data & media, thermostats, and touch-plate switching and wiring systems.  Please note: although low-voltage systems are considered ‘safer’ than high-voltage ones, this can be misleading as low-voltage systems can carry higher current – which can be more dangerous.  As always, don’t ever be afraid to call a licensed electrician to help with any electrical system or problem you might  be facing.

Last week, we looked at landscape lighting, doorbell systems, and telephone and media wiring.  This week, we will explore data cabling, thermostat wiring, and touch-plate systems.

Data Wiring

Data wiring – or cabling – can sound intimidating for those unfamiliar with it.  The good news is, it’s basically a way of labelling cords that are designed specifically to empower computers to talk to each other – either through the internet, or on a network in your home or office.  When someone refers to a ‘Cat5’ or a ‘Cat6’ cable, they are actually just shortening the word ‘category’.  These terms refer to ‘twisted pair cable used for carrying signals‘.  These things combine to create a network, and that means dealing with these kinds of cables now becomes network building or wiring.  While ethernet or category wiring is designed and can handle video and telephone, it’s purest purpose is really data – getting information from one place to another.  It is normally unpowered, and network technicians and data installers are frequently specialists in this realm.  That being said – don’t ever hesitate to call a licensed electrician for any wire or cable need, regardless of voltage.

On a side-note – HDMI, or High-Definition Multimedia Interface, is a hugely popular system for high quantities of digital audio, video, and even systems control data that is used without compression or loss of quality.  Using HDMI in structured wiring is becoming increasingly popular; however, because it is relatively unshielded it is very susceptible  to electrical field interference – such as from normal power runs in walls or even high-current speaker wires.  Like all media cables, it is best to have a comprehensive plan when running structured wiring – calling in a specialist is always a good option.  If nothing else, a data or networking specialist can help with planning and installation – as can your neighborhood electrician!

Structured media rough for home cinema, internet, and more

Looking for DIY or troubleshooting guides?  How about these:

Structured Wiring How-To

Structured Wiring Solutions

In-Wall Wiring Guide for Home A/V

Structured Wiring System Design

Easy Open/Short Testing On Structured Wiring

Network Cabling Help and Fault Finding


Thermostats, those tiny little boxes sitting on the wall – the controls for our level of indoor comfort – seem unimportant, until they don’t do their job anymore.  They are usually so reliable that we barely maintain them or are aware that they need servicing.  The older style of thermostats are made up of bimetallic coils and carefully balanced metal springs, contacts, and triggers; excessive wear or tripping can create ‘dead zones’ or rub spots where the thermostat isn’t as effective.  Also, since they are such simplistic devices, they rarely are wired with anything more than a 12 Volt wire.  New advances, however, have flooded the market with electronic, wireless, and integrated thermostats that can become the center of your home system automation and all accessible through a wireless device like a phone or tablet – but if you put the wrong kind of batteries in them, or place them in the wrong spot, you will still encounter challenges with them.  For being so simple and yet so advanced, they can still have their issues and challenges – hence why we have this information to provide on troubleshooting and working with them:

Troubleshooting Your Home Thermostat

Tips on Troubleshooting Your Home Thermostat

Thermostat/Home Furnace Troubleshooting Guide

How to Tell If Your Home Thermostat Is Bad

How to Install a Programmable Thermostat


Low Voltage Touch-Plate Systems

This can be a relatively large topic to try and discuss.  Switching systems that use low-voltage relays to control high-voltage circuits still exist – and are still being installed today, especially in commercial and industrial applications.  One of the best features is these kinds of systems allow more than one switch in multiple locations to control the same wiring or lighting system – such as a group of switches at the front and back door, both of which will turn the outdoor lights on (or off).  By using transformers and transverters to change voltage and relay stations to control power, the systems designed with low voltage switches can be extremely versatile – as well as beautiful.  Since the switches are on smaller wires they can be smaller too, and make a more aesthetic statement.

While touch plate and low-voltage wiring systems can be something that intimidates, these systems now occupy a niche in the electrical world – a fun kind of electrical systems puzzle, a special or limited series of system design, installation, and maintenance, and even being beautiful in their own unique and unusual way.  By feeding multiple wires to single relay or switches, it also creates circuitous circuits of small, low-voltage wires that can make up a maze of wiring behind your home’s walls.


One of the things that Swartz Electric has become especially proficient at over the years is understanding, analyzing, and maintaining these systems so that homeowners can continue to enjoy them for years to come.  Because of the systems low voltage, it uses smaller wires – which carry a series of problems all their own, and makes them much more susceptible to things like nicks, intrusions, splices, etc.  The systems also are three wire controlled (or more) – and this means that each piece of the system is intricate and needed!  As a homeowner who buys a home with low-voltage wiring and lighting systems, it is possible to replace a touch-plate with a more traditional switching and lighting system, but it can get prohibitively expensive!  If you’re looking for some help with your low voltage touch-plate system, check out these wonderful guides to identifying, troubleshooting, and possibly repairing, replacing, or upgrading:

Identify Your Low Voltage Lighting System

Replacement Parts for Current & Discontinued Low Voltage Systems

Inspection & Repair Guide for Low Voltage Building Wiring & Lighting Systems

Touchplate Products Archive

Touch Plate Relay Fix

Touch Plate Lighting Help and FAQs


Remember – regardless of your wiring needs, or whether your system is low or high voltage, don’t hesitate to call on Swartz Electric for all your wiring and electrical needs!  We’re always here to help with landscape lighting, doorbell systems, phone, data & media, thermostats, and touch-plate switching and wiring systems.

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Swartz Electric – Your Colorado Springs Electrician performs electrical work throughout Colorado Springs, Monument, Black Forest, Fountain, Falcon, Woodland Park, and everywhere in between. We are the electricians in Colorado Springs to solve your electrical problems and meet your electrical requirements.

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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.

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