Wood is one of the most popular building materials. It is resilient, easy to use and when properly cared for, can stand the test of time. There are many amazing qualities of wood but a lingering question persists: is wood a conductor of electricity?
A quick answer
Wood is a conductor of electricity but a poor one. In fact, high-voltage electrical power can move through wood more efficiently and if wood gets wet, it becomes a good conductor despite very low voltages.
Because of this property, you should be very careful when using wet wooden ladders near power lines. You should also be very careful about using wooden poles around electrical lines as you can get electrocuted.
Wood’s electrical conductivity vs other materials
The symbol for electrical conductivity is the Sigma sign σ which is Siemens per meter or S/m. Traditional conductors such as copper have high electrical conductivity at 5.96×10 to the 7th power σ. This is why copper is a great conductor for cables and electric wires.
Meanwhile, dry wood has a 10−16 to 10-14σ at 20 °C electrical conductivity. When it comes to measuring electrical conductivity, the material is an insulator when it has a resistivity of 10 raised to the 16th Ω·m. Insulators can be any material that does not conduct electricity however even a material that allows even a small amount of electrical current is still classified as insulators.
And in most cases, a dry wooden stick is classified as an insulator as it will never effectively conduct electricity. Wood that’s also treated with a waterproofing formula will not conduct electrical current.
About composite wood
Composite wood is a type of wood used in constructing homes and building wooden furniture. A few composite woods have substances that may conduct electricity. This type of wood is a mixture of wood flour and fibers to make wood stronger and very durable while maintaining a very light profile.
Composite wood is waterproof and will last a long time too. Finally, composite wood is slightly conductive to electricity thanks to some minerals or elements in its composition. So when working with composite wood, always wear protective clothing.
How will wood conduct electrical currents?
Dry wood won’t conduct electricity that’s enough to give you a shock. But, if you change some factors, you may be surprised as to what wood can do.
- Length of the object
Generally, the longer your object is, the lower or weaker its electrical conductivity. This is the reason why high-end cables are shorter. In the case of wood, wood can conduct electricity if it’s the right length and if other factors are considered.
- The thickness of the object
A thicker object will work well as a conductor compared to thinner or finer objects. Therefore, if electricity was to pass through thicker wood, there is a good chance it can conduct better compared to finer and thinner wood strips.
- The temperature of the object
There are natural conductors that increase their conductibility when exposed to higher temperatures and lower temperatures.
- The presence of moisture
Moisture or water can significantly increase wood’s conductivity. This is why you must avoid standing under a tree during a thunderstorm. Rain soaks the lumber and the water and sap content of wood transforms it into an efficient conductor.
- Adding finishes or décor
When you add metal decorations or finishes on wood, it can become a conductor. Also, applying gold or platinum finish on wood turns it into a good conductor.
- Wood’s current frequency
If the current’s frequency or voltage passing through wood is too great, it can turn it into a conductor. But if the current is too weak, it won’t be enough.
Wood and electricity safety
Despite wood being a low conductor of electricity, it’s still possible to get electrocuted if the piece of wood you’re using is damp or moist. You must be careful at all times especially if your job calls for handling wood or wooden equipment outdoors. Remember the following:
- Working with wooden ladders
Workers like electricians, linesmen, and arborists should forgo working with ladders until a lightning storm or thunderstorm passes. This is the safest way to avoid getting electrocuted because of using a wet ladder.
But if you must use a wet ladder, wear safety equipment like rubber gloves, helmets, rubber boots, and raincoats.
- Construction workers safety
Construction workers work day and night to construct buildings, homes, skyscrapers, and other structures. They are prone to electrocution, especially during a thunderstorm. Again, the best course of action is to stop working and let the storm pass. They should wear appropriate safety clothing and use harnesses or belts to keep them safe as they work in high places.
- Wear safety equipment at all times.
Practice safety at all costs. Always wear your safety equipment no matter where you are at the construction site. If you’re the manager, it’s your duty to remind your team to adhere to safety protocols. Postpone work if you predict unsafe weather conditions.
- Steer clear of thunderstorms no matter where you are.
If you’re outdoors and suddenly, a thunderstorm hits, try to find a safe place to seek shelter. If you’re driving, just remain in your vehicle. Avoid areas such as beside a metal or wooden pole, a tree, or any tall wooden structure. Keep safe by checking weather conditions before you head out.
- Practice electronics safety during a thunderstorm
Also, practice indoor thunderstorm safety by turning off electronics and electrical appliances. Storms can cause electrical surges which can affect your devices that are plugged in electrical outlets.
So, is wood a conductor of electricity? It depends on the state of the wood. Very dry and brittle wood will not conduct electricity but moist or damp wood may do so. To avoid this, wood may be treated with a sealant or a waterproofing formula to prevent water from seeping in. Also, painting wood can significantly improve its ability to resist water. Follow our safety tips and you can steer clear of any accidents and electrocution.