Cable management is a crucial part of any home theater or home improvement project. Sleek, functional and properly placed cables separate the failed DIYers from the pros. How do you manage cables for outdoor projects, especially cables that may lead dozens of feet out from a structure? Direct burial cable is a smart solution. These durable cables can easily run underground, where they're invisible and out of harm's way.
What Is Direct Burial Cable?
The design of direct burial cabling allows you to bury the cables in a trench outdoors. A durable and tight PVC coating around the length of the cable forms a weatherproof seal, protecting the wires inside. To install these cables, follow three simple steps:
- Check with your local authority to make sure the location is safe to dig. In the U.S., call 811.
- Dig a trench 18 inches deep.
- Run your cables underground. No conduit is necessary.
These cables are ideal for all kinds of seamless and impressive outdoor electronics projects, from backyard movie theaters to poolside speakers to security systems and more. Cables with direct burial ratings are also suitable for in-wall installation.
What Are the Different Types of Direct Burial Cable for Home Improvement?
There are several different types of specialized cables for direct burial. Here is a short guide to types, gauges and more to help you make the right choice before you start digging.
Outdoor CL3 Speaker Wire
Speaker wire is perfect for direct burial. As any audiophile will tell you, the quality of your speaker wire affects the quality of your sound. Underground burial keeps speaker wire safe and free of damage that can lead to poor audio. Direct burial cable also improves the overall appearance of an outdoor home theater or sound system project.
You can also use speaker wire as normal electrical wire for low-voltage applications. Outdoor LED lights, small electronics and 12-volt appliances can all rely on speaker wire for power. Be careful not to plug many outlets into these wires or exceed 220 volts.
The basics of direct burial speaker wire are similar to those of speaker wire in general. Choose a wire with a strong conductive material inside, such as 100% oxygen-free copper. Aluminum-copper blends have higher resistance and result in poorer sound quality. For outdoor use, make sure your cable is Class 3 — the highest rating for voltage and safety — and always look for a quality seal from Underwriter Laboratories.
Once you've found quality direct burial speaker wire, the next step is choosing the correct gauge. Smaller gauge numbers translate to thicker cable. More copper inside the cable creates less resistance, enabling a signal to travel farther.
Higher gauges also supply more power to the speaker or amplifier. The amount of power a speaker pulls is called its ohm load. The lower your speaker's ohm load, the more power it requires and the louder it plays.
For distances of 50 feet or more, choose a 10-gauge or 12-gauge direct burial cable. You'll also want a higher gauge cable such as these to power 2-ohm or 4-ohm speakers. Lower gauge cables are appropriate for shorter distances and lighter-load appliances, such as LED lights.
Bi-wire cables are an advanced speaker wire option for improved sound. These cables contain two sets of wiring, so one wire can carry high frequencies while the other can carry low frequencies. This extra bandwidth improves fidelity and sound quality. If your speaker features dual binding posts, consider upgrading to bi-wire outdoor cables.
Outdoor CL3 Ethernet Cables
Speaker wire isn't the only type of cable you can easily run underground. Outdoor network cables provide an internet connection to sheds, workshops and outdoor home theaters. These cables have the same durable, weatherproof coating as direct burial speaker wires but transmit data instead of electrical signals. Run these cables at the same time you run your other direct burial cable to add music streaming, video streaming and online gaming to your outdoor space.
Instead of gauge numbers, ethernet cables have categories. These categories work the opposite way of gauge numbers, as a higher category number translates to greater bandwidth. The greater the bandwidth of the cable, the more data can travel along it, which can result in a faster internet connection. However, you have to keep your maximum internet speed in mind, as a higher category of ethernet cable won't speed up a slower connection.
Cat6 ethernet cables can support a maximum bandwidth of 550 MHz. They can support TV, video, movie streaming and online gaming and are the most economical choice for an outdoor ethernet cable. If you have average high-speed internet and want practical speeds, choose Cat6 direct burial cables.
Cat7 ethernet cables have a greater maximum bandwidth of up to 600 MHz. This can enable data transfer speeds of up to 10 gigabytes per second. These cables are a happy medium between the less expensive Cat6 ethernet cables and the more expensive Cat8 cables.
Cat8 ethernet cables are the most advanced and expensive option available. They have a max bandwidth of 2 GHz and can transfer 1-40 gigabytes of data per second.
Remember that as technology advances, household internet speeds are on the rise. Choosing this advanced cable can provide extra benefits in the future, even if your current internet speeds aren't at a Cat8 cable's maximum capacity.