Is Wood a Conductor or Insulator? (And Why?)

Wood is considered an insulator. 1 It has high resistance to the flow of electric current due to its cellular structure and the absence of free electrons necessary for conducting electricity. Wood’s insulating properties make it suitable for applications where electrical insulation is required.

Well, this was just a simple answer. But there are few more things to know about this topic which will make your concept super clear.

So let’s dive right into it.

Key Takeaways: Is Wood a Conductor or Insulator?

  • Wood is an insulator because its cellulose fibers are poor conductors of electricity and its electrons are tightly bound to their atoms.
  • The insulating properties of wood can be influenced by temperature and environmental conditions, such as moisture, humidity, temperature, and aging.
  • Wood has several applications as an insulating material, such as electrical insulators, electrical poles, crossarms, switchgear and panel boards, electrical enclosures, insulating supports, and transformer barriers.

Why is wood an insulator?

Wood is considered an insulator to electricity because of its high resistance to the flow of electric current. Electric current is essentially the movement of electrons through a conductive material. In conductors, such as metals, electrons are free to move around, allowing for the easy flow of current. In insulators, on the other hand, electrons are tightly bound to their atoms and do not move as freely. 2

Wood is primarily composed of cellulose fibers, which are poor conductors of electricity. 3 The electrons in these fibers are firmly held in place by the atoms and molecules of the wood’s structure. This tight bonding between the atoms and the electrons makes it difficult for the electrons to move and flow as a current.

Furthermore, wood is also a relatively good electrical insulator because it has a high resistivity. Resistivity is a measure of a material’s inherent resistance to the flow of electric current. 4 5 Wood has a resistivity that is several orders of magnitude higher than that of metals, which makes it an effective insulator.

Due to these factors, wood is commonly used as an insulating material in various electrical applications, such as insulating supports, electrical poles, and housing for electrical components.

Are there any temperature or environmental conditions that can influence the insulating properties of wood?

Yes, the insulating properties of wood can be influenced by temperature and environmental conditions. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Moisture: Wood is hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb and release moisture from its surroundings. Moisture content in wood can affect its electrical conductivity. 6 When wood absorbs moisture, it becomes more conductive as the water acts as a conductor. Therefore, wet or damp wood will have reduced insulation properties compared to dry wood.
  • Temperature: Extreme temperatures can impact the insulating properties of wood. When exposed to high temperatures, wood can undergo thermal decomposition, which can degrade its insulating properties. Similarly, freezing temperatures can cause structural damage to wood and affect its ability to insulate.
  • Humidity: Humidity levels in the environment can affect the moisture content of wood, as mentioned earlier. Higher humidity can increase the likelihood of wood absorbing moisture, thereby reducing its insulation properties. 7
  • Aging and Decay: Over time, wood can undergo natural aging processes and be subject to decay due to exposure to fungi, insects, or environmental factors. This aging and decay can alter the physical structure of the wood and potentially affect its insulating properties.

It’s important to note that while wood is generally considered a good insulator, its insulating properties can vary depending on the specific type of wood, its moisture content, density, and other factors.

Therefore, when using wood as an insulating material, it’s essential to consider the environmental conditions and take appropriate measures to ensure its long-term effectiveness.

Uses of wood as an insulator

Wood has several applications as an insulating material due to its natural insulating properties. Here are some common uses:

  • Insulators: Wood is used in the construction of electrical insulators that support and isolate electrical conductors. These insulators are commonly found in power transmission and distribution systems, electrical substations, and overhead power lines. Wood provides excellent electrical insulation properties and mechanical strength necessary for these applications.
  • Electrical Poles: Wood is widely used for the manufacturing of electrical utility poles. Wooden poles provide insulation and support for electrical power lines, preventing direct contact with the ground. Wood’s natural insulating properties and durability make it a suitable material for this application. 8
  • Crossarms: Crossarms are horizontal support structures attached to utility poles, carrying electrical conductors and insulators. Wood is commonly used to make crossarms due to its electrical insulation characteristics, strength, and resistance to environmental factors.
  • Switchgear and Panel Boards: Wood is sometimes used as an insulating material in switchgear and panel boards, particularly in older electrical installations. It provides electrical insulation between conductive components and helps maintain proper electrical isolation.
  • Electrical Enclosures: Wood is utilized in the construction of electrical enclosures or cabinets that house electrical equipment and components. 9 The wooden enclosures provide insulation and protection against electrical hazards, as well as contribute to the aesthetic appeal in some applications.
  • Insulating Supports: Wood can be employed as insulating supports for electrical components. It is used to create mounting platforms or spacers to isolate electrical equipment, ensuring proper electrical insulation and preventing short circuits.
  • Transformer Barriers: Wood is used as a barrier material in transformers to provide electrical insulation between different windings and components. It helps prevent electrical arcing and ensures safe and efficient transformer operation.

These are some of the primary uses of wood specifically for electrical insulation purposes. Wood’s electrical insulating properties, availability, and mechanical strength make it a preferred material in various electrical applications where insulation is required.

Further reading

Is Plastic an Insulator or Conductor?
Is Metal an Insulator?
Is Rubber a Conductor?
Why is Silver a Conductor?
Why is Gold a Conductor? 

About author

Jay is an educator and has helped more than 100,000 students in their studies by providing simple and easy explanations on different science-related topics. He is a founder of Pediabay and is passionate about helping students through his easily digestible explanations.

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  1. Finio, S. B. (n.d.). Which Materials Conduct Electricity? Scientific American.
  3. Wood fibre cell wall structure | Project | Fact Sheet | IC-COST | CORDIS | European Commission. (n.d.). CORDIS | European Commission.
  4. Ling, S. J., Sanny, J., Moebs, W., & Janzen, D. (n.d.). 5.3 Resistivity and Resistance – Introduction to Electricity, Magnetism, and Circuits. 5.3 Resistivity and Resistance – Introduction to Electricity, Magnetism, and Circuits.
  5. Ling, S. J., Moebs, W., & Sanny, J. (n.d.). 9.3 Resistivity and Resistance – University Physics Volume 2. 9.3 Resistivity and Resistance – University Physics Volume 2.
  6. Stamm, A. J. (1927, September). The Electrical Resistance of Wood as aMeasure of Its Moisture Content. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry, 19(9), 1021–1025.
  8. Zabel, R. A., & Morrell, J. J. (2020). Decay problems associated with some major uses of wood products. Wood Microbiology, 385–410.
  9. Nejtková, M. (2020). Behaviour of Wooden Materials Exposed to Electrical Ignition Sources. Wood & Fire Safety, 191–196.

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