XLPE & PVC Cable Insulation: Helpful Answers

I work for a leading company in the oil and gas field. I can say that all power cables in my work are even XLPE or PVC insulated.

However, XLPE cables are the most common in this company for larger sizes cables while for smaller wires cables insulation is PVC.

XLPE insulation and outer PVC jacket
XLPE insulation and outer PVC jacket

When we talk about cable insulation, we mean the insulation directly on the metal conductors, not the outer insulation of the cable.

In this article, I will answer the FAQ about these two types of cable insulation. Let’s get started directly.


Cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are two common insulation materials used in cables, and each has its own set of characteristics. Let’s compare XLPE and PVC cable insulation:

1. Thermal Properties:

  • XLPE: XLPE has a higher thermal conductivity compared to PVC. It can withstand higher operating temperatures without significant loss of properties.
  • PVC: PVC has a lower thermal conductivity compared to XLPE, making it less heat-resistant. PVC-insulated cables may not be as suitable for high-temperature applications.

2. Temperature Rating:

  • XLPE: XLPE cables generally have a higher temperature rating than PVC cables. This makes XLPE more suitable for applications where elevated temperatures may be encountered.
  • PVC: PVC has a lower temperature rating compared to XLPE. It may not be as suitable for applications where high temperatures are a concern.

3. Flexibility:

  • XLPE: XLPE cables can be less flexible than PVC cables. This can be a consideration in applications where cable flexibility is important.
  • PVC: PVC is known for its flexibility. PVC-insulated cables are more pliable, making them easier to handle and install in situations where flexibility is crucial.

4. Mechanical Strength:

  • XLPE: XLPE cables generally have good mechanical strength, allowing them to withstand external stresses.
  • PVC: PVC cables also have good mechanical strength and are often used in applications where durability is important.

5. Environmental Resistance:

  • XLPE: XLPE is resistant to moisture, chemicals, and environmental factors, making it suitable for a variety of conditions.
  • PVC: PVC is resistant to many chemicals but may degrade over time when exposed to certain environmental conditions, such as sunlight.

6. Cost:

  • XLPE: XLPE cables can be more expensive than PVC cables. The cost difference may be a consideration in projects with budget constraints.
  • PVC: PVC is generally a more cost-effective insulation material, making PVC cables a cost-efficient option for some applications.

7. Voltage Rating:

  • XLPE: XLPE is often used in high-voltage applications due to its excellent electrical properties.
  • PVC: PVC is commonly used in medium to low-voltage applications.

8. Installation:

  • XLPE: XLPE cable installation may require more specialized tools and expertise compared to PVC cables.
  • PVC: PVC cables are generally easier to install, and the installation process is often more straightforward.

In summary, the choice between XLPE and PVC insulation depends on the specific requirements of the application.

XLPE is often favored for high-temperature and high-voltage applications, while PVC is commonly used in applications where flexibility and cost-effectiveness are priorities.

Each type of insulation has its advantages and limitations, and the selection should be based on a thorough understanding of the project’s needs and conditions.

What Is XLPE Cable Means?

XLPE stands for Cross-Linked Polyethylene, and an XLPE cable refers to a type of cable that uses cross-linked polyethylene as its insulation material.

XLPE is a thermosetting polymer with enhanced physical and electrical properties due to the cross-linking process.

XLPE cables are commonly used in power distribution networks, underground installations, and industrial applications where high performance and reliability are essential.

The cross-linking process enhances the insulation’s overall performance and makes XLPE a preferred choice for a wide range of electrical and power transmission systems.

XLPE Cable Advantages And Disadvantages

Cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) is a type of insulation material used in cables, particularly power cables. Like any material, XLPE has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of XLPE Cable:

  1. High Insulation Resistance: XLPE has excellent insulation properties, providing high resistance to electric current. This makes it suitable for use in power cables, where maintaining insulation integrity is crucial.

  2. Good Thermal Stability: XLPE cables can withstand high temperatures without significant loss of physical or electrical properties. This makes them suitable for applications where elevated temperatures may be encountered.

  3. Chemical Resistance: XLPE is resistant to various chemicals, oils, and solvents. This makes XLPE cables suitable for environments where exposure to such substances is likely.

  4. Low Dielectric Loss: XLPE exhibits low dielectric loss, meaning that it allows for efficient transmission of electrical energy without significant loss due to the insulation material.

  5. Mechanical Strength: XLPE cables typically have good mechanical strength and can withstand external stresses and pressures, making them durable and reliable.

  6. Water Resistance: XLPE has good water resistance, which is important for cables that may be exposed to moisture or buried underground.

  7. Lightweight: XLPE cables are relatively lightweight compared to some other types of cables, making them easier to handle and install.

Disadvantages of XLPE Cable:

  1. Cost: XLPE cables can be more expensive than some other types of cables. The cost can be a limiting factor, especially for projects with budget constraints.

  2. Limited Flexibility: XLPE cables may have limited flexibility compared to some other cable types. This can be a consideration in applications where flexibility is crucial.

  3. Susceptibility to Environmental Stress: While XLPE is generally resistant to environmental factors, prolonged exposure to harsh conditions such as extreme temperatures, sunlight, and certain chemicals can degrade the material over time.

  4. Installation Complexity: The installation of XLPE cables may require specialized tools and expertise. Improper installation can affect the performance of the cable.

  5. Voltage Limitations: XLPE insulation may have voltage limitations, and for very high voltage applications, alternative insulation materials might be preferred.

It’s important to note that the choice of cable insulation material depends on the specific requirements of the application.

XLPE cables are commonly used in a variety of settings, including power distribution, industrial applications, and underground installations. Careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages is essential when selecting the appropriate cable for a particular use case.

Is XLPE Cable Armored?

Armored electric cable(SWA)
Armored electric cable(SWA)

Electrical cables need mechanical protection against various types of mechanical loads. In this case, we use armored cables.

Steal wire armored and tap wire armored (SWA and TWA) cables are power cables insulated with XLPE or PVC and have a protection layer in the shape of wires or tapes.

The point is, that cable insulation and its armor are two different things.

So cross-linked Polyethylene cable is armored cable only if it has an armored layer. Any cable could be PVC or XLPE armored or not armored depending on its construction.

Is XLPE insulation waterproof?

Cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) insulation is known for its good water resistance. While no material can be completely waterproof, XLPE exhibits properties that make it highly resistant to the penetration of water.

This characteristic makes XLPE cables suitable for various applications, including those where exposure to moisture is a concern.

The water resistance of XLPE is an important factor, especially in outdoor or underground installations where the cables may be subjected to environmental conditions such as rain or groundwater.

The cross-linking process used in XLPE cable manufacturing enhances the material’s resistance to water absorption. The cross-linking creates a three-dimensional network within the polymer structure, reducing the ability of water molecules to permeate the insulation.

It’s essential to note that while XLPE provides good water resistance, proper installation practices and additional protective measures may still be necessary in certain environments.

Sealing cable joints and terminations, using appropriate cable trays or conduits, and considering factors like cable burial depth can further enhance the overall protection against moisture.

XLPE insulation temperature rating

The temperature rating of XLPE (Cross-Linked Polyethylene) insulation refers to the maximum temperature that the insulation material can withstand without significant degradation.

The temperature rating is a crucial factor in determining the suitability of XLPE cables for specific applications. The commonly used temperature ratings for XLPE insulation include:

  1. 90°C (194°F): Many XLPE-insulated cables are rated for a maximum continuous operating temperature of 90°C. This temperature rating is suitable for a wide range of applications, including power distribution and industrial settings.

  2. 105°C (221°F): Some XLPE cables are designed with a higher temperature rating of 105°C. This elevated temperature rating allows for use in applications where higher temperatures may be encountered.

  3. 125°C (257°F): In certain specialized applications, XLPE cables with a temperature rating of 125°C may be used. These cables are designed to operate at even higher temperatures and are often employed in specific industrial and commercial settings.

It’s important to note that the temperature rating of XLPE cables is not only influenced by the insulation material but also by other factors, including the ambient temperature, the cable’s load, and the specific conditions of the installation.

When selecting XLPE cables for a particular application, it is crucial to consider both the temperature rating of the insulation and the environmental conditions in which the cables will be installed.

Additionally, the temperature rating may vary among different standards and specifications. Therefore, it is essential to consult the manufacturer’s documentation and adhere to industry standards to ensure the proper selection and use of XLPE cables in a given application.

Read also my article Cable Heating, the real danger in your home!

Is PVC Cable Suitable For Outdoors?

PVC stands for, Poly Vinyl Chloride. PVC cable is a type of cable having a protective Ploy Vinyl Chloride cover. PVC also offers the best insulation properties.

As we know, PVC cables also offer the best insulation properties. PVC cable has water resistance, and heat resistance properties.

Due to impeccable flexibility and higher tensile strength, we can use it for outdoor purposes.

However, it must be kept in mind that the UV properties of PVC Cables are not so good. So, using it for the outdoor purpose for a long time may be harmful.

Advantages and disadvantages of PVC cable

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a widely used insulation material for cables, and it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of PVC cables:

Advantages of PVC Cable:

  1. Cost-Effective: PVC is generally less expensive compared to some other insulation materials, making PVC cables a cost-effective option for various applications.

  2. Flexibility: PVC is known for its flexibility. Cables with PVC insulation are pliable and easy to handle, making them suitable for applications where flexibility is important.

  3. Chemical Resistance: PVC exhibits resistance to many chemicals, oils, and acids, contributing to its durability in different environments.

  4. Electrical Insulation: PVC provides good electrical insulation properties, making it suitable for low to medium voltage applications.

  5. Easy Installation: PVC cables are relatively easy to install, and the installation process is often straightforward. This ease of installation can contribute to time and cost savings.

  6. Fire Resistance: PVC has inherent fire-resistant properties, and PVC cables can be formulated to meet specific fire safety standards.

  7. Weather Resistance: PVC is resistant to weathering, UV radiation, and sunlight, making PVC cables suitable for outdoor applications.

Disadvantages of PVC Cable:

  1. Limited Temperature Range: PVC has a lower temperature rating compared to some other insulation materials. It may not be suitable for high-temperature applications.

  2. Environmental Concerns: The production and disposal of PVC involve certain environmental considerations. PVC is not biodegradable, and the manufacturing process can release chlorine-based chemicals.

  3. Limited Resistance to Some Solvents: While PVC is generally resistant to many chemicals, it may not be suitable for applications where exposure to certain solvents is expected.

  4. Reduced Mechanical Strength at Higher Temperatures: At elevated temperatures, the mechanical strength of PVC may decrease, potentially affecting its performance in demanding conditions.

  5. Not Suitable for High-Voltage Applications: PVC is commonly used in low to medium voltage applications. For high-voltage situations, other insulation materials like XLPE may be preferred.

  6. Cable Size Limitations: PVC-insulated cables may have size limitations compared to some other insulation materials, restricting their use in certain applications.

In summary, PVC cables are widely used due to their cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and ease of installation.

However, their temperature limitations and environmental considerations may make them less suitable for certain specialized applications.

When selecting a cable for a specific use case, it’s essential to consider both the advantages and disadvantages to ensure that the chosen material aligns with the application’s requirements and environmental considerations.

pvc cable temperature limits

The temperature limits of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) cables are essential considerations when determining their suitability for specific applications.

PVC cables have both a maximum operating temperature and a maximum short-circuit temperature. Here are typical temperature limits for PVC cables:

  1. Maximum Operating Temperature:

    • PVC insulation is generally rated for a maximum continuous operating temperature of 70°C (158°F). This means that, under normal operating conditions, the PVC insulation should not be exposed to temperatures exceeding 70°C for an extended period.
  2. Maximum Short-Circuit Temperature:

    • In the event of a short circuit, PVC-insulated cables may experience elevated temperatures. The short-circuit temperature limit for PVC cables is typically around 160°C (320°F) for a short duration. This higher temperature is a result of the increased current flow during a short circuit.

It’s crucial to note that exceeding these temperature limits can lead to degradation of the PVC insulation, potentially compromising the cable’s performance and safety.

When selecting PVC cables for a particular application, it’s important to consider factors such as ambient temperature, load conditions, and the presence of other heat sources.

In situations where higher temperature resistance is required, other insulation materials like XLPE (Cross-Linked Polyethylene) may be considered, as they often have higher temperature ratings compared to PVC.

Always refer to the manufacturer’s specifications and relevant industry standards when selecting and installing PVC cables to ensure compliance with safety guidelines and to prevent any issues related to overheating or degradation.

Is pvc cable jacket waterproof?

While PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) cable jackets provide some degree of moisture resistance, they are not completely waterproof.

PVC is known for being resistant to water to a certain extent, and it can provide protection against occasional exposure to moisture, humidity, and light rain. However, it is not designed to be fully waterproof, especially in situations where cables are submerged or consistently exposed to water.

In applications where waterproofing is a critical requirement, additional measures may be necessary, such as using specialized water-resistant cable designs, applying sealants, or employing conduits and enclosures to protect the cables from direct contact with water.

Water-resistant or waterproof cable designs often involve additional features like moisture-blocking compounds, tapes, or sheaths to enhance protection against water ingress.

It’s important to note that even if a cable jacket has water-resistant properties, the overall system’s water resistance depends on the proper installation and the integrity of connections, joints, and terminations.

Proper cable management and installation practices, including the use of waterproof enclosures and sealing methods, are crucial to maintaining the integrity of the cable system in wet or damp environments.

When selecting cables for outdoor or wet conditions, it’s advisable to check the cable specifications and consult with the cable manufacturer to ensure that the chosen cables meet the required level of water resistance for the specific application.

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