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What Do the Different Colored Wires Mean?


You know the scene where the hero has to defuse a bomb and he’s uncertain if he should cut the blue wire or the red wire? Meanwhile, the countdown clock is ticking. You’ve seen this in countless action movies.

While you’ll likely never been in such a harrowing circumstance, it’s helpful to know what the different colored wires in your home’s electrical system mean.

We’re going to tell you what the color codes mean, but first a word of caution: Almost all electrical work should be performed by a licensed electrician. Wiring is dangerous and one false move could lead to disaster.

What Are the Different Colors for?

Each color is like a code that tells the electrician what the wire is for. It shows the purpose of the wire and the circuit type. Different countries often use different color codes, so it is important to make sure that you know the color codes for where you live.

In the United States, we use the National Electrical Code (NEC) standards. This means any wires that are green, bare copper or green with yellow stripes will always be ground wires. Gray or white wires are neutral.

Live currents can be conducted along with any other color of wire. In general, a three-phase live wire will normally be red, black or blue for 208v. If the current is 480v, then the wire color will be yellow, brown or purple. Meanwhile, single-phase live wires are black. If there is a second hot wire, then it may be red instead.

Why Are the Colors Important?

Ground wires are important because they prevent electrical fires and protect your appliances and your home. Other colors mean there is a live current that could shock you. These colors help to signal the purpose of the wire so that you know whether you should be extra cautious or not. As a general rule, you should treat all wires like live wires. If you are uncertain about what the electrical colors are for or how to handle the wires, it is important to go to a professional electrician for help.