Uncle Bobs Tips

Wire Colors- Know the Code

Wire Colors- Know the Code

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Blue, black, white, red, yellow. Wire colors can get confusing and even a bit overwhelming if you don't know what you're looking at. Common household problems can be easily fixed with a screwdriver and just a little knowhow. My first encounter with wire color codes came about because of a light bulb that wouldn't turn off with the switch. I had to turn it on or off from the fuse box. I didn't mind this, but the little lady (who really is little) had a hard time reaching the switch. So I got out the tool box and opened up the fixture. I opened up a whole new world of DIY jobs that I never knew I could do, as well.

Whether you are hooking up a new lighting fixture, or trying to fix up a faulty socket, it's important to know what means what. That's why I put together a few of the more common wiring colors and their meanings. This is by no means extensive, and the wire color code does vary from place to place and equipment, so don't hold this as sacred. If a wiring setup seems questionable or you're not sure about a specific wire, don't take chances. Either test the wire before you go messing about with it or call in someone who knows electrical wiring better.

Black (most common)

- used as hot wires

- may feed a switch or outlet

**Remember that you won't find a black wire being used for a ground connection or as a neutral.


- used as hot wires or switch legs

- can be the interconnect between two hardwired devices

Blue and yellow

- hot wires, travelers, switch legs to lights and fans

Green (sometimes with yellow stripes)

- as well as bare copper wires are used only for grounding (equipment grounded conductor)

White (or gray)

- neutral

Black and red wires signify single-phase in various amounts of volts. The three-phase system will usually have yellow, orange and brown hot wires (though some have black, blue and red hot wires).

Safety warning: When working with electrical wiring, always turn off the circuit that you are working with prior to any tinkering. Don't rely on the switch being off or down, go to your circuit breaker and shut it down. If work is being done at night or in a particularly dark area (underground, in an internal room, cellars), have a friend hold up a flash light for additional lighting. Convenient helmet lamps make the work a whole lot easier when working on your own.

Here are some common terms that will help you find your way around electrical equipment more smoothly:

Hot wire- The hot wire is the wire that carries the electric current to the device.

Neutral wire- A neutral wire is the wire that carries the electric current away from the device.

Interconnect- An interconnect is a length of wire that connects two devices or components. This creates a direct link without the need for a patch cord.

Grounding- To ground something means to connect it to the earth. In many places, this is required by law.

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