The Purpose for The Colors of Household Wiring

Have you ever wondered why all the different colors or wiring? Have you ever opened up an electrical box like a switch or receptacle and wondered what wire is for what? After reading this article you will be able to differentiate between the wires in the box and make some sense of them.

What do the different mean? It is simple a way to separate the circuits and to some degree the uses of the wire within your home.  Hold on, what is a circuit? Simply put a circuit is a run of wire that connects a group of lights, receptacles, etc. depending on the potential load, or use of them. The size of the group depends on the size of the wire and the corresponding breaker

The only that are defined in the NEC (national electrical code) are GREEN or BARE for ground and WHITE or GRAY for Neutral. There are other regionally accepted practices, but much is left up to the individual electrician.

In the Chicagoland area pipe is used to pull wire through for switches, receptacles, etc. In order to know which wire is which the plastic coating covering the copper conductor is colored. Different colors designate different uses such as

Neutral = WHITE, GRAY is sometimes used as a GFI or special situation Neutral

Ground = GREEN

Switch Legs = YELLOW, ORANGE

3 Way Travelers = BROWN

Hot = RED, BLACK, DARK BLUE, LIGHT BLUE, PURPLE

Please be aware as I said before there is no guarantee that the wiring in your home follows the above list

These are the main colors, but there are others such as RED with a WHITE STRIPE, BLUE with a WHITE STRIPE, etc.  The majority of time you will only find these striped wires being used in an industrial application. There is also colored electrical tape which can be used to mark wires by a simple wrap or two around the existing wire before they are pulled through conduit.

There is another type of wiring that is common in most other regions, and that would be . is a flat rubber coated cable with 2 or 3 wires individually wrapped and a bare grounding wire. If you are in an area that uses a type of it can be difficult figuring out which wire is which because in each cable there is a black wire a white wire and a bare copper ground wire. You can use the colored electrical tape to mark the different cables. Extreme care should be taken as the second conductor in a cable may be used for a switch leg or even a second hot in a 220 application.

I hope I have given you a basic understanding of the reason for the colored wire.

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