The quickest way to identify house electrical wiring is by its color. Depending on where a wire ultimately gets installed, you cannot always rely on the markings printed on the insulation coating, nor will you always be able to read them legibly.The helpful reality is that you really have only three types of wire to identify: hot, neutral, and ground. A number of different colors may be used for the hot wire in various types of switch wiring, while neutral and ground wires should always be the same. If you are engaging in any home wiring, proper identification of wires is imperative so that you end up making the right connections.
Before you begin a wiring project, make sure you understand the basics of wiring and the color arrangement of the circuit. With the power turned off, there is no danger of electrocution, but you could still make a wrong connection somewhere and end up with an incomplete circuit.
DISCLAIMER: Before you being work on the wiring of an outlet, light fixture, fan, or any appliance, always turn the individual circuit off at the main panel. This will cut power to that particular circuit and prevent electric shock.
Why Wires are Different Colors
Home electrical wires are different colors so that one can be distinguished from one another. Inside their colorful insulation coating they all consist of a copper conductor. The colors simply make it easier for you to keep track of your work. They could conceivably all be the same color, but then you would have to mark each wire individually to tell them apart. The different color coatings do that for you.
Standard Colors Used for Home Wiring
What follows here is the standard coloring for wires throughout a home. The gauge or size of the wire may change depending on the current flowing through the circuit, but the color is a consistent feature.
The wire that carries the current from the power source to the outlet or receptacle is the hot wire. Whenever you see a black wire, you know it is hot. There are other wires that carry current in more complicated circuits, but black are always hot. Think about most wires and cables that you don’t see as part of your home’s wiring. Your television, your laptop cord. All of these are hot, as they actively carry the power that keeps your devices running, and they are almost exclusively black.
To complete the circuit, the current must return to the power source. It does this through the neutral wire, which is always white.
Green or Bare
When you see either a green wire or a bare copper wire, you can be sure it is a ground wire. A ground wire is used as a protective measure. Ground wires return fault current to earth ground, protecting the individual from electrocution.