What colour is live wire? What do the different cable colours mean? Find out more in our wiring colours guide.
Reviewed by Shane Jaconelli, Technical Interaction Engineer (January 2021)
Wiring Colours in the UK
In 2006, the wiring colour designations within the UK were harmonised with countries in mainland Europe to fulfil the specification of international standard IEC 60446.
The standardisation of UK wiring colours was also covered in the second amendment of the 17th edition BS7671 Wiring Regulations for consistency and the avoidance of confusion. Wiring inspections are recommended in order to identify any deterioration and ensure compliance with the internationally recognised regulations.
Below are the old colours of UK wiring:
Green and yellow (earth)
You should also note that prior to 1977, the earth wire was green.
If you would like to learn more about the current UK electrical wiring standards and BS 7671, you can visit our comprehensiveelectrical wiring regulations guide.
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Wiring Colour Codes
Wiring colour code changes mean that fixed mains-powered and electrical cable (following the introduction of new wiring) and any flexible cabling now feature identical colour wires. The blue wire also referred to as the neutral wire, has the function of transferring electricity away from the appliance. The brown wire, otherwise known as the live wire, transfers electricity to the appliance. The combination of these wires is referred to as a circuit. You should be aware that some properties have old wiring, which should be regularly checked by an electrician to ensure that it remains in good working order. The need for replacement will be entirely dependent on the safety of the wiring.
The green and yellow wire is also referred to as the earth wire and has a key safety function. Electricity being transferred around any property will always take the path of least resistance to the earth. Damage to live or neutral wires could increase the risk of electrocution as the electricity may pass through the human body along its earthing path. However, this is prevented by the green and yellow earth wire as it effectively earths the electrical appliance.
Warning signage should be present to indicate fixed wires and cables of mixed colours and/or installations featuring circuits. This warning should be very clearly designated on either the fuse board, circuit breaker, distribution board, or consumer unit.
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UK Wiring Colours
During a new installation, the electrician should attach appropriately-coloured insulation, sheathes, or sleeving to the different wires to enable easy identification of the corresponding wiring. As previously mentioned, the old-style black neutral wiring has been replaced with blue. Similarly, red live wiring is now brown. If there is any mixing of old and new wiring colours, then the cables should be clearly marked with the relevant colour codes to prevent the incorrect application of the phase and neutral.
Somecable varietiesin the UK have similar colouring to mains wiring.As an example, TV aerial cables don’t carry any voltage but do have the same brown colour as the live mains cabling. It is also common to find black wire or cabling trailing behind the TV. This is the same colour as the old neutral wire. However, if there is any doubt, you should arrange for a professional electrician to carry out an inspection to ensure safety.
It is also important to be aware of the difference between single and three-phase wiring. The single-phase connection is formed of two wires, with the three-phase variety being formed of three or four wires. The single-phase connection allows for the relatively easy balancing of electrical loads via the network. Due to the increased power generation, the three-phase connection is better suited to connection within workplaces featuring a variety of electrical machines and equipment. You can identify either the two or three-phase connection by counting the wires connected with the electrical service panel.
A single-phase connection will feature dual black or red live wiring and blue neutral wiring. There is a voltage difference of 230V between the wires. Either three or four wires will be connected to an electrical service panel functioning via the three-phase system. This will feature three live wires of either a black, red, brown or grey colour and a separate blue wire. There will typically be a 400V separation between the two live wires. It is important that you do not make the mistake of confusing the natural blue and green/yellow earth connection when referring to the electrical system.
Brown = Live
What colour is live wire? The brown wire has the function of carrying electricity to the appliance. If the brown wire is live and not connected to the earth or neutral wires there will be a risk of electrocution. You must ensure that there is no power source connected with the live wire before working on the wiring.
Blue = Neutral
In the UK, the neutral wire colour is blue. The neutral wire transfers electricity away from the appliance to avoid overloading. It is located at the circuit end to enable connection once electricity has flowed around the earth and live wires. It is highly unlikely that you will have an electric shock on contact with a blue wire. However, caution should be taken as the wire can run at very high heat.
Green and Yellow = Earth
The colour of earth cable was simply green before the application of the 1977 IEE regulations. However, the earth wire colour now features green and yellow stripes in accordance with the IEC regulations. It is vital for safety as it connects the metal casing of the electrical appliance with the ground. This means that the current of the live wire cannot be directly transmitted to the casing. Contact with the protective earth wiring should not result in an electric shock but exercising caution is always recommended.
Old and New UK Wiring Colours
This handy chart highlights the differences between the new colours and old wiring colours in the UK:
3-Phase Colours in the UK
It is important to note that three-phase colours differ from the wiring colours used for standard wiring systems. 3-phase wiring colours were also harmonised in March 2006, meaning that United Kingdom standards are now more in line with three-phase wire practices across mainland Europe.
The old and new 3-phase colours can be seen in the table below:
Old UK 3-Phase Colours
New UK 3-Phase Colours
USA Wiring Colours
In America, electricians and electrical contractors are legally required to comply with the National Electrical Code (NEC) for the colour coding of wires. This cable colour code is nationally-recognised and it specifies that neutral wire should be grey or white in colour, with green or a green-and-yellow-striped pattern for the ground wire. Wiring colours in the USA may be categorised as either AC or DC supply.
Standard 120/208/240 Volt AC wiring colouring is shown below:
Phase 1 - Black
Phase 2 - Red
Phase 3 - Blue
Neutral - White
Ground - Bare wire, green, or green with yellow stripes
Such forms of wiring are commonly found within domestic and office environments. Systems featuring a single phase at a relatively high voltage should have orange wiring in reference to the high-leg connection. However, such high-leg systems are not typically found in modern electrical installations.
The standard colouring of 277/480 Volt AC wiring is as follows:
Phase 1 - Brown
Phase 2 - Orange
Phase 3 - Yellow
Neutral - Grey
Ground - Green, green with yellow stripes, or bare
Finally, there is the direct current (DC) power wire colours, commonly featured in solar and battery power systems.
The standard DC cable colours are as follows:
Positive (non-ground) - Red
Negative (non-ground) - Black
Ground - White or grey