Electricity powers all of the devices and appliances that make our modern lives possible. That’s why it’s a good idea for homeowners to understand some of the basics of their home’s electrical wiring. If you own a home in the Cumming, Georgia or Mount Pleasant, South Carolina areas, the expert electricians at Arc Angel Electric can help. Understanding the electrical wiring color codes can help you know exactly what you’re looking at the next time you have a problem with a light fixture or an outlet in your home.
Why Is Electrical Wiring Color Coded?
Here in the United States, all electrical wiring follows the National Electrical Code (NEC). So, if you ever encounter non-standard wiring, there’s a good chance that it wasn’t done by a qualified electrician. There are several good reasons for the color-coding system.
The first is standardization. It guarantees that an electrician working anywhere within the United States will understand the flow of electricity in a home or building at a single glance. Otherwise, every time you had a new electrician working on something in your home, they’d have to waste time testing your circuits before they could do the work you’ve asked of them.
The second reason is safety. When electrical wiring follows the standard color-coding system, an electrician knows which wires carry voltage and which don’t. It prevents accidental electrocution as well as other types of electrical accidents. It’s a bigger problem than most people realize. Even today, with the color-coding system in place, there are at least 30,000 non-fatal electric shock accidents per year, and many of them result in permanent injury.
As such, attempting to make repairs to the wiring in your home is not safe. Instead, understanding the color coding system allows you to describe any issues you encounter with your home’s wiring to a qualified electrician. You should never try to handle electrical work yourself. You should always call the experts here at Arc Angel Electric instead so that we can address your electrical issues safely and without potentially creating bigger problems.
Cable Sheathing Colors
The first colors you’re likely to see in a residential electrical system belong to the sheathing of the cable runs going from your circuit breakers to your outlets and fixtures. In general, the colors of those cables will let you know what gauge wire they have inside them. They also indicate the maximum amperage of their circuit. The colors are as follows:
- White is 14 AWG, 15 amp cables
- Yellow is 12 AWG, 20 amp cables
- Orange is 10 AWG, 30 amp cables
- Black is 8 or 6 AWG, 40 amp cables
There is also one more color of electrical cable you might encounter in your home. Cables with gray sheathing signify wiring designed for outdoor use or wet locations. You may see these if you have outlets in an outbuilding or some other outdoor location away from your home. You may also encounter them in lighting for patio areas, outdoor kitchens, and pool areas. These cables offer a safe way to bridge your home’s wiring to a separate structure via a buried electrical cable.
Knowing the above color scheme will help you to understand the overall structure of the circuits in your home. However, each cable has between two and four individual conductors inside it. Those conductors are the wires that the NEC color codes apply to, and knowing those is even more important when evaluating electrical problems in your home.
NEC Wire Color Codes
The individual conductors inside your home’s wiring follow the NEC color-coding system to make them easier to work with. The color codes are straightforward and offer electricians a variety of ways to wire a circuit while staying in compliance. The first set of colors applies to hot conductors.
Hot conductors are the wires that carry the active electrical voltage from your circuit breaker to the outlet or fixture at the other end. According to the NEC, hot wires must be one of three colors. They’re either red, black, or white with red or black striping or tape. The hot wire is so named because it’s carrying electrical current, even when there’s nothing plugged into its outlet or receptacle.
The next set of colors in the NEC standard applies to neutral wires. The NEC specifies that all neutral wires be white or gray. The neutral wire serves as the return path in a circuit. It’s how the unused electrons that make up electrical current return to your electrical panel when the circuit is in use. Every circuit has at least a hot and a neutral conductor. That means you should always see at least one hot color and one neutral color in every circuit in your home.
Most circuits today, however, also have a third conductor. It’s the ground conductor. Its purpose is to provide a safe path for electrical current to flow away from a circuit if there’s a short circuit or malfunction. They help to protect you from the risk of getting a shock if you come into contact with a malfunctioning circuit. According to the NEC standard, all ground wires are either bare copper wire or have green sheathing.
Most of the time, the three types of conductors listed above are all you’ll find in a circuit. Occasionally, however, more complex circuits like three-way light switches have one more conductor in them They’re called traveling conductors. They provide a pathway for the electricity to flow between the two switches. They’re not always hot, however. They alternate between hot and neutral depending on the position of the attached switches. According to the NEC, traveling conductors should be either blue or yellow.
Turn to the Electrical Experts
Knowing color coding is no substitute for an electrician’s expertise. So, if you have an electrical issue in your home, your best bet is to leave it to the expert electricians at Arc Angel Electric.
We’ve served the Cumming, Georgia and Mount Pleasant, South Carolina areas since 2001 by offering quality residential and commercial electrical services. We offer every type of electrical service that you could need, ranging from changing an outlet to installing a new circuit and EV charging station for your home. We can even help you to design and implement a home automation system to make the most out of all of your home’s connected devices.
We can even handle commercial electrical projects for your business, warehouse, or parking lot. We can provide commercial pole light maintenance; in fact, we can lay wiring for everything from new commercial builds to upgrading fixtures in your showroom or office.
So, when your home or office has an electrical issue, contact Arc Angel Electric and use your new color-coding knowledge to explain the problem to one of our master electricians, and they’ll schedule a visit to solve your problem right away. You can count on us, so give us a call today.