We intend no offence when we say this, but if you do not have a working knowledge of the colours found within a traditional British fixed wiring socket you should probably not be attempting any electrical-based DIY. Electricity can be hugely dangerous and is not something to experiment with as you look into improving your home improvement skills.
If in any doubt call in a professional electrician, for both your short- and long-term safety (faulty wiring can cause a fire), which is why legal guidelines dictate that anybody working with electricity must have at least a level of competence in working with electricity. If, however, you are prepared and qualified to complete wiring projects yourself, or would simply like to develop an understanding about wiring colours, this guide will talk you through British wiring.
What House Wiring Colours are Correct in the UK?
An appropriately wired home in the UK has three colours, for three different functions:
- Brown – Live
- Blue – Neutral
- Yellow and Green – Earth
What are the Old Wiring Colours?
If any socket or junction box in your home has a red wire for live current, a black wire for neutral and green and yellow wires for earth, you should consider having them replaced by a professional electrician. These are the old wiring colours from prior to 2006, and are now illegal for new installations in the UK in accordance with the law.
Why Were UK Wiring Colours Changed?
The Institute of Electrical Engineers amended the wiring regulations in 1999 to bring the colour of electrical wiring in the UK in line with the rest of mainland Europe. Qualified electricians were permitted to start using these ‘new’ wiring colours from 2004, and it became a legal requirement that all new installations use these colours from 2006 onwards. If a tradesperson attempts to use red and black wires in your home when performing a task they are in violation of the law and are placing your safety at risk.
Is That Likely to Happen?
No, thankfully – any professional electrician is bound by law to comply with the regulations laid out by British law, so if you hire a reputable tradesperson you will be perfectly fine.
All the Same, I’m a Little Concerned Now as My House is Quite Old – How Long Do Wires Tend to Last?
Around 30 to 40 years if installed correctly, so depending on the age of your home you may have quite some time before you have to concern yourself with getting your wiring renewed and changed over. If in doubt, however, consult a professional – do not place yourself at unnecessary risk by unscrewing electrical wiring to review the wiring yourself.
What are the Signs That My Old Wiring Should be Replaced?
If your electrical appliances trip regularly, or you find lights flickering and dimming unprompted, you may find that your wiring is growing unreliable. More worrying is a burning smell, any sign of charred switches or receiving mild shocks when touching a light switch. In any of these instances, call for the assistance of an electrician immediately.
What if My Home Has a Mixture of Old and New Colour Wiring in the Same Installation?
Whoever conducted the work, be it yourself or an external electrician must affix a warning explaining this to the socket in question. It is not dangerous per se, but the warning is to avoid any confusion when further work is performed. Obviously, it is preferable to have consistent wiring in the same installation wherever possible, however.
Is There an Easy Way to Remember What Wire Goes Where in a Plug?
Yes. The blue (neutral) wire is always to the left, the brown (live) wire is always to the right, and the yellow and green (earth cable) is always through the centre and up to the top. Again, though, please allow us to stress that you should not attempt to rewire anything yourself unless you are experienced in such tasks, regardless of how familiar you are with the colours of UK wiring.
What Colour is the Live Wire?
Brown – if it is red, you have an old wire.
What Does the Live Wire Do?
The live wire is so named because it carries current into an electrical appliance.
Will the Live Wire Give Me an Electric Shock?
If it is active and not connected to the earth and neutral wires, yes – the body will act as a conductor for the active voltage that the live wire is carrying. Always ensure that there is no power source to the live wire before handling it.
What Colour is the Earth Wire?
The earth wire is yellow and green on all sockets – this did not change in 2006.
What Does the Earth Wire Do?
This wire is a safety device, named earth because it connects the metal that surrounds your electrical appliance with the ground and prevents the live wire from feeding current straight onto the casing of the appliance.
Will the Earth Wire Give Me an Electric Shock?
No. This is a protective wire that is designed to prevent shock. All the same, there is no need to put that to the test and touch one!
What Colour is the Neutral Wire?
Blue – if it is black, you have an old wire.
What Does the Neutral Wire Do?
The neutral wire carries current back away from your electrical appliance to prevent it overloading, and acts as the conclusion of an electrical circuit after it has flowed around the live and earth wires.
Will the Neutral Wire Give Me an Electric Shock?
Not usually, but you should still always power down a current before touching one as they can run very hot.