Electrical Wire and Cable Color Identification
By Stephen Bucaro
Electrical wire comes in different gauges in order to carry different amounts of current.
Current is measured in units called amperes. The larger the number the smaller the wire.
Most home circuits, those used for lighting and small kitchen appliances, use 14 gauge wire.
Large appliances such as stoves, water heaters, cloths dryers, and central air conditioners
use 10 - 6 gauge.
In addition to the color of the insulation, an electrical cable can be identified by two
numbers separated by a hyphen (e.g. 14-2), printed on the insulation. The first number is the
wire gauge. The second number is the number of wires inside the cable. For example a cable
labeled 14-2 contains two 14 gauge wires (hot and neutral). This cable also contains a bare
copper wire used as ground.
Most electrical cable today has plastic sheathing. This type of cable is sometimes referred to
by the name Romex (which is actually a brand name). Depending upon the local code, electrical
cable may be required to be covered in a metal sheath, sometimes referred to as BX. An even
stricter electrical code may require the wires to be contained within metal tubing called conduit.
If an electrical cable is expected to experience frequent flexing, stranded wire may be used,
however, because of its flexibility, stranded wire is difficult to feed through spaces or
Standard Outer Sheathing Color Code
White: 14 gauge wire - 15 amp maximum current
Yellow: 12 gauge wire - 20 amp maximum current
Orange:10 gauge wire - 30 amp maximum current
Black: 6 or 8 gauge wire - 45 or 60 amp maximum current (check sheath label code)
Gray: UF, underground cable (check sheath label for gauge and number of conductors)
Wire Insulation Color Code
Black: Hot wire. Connected (usually through a multiple) to the electrical panel.
White: Neutral wire. Connected (usually through a multiple) to a common bus in the electrical panel to complete the circuit.
Red: Switched wire. Connected to a switch or other control device. May be hot depending on the switch setting.
Bare: Ground wire. Connected (usually through a multiple) to a ground bar in the electrical panel.
The electrical panel ground bar is connected to a ground rod buried in the earth.
Green: Ground wire, same as bare.