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What color is underground electrical wire?

Underground electrical wiring is an important component of many buildings and infrastructure projects. The color-coding of these wires helps electricians safely install and maintain electrical systems. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the different color designations for underground wire and what they indicate about the wire’s purpose.

Electrical wiring comes in a variety of colors. While the specific colors may vary slightly by region and electrical code, the general color designations are fairly consistent. The color of the insulation around a wire indicates its purpose and function. For example, a green wire always denotes a ground wire. A black wire is a hot, current-carrying wire. A white or gray wire serves as a neutral return for the circuit. Other colors like red, blue, orange and yellow wires serve various functions as well.

Understanding the color coding demystifies working with electrical systems. It allows you to properly connect wires and be confident you have the right wires paired together. Touching the wrong wires together could cause a short, spark or even an injury. Proper electrical safety means always matching wire colors appropriately.

In this guide, we will provide a detailed overview of common wire color codes for underground electrical wiring. We’ll examine how color coding is standardized and what each color means. Let’s start by looking at the most common wire color designations.

Common Underground Wire Color Meanings

Here are the usual colors used for underground electrical wire and their purposes:

Wire Color Purpose
Green or Green with Yellow Stripe Ground Wire
White or Gray Neutral Wire
Black Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Red Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Blue Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Orange Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Yellow Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Pink Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Brown Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire
Purple Hot / Live / Current-Carrying Wire

As you can see, green or green/yellow denotes grounding wires. White or gray wires serve as neutrals. Then the remaining hot wires come in various colors like black, red, blue, orange, yellow, pink, brown or purple.

Ground Wires

Ground wires are always green or green with yellow stripes. Ground wires provide an electrical pathway directly into the earth. This safely dissipates stray electrical current, preventing shocks. Every electrical system needs a grounded connection to the earth. Underground wires connect to conductive metal rods driven into the ground or to other grounded structures.

Neutral Wires

Neutral wires provide the return path for electrical circuits. They conduct current back to the source after it passes through a device. Neutral wires are always white or gray. They connect components of an electrical system together to form complete circuits. Neutral wires carry current just like hot wires, but at a lower electrical potential. In a 120-volt system, the neutral wire sits at 0 volts relative to ground, while the hot wires sit at 120 volts relative to ground.

Hot Wires

Also known as live wires, hot wires provide the power in an electrical system. They transmit current from the source to devices that use electricity. Hot wires come in a variety of colors like black, red, blue, orange, yellow, pink, brown or purple. Different colored hot wires help electricians distinguish between multiple hot wires in a circuit.

Why Use Color Coding?

Color coding electrical wiring makes working with electricity much safer. Electricians can immediately identify the purpose of a wire simply by its color. Touching the wrong wires together can cause sparks, damage equipment or even injure someone. Proper color coding prevents accidental mishaps.

Color coding also helps organize complex electrical systems with many wires. It allows wires to be properly paired together. Neutrals and ground wires work together. Multiple hot wires often connect to different devices and switches. Color coding enables error-free installation and maintenance.

Standardized Color Coding

Electrical wiring color codes are standardized by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in the US and by the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) in Canada. The codes provide legal requirements for safe electrical installations. Many other countries follow similar international wiring color standards as well.

Standardized color coding makes wires universally recognizable. For example, a green wire always denotes grounding. White or gray wires are always neutral. This consistency enables electricians to safely work on electrical systems anywhere.

Common Wire Color Codes

Here are some of the most common wire color codes and their uses:

Wire Color Purpose
Green Grounding Conductor
Green with Yellow Stripe Grounding Conductor
White Grounded / Neutral Conductor
Gray Grounded / Neutral Conductor
Black Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Red Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Blue Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Orange Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Yellow Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Pink Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Brown Ungrounded / Hot Conductor
Purple Ungrounded / Hot Conductor

These standardized wire colors create a consistent system for safe electrical work.

Using Multiple Hot Wires

Complex electrical systems often need multiple hot wires. For example, a circuit may have a hot wire for a light switch and another for an electrical outlet. The colored hots enable unique connections for multiple components.

In three-phase power systems, three hot wires transmit electricity over three phases. Each phase has 120 volts alternating current shifted across the three wires. This produces an overall voltage output of 208 or 240 volts across all three hot wires to power large equipment. The three hot wires are often color coded black, red and blue.

Wire Colors for Three-Phase Power

Wire Color Phase Voltage
Black Phase A 120 volts
Red Phase B 120 volts
Blue Phase C 120 volts

This three-phase color coding may vary, but the colors help identify the different hot wires carrying current across each phase.

Identifying Wire Size by Color

For very large gauge wires that feed power to entire buildings, color coding identifies wire size rather than function. Since the big supply wires only come in hot and neutral varieties, their color indicates the wire gauge instead.

Wire Color Codes for Large Gauge Sizes

Wire Color Size
Gray #500 to #1000 MCM
Brown #2 AWG
Yellow #3 AWG
Orange #4 AWG
Blue #6 AWG
Red #8 to #10 AWG

In this way, electricians can identify the capacity of very large feeder wires running into a building simply by their color alone.

Why Underground Wire Colors Differ

Since underground wires aren’t visible, some regions allow different color codes versus above-ground wiring. Keeping hot and neutral wires consistently colored makes identifying wires easier when accessing underground cables and junctions.

For example, some areas use blue wires for all underground 120-volt hot wires instead of alternating black, red, etc. Likewise, gray may designate all underground neutral wires instead of white. However, ground wires always remain green or green/yellow.

Typical Underground Wire Colors

Wire Color Purpose
Blue All Hot Wires
Gray All Neutral Wires
Green/Yellow Grounding Wires

So when working with underground wiring, blue designates hot while gray denotes neutral. This simpler underground color code creates consistency for easier identification.

Using Wire Labels Underground

Since underground wires use fewer colors, additional labeling helps identify distinct circuits or phases. Plastic wrap-around numbers and letters distinguish wires feeding specific areas and equipment.

For example, underground wires may have the following labels:

  • A-Phase, B-Phase, C-Phase for three-phase power mains
  • Lights, Outlets, A/C Unit, Pool Pump for branch circuits

Labels combined with the wire color tells underground workers exactly which wire is which.

Wire Colors for DC Power

Some underground wires carry direct current (DC) instead of standard alternating current (AC) power. This includes low voltage landscape lighting, electric vehicle charging, phone/cable lines and fiber optic internet cables.

Since DC wires don’t need separate neutrals or grounding, color coding is much simpler:

Wire Color Purpose
Red Positive
Black Negative

The red wire connects to the positive DC source while the black wire is negative. This color scheme is consistent for all low voltage DC wiring.


Understanding electrical wire color codes is essential for properly handling underground wiring. While colors may differ slightly between above ground and underground applications, the general principles are the same.

Ground wires are always green or green/yellow. Neutral wires are white or gray. Hot wires come in a variety of colors like black, red, blue, orange, yellow, pink, brown or purple. Wire labels provide further circuit identification.

Standard color codes and labeling enables safe electrical work and consistent system organization. Properly coded wires prevent mishaps and mistakes caused by connecting the wrong wires. They allow quick, reliable access for maintenance and repairs. For both professional electricians and do-it-yourselfers, wire color recognition provides an essential line of defense against electrical hazards.