Colour Code Wiring in Canada

Canada wiring colours, as regulated by the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC), are quite similar to the National Electrical Code (NEC) in the United States.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist – or an electrician – to know and understand, that the specific colouring of the electrical wires in your home means something.

In Canada, electrical wires are colour coded to make it easy to differentiate and identify each wire, with each Canada wiring colour representing what that wire does and what it’s used for.

In British Columbia, we follow the electrical regulations  of the BC Safety Standards Act as mandated by the Technical Safety BC.

All Electrical Wires Can Carry a Current

Before we dive into explaining the Canadian wiring colours and how it applies to the wiring in your house, let’s make one thing clear: the most important thing you need to know about electrical wires and their colour coding is that ALL electrical wires are electrical.

Regardless of their colour. Even the so-called neutral ones. All electrical wires could carry an electrical current at some point, so treat every colour wire with equal caution.

Perhaps, even more importantly, to avoid harm to yourself, your family, or your home, it is prudent to leave all electrical work to a qualified electrician.

That being said, it is helpful to know and understand what the Canada wiring colours mean as they pertain to your home and your safety.

Here are the basics you need to know about the colour code wiring in your home.

Canadas wire color codes for AC powerElectrical Wire Colours in Canada

The colour of an electrical wire tells you both the best use for it and whether they carry current or not.

Canada wiring colours for residential use is governed by the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) and is coded as follows:

  • White wires are usually neutral (see notes on this under ‘White Wires’)
  • Green wires (or green with yellow stripes) are protective ground wires (or protective earth wires)
  • All other wire colours are usually hot or live, which means they are carrying a current:
    • Active wires are black
    • The second active is red
    • Three phase lines are red, black, and blue

Now that we know the basics of our Canada wiring colours and how they function, let’s take a more detailed look at each of the colour codes and the functions they denote.

Black Electrical Wires = Hot

Black is the main colour of hot wires for most homes – hot wires are those that are always carrying a live electrical current. Black wires are used primarily to feed current to power electrical outlets and switches, which in turn, power the appliances and lights in the home.

What exactly is a hot or live electrical wire? A hot electrical wire is used as the initial power feed to a circuit and acts as the carrier or conductor of electrical current from the power source to the outlet where it is required.

They are always carrying electricity, which means it is dangerous to touch a hot wire while there is a power source feeding it. It goes without saying but always bears repeating, do not touch a hot wire of any colour unless there is no connected and operating power source.

Note: Other Canada wiring colours that are hot include red and blue wires, which have different functions besides powering outlets (see details on red and blue wires below).

Red Electrical Wires = Hot

Not unlike black wires, red electrical wires are also used for hot wires, although they are primarily used for switch legs (like for a ceiling fan).

You’ll find red wires in use to power smoke detectors that are hardwired to your electrical system. More specifically, red wires are used as the second hot wire in 220-volt installations.

In Canada wiring colours, 2 red wires can be linked together, and you can also link together red and black wires.

Blue Electrical Wires = Hot (& sometimes Yellow)

Other hot wires include blue wires and sometimes yellow wires. These are generally placed in an electrical conduit.

What’s an electrical conduit and why would blue and yellow wires be pulled through one?

Conduits are generally made from plastic or metal pipe and provide protection for blue and yellow hot wires against corrosion or damage.

According to Canada wiring codes, blue and yellow hot wires are not typically used for power outlets. They are generally utilized to power 2-way or 3-way switches, where multiple switches are used to control hall lights or stair lights, for instance.

White Electrical Wires = Neutral

White wires are usually neutral wires in our Canada wiring colours. But what does this actually mean?

In our Canada wiring codes, a neutral wire is used to complete an electrical circuit.

The hot wire will initialize the circuit but once the electrical current is flowing, another wire is necessary for the circuit to fulfill the intended purpose of the current.

This is where the white, neutral wire comes in. The circuit will be carried back to the power source by the neutral wire, thus completing the circulation of the AC electrical current.

Don’t be deceived by the word ‘neutral’ though. Although an electrical current isn’t always passing through a white wire, you must handle this neutral wire with the same caution as when you handle a hot wire.

NOTE: Sometimes with older wiring, the electrician may have marked the white wires with red or black to show that the white wire is indeed hot.

Green Electrical Wires = Protective Ground (or Green/Yellow)

Green in Canada wiring colours means they are ground wires. When installed correctly, they do not carry any current.

Even though green typically means it is a ground wire, sometimes you’ll find that bare copper wire (with no insulation) or a green wire with yellow striping may be used.

What’s the purpose of an electrical wire that carries no electrical current? Safety!

Ground wires, also sometimes called earth wires, act to protect against an electrical current that may be unstable by taking errant currents out of the equation and ‘grounding’ them to the earth. If there’s a short circuit, ground wires redirect the unwanted electricity to eliminate any risk of electrical shock or electrocution.

To explain this in more specific terms: under normal conditions, when your electrical system is functioning normally and safely, the ground wire does not carry an electrical current.

However, if a short circuit or another anomaly should occur, the ground wire is there to remove the unstable current by sending it into the ground to neutralize it.

Again, like white wires, just because your green ground wires don’t normally carry current, it doesn’t mean they never do. There will be current running through a ground wire while they are dealing with the overloaded system. Handle with care.

Canada Wiring Colours Recap

Canada wiring colours recapBlack = Hot wire, always carrying an electrical current.

Red = Hot wire, always carrying an electrical current.

Blue = Hot wire, always carrying electrical current, but pulled through a conduit and primarily used as a travelling wire for 2- or 3-way switch applications (to control one appliance or light using multiple switches).

White = Neutral wire completes the electrical circuit.

Green, Green/Yellow = Protective grounding wire, helps neutralize excessive electrical current when a fault occurs.

Wiring Colours FAQ

Which electrical wire colour is live?

All black, red, and blue (and yellow) wires are hot or live. White wires can carry live current in certain circumstances, as can green (such as when a short circuit occurs).

What colour is the ground wire?

Green wires or green wires with yellow stripes are the protective ground or earth wires. Ground wires are also sometimes bare copper (with no coloured protective casing).

What is a hot electrical wire?

A hot electrical wire is one which is carrying live electrical current, and which will cause an electrical shock if you touch it. Black, red, blue, and yellow wires are all hot, but white and green wires can be hot also at certain times or in certain instances.

Never Attempt DIY Electrical Wiring

Just a quick reminder. Even if you know your Canada wiring colours by heart, it’s never a good idea to DIY electrical projects of any description.

Not only is it incredibly dangerous, but it’s also important to get your wiring installed and checked by a licensed electrician and inspected independently to ensure CEC compliance.

Some insurance companies will not cover an electrical fire if they discover that the electrical work was not completed by a licensed electrician.

About Premium Electric

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We offer a full range of professional electrical services and serve clients throughout the Vancouver Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley including:

We are here to help, and no job is too big or too small.

When it comes to ensuring your safety and the safety of your loved ones and home, always call an electrician.

If you have a question about Canadian wiring colours or if you need an electrician in Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, or Langley, give us a call 24/7 at 604-308-6195 or contact us online at any time.

We can also be reached through email.

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