Mastering the New Australian Wiring Colour Codes: A Practical Handbook on What the Different Coloured Wires Mean

by | Jul 8, 2024

Navigating wire colour codes

Have you ever experienced flickering lights or lost power due to a surge, prompting you to check your electrical panel? When you opened it, you probably saw a jumble of coloured wires. It’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed when faced with a tangled mess of red, white, and black wires.

Electrical wires are wrapped in coloured insulating casings to indicate each wire’s purpose. This colour-coding system is universally used in all electrical and electronic devices to ensure quick and accurate identification of each wire.

While the variety of colours can be confusing initially, understanding their meanings is incredibly useful. Whether you’re dealing with a blackout or installing a new light fixture, knowing what each colour represents can make the task easier and safer.

But remember, most electrical wires carry high voltage that can harm you or even be fatal if youโ€™re not careful, and you must treat all colours cautiously.

Traditional wiring colours in Australia: Before 2018

Until 2018, Australia used a traditional colour-coding system for electrical wires. These colours were crucial for identifying the function of each wire in electrical circuits. However, in 2018, Australia adopted new wiring colour standards to align with global norms, replacing the old colour scheme.

Single-phase and three-phase systems before 2018

Before 2018, single-phase wiring in Australia had these colours:

  • Active: Red
  • Neutral: Black
  • Earth: Green

Till 2018, three-phase wiring also included the following colours:

  • Phase 1: Red
  • Phase 2: White
  • Phase 3: Blue
  • Neutral: Black
  • Earth: Green

Historical evolution of wiring colours in Australia

The historical use of wiring colours in Australia traces back to the early development of electrical systems in the country. Prior to 2018, the colour standards for electrical wires differed from the current norms. In single-phase wiring, the active wire was red, the neutral wire was black, and the earth wire or ground wire was green. In three-phase systems, phase 1 was red, phase 2 was white, phase 3 was blue, the neutral wire was black, and the earth wire was green. These colours were used to indicate the type and function of each wire.

๐Ÿ’กBell Electrical tip: It’s important to note that while these wire colours are outdated, they still meet Australian safety standards. However, using old wiring colours can lead to confusion when working with electrical systems, as they may not align with modern standards. To ensure safety, it’s recommended to hire a professional who is familiar with current wire colour regulations.

Updated wiring colours

Starting in 2021, the latest Australian electrical standards for single-phase wiring use the following colours:

  • Active: Brown
  • Neutral: Blue
  • Earth: Green & Yellow

Navigating changes in wiring standards

Recent years have seen a substantial shift in Australian electrical wiring colours to align with global standards introduced in 2018 under the AS 3000 standard. The traditional colour codes were replaced: brown now indicates the active or hot wire, blue denotes neutral in single-phase circuits, and green & yellow signifies earth. In three-phase circuits, brown, black, and grey are used for phases 1, 2, and 3 respectively, with light blue for neutral and green/yellow for earth, aiding in identifying wire functions.

Why knowing your old wiring colours matters

Understanding the importance of knowing your old electrical wiring colours in Australia is vital for ensuring the safety and functionality of your electrical system. Here are three reasons why it’s crucial to be aware of your old wiring colours:

  1. Security: Knowing the old wire colours in your electrical system helps you avoid potential hazards and accidents. Handling live wires without proper knowledge can pose significant dangers.
  2. Suitability: If you’re planning any changes or renovations to your electrical system, understanding the old wiring colours ensures compatibility with existing circuits. This prevents confusion or mismatched connections.
  3. Communication: Awareness of the old wiring colours facilitates better communication with electricians or other professionals working on your electrical system. It ensures everyone understands the specific wiring configurations in your home and can work effectively.

By staying informed about your old wiring colours, you enhance safety, prevent compatibility issues, and enable clear communication during electrical work.


  1. Do wire colour codes vary across different regions?

Wire colour codes vary by region. For example, the United Kingdom has aligned its wiring codes with Europe’s colour system. Meanwhile, the United States and Australia each have their own distinct wiring colour codes. Because these codes are not universal, it’s crucial to enlist the expertise of an experienced electrician for any electrical work to ensure it is performed correctly according to local standards.

  1. What colour indicates active wire in Australia?

In Australia, the active wire is usually brown.

  1. What is the meaning of a live wire?

A live wire, which is an electrical conductor, carries current to power outlets and appliances, ensuring they function efficiently. In electrical wiring, wires of different colours serve specific purposes: brown indicates live, blue indicates neutral, and yellow/green indicates grounding. These wires create a safe pathway for electricity, reducing the risk of electrical fires. Older systems may use different colour codes, but modern standards prioritise safety. Black wires often denote hot or live connections, while installations that are underground or aerial may involve single-phase or three-phase wiring. Understanding the colour-coding of electrical wires is crucial for preventing accidents and maintaining safe electrical systems.

  1. What are the potential consequences if a live wire makes contact with an earth wire?

If the Brown live wire were to touch the Yellow earth wire, it could result in a short circuit, which poses significant risks of electrocution and other electrical hazards. This contact may cause a surge in electric current, potentially leading to sparks, overheating, and even fire in the wiring of equipment. The Yellow earth wire, as per electrical wiring colour standards and codes, serves as a protective earthing conductor, redirecting excess electricity to prevent these dangers.

To minimise the risk of electrocution, it is crucial to ensure that live wires never make contact with earth wires or any conductive surface. Handling such situations should be left to licensed electrical professionals to mitigate the risk of electrical surges and uphold safety standards.

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