When working on electrical systems it is important to learn what each of the different wires is so you can stay safe. In most systems there will be three separate wires, each of which are a different color. The wires in these setups are the hot wire, the negative wire, and the ground wire. The ground wire is often the one that people know least about. While not required for operation, the ground wire helps to reduce the risk of shock and keep the electrical current stable. If an electrical system has a surge of extra energy because of a lightning strike, a malfunction in the device, or any other reason, the ground wire provides a path for that energy to be dispersed safely. The wire gets its name from the fact that these wires often lead directly into the earth, where the electricity is safely dispersed. In many modern systems, however, the wire just connects back to the circuit box so the current can return into the system.
How to Identify the Ground Wire
In systems that follow standard wiring practices, you will find that the wire is going to be one of several different colors, depending on the type of system. The color standards for ground wires are as follows:
- Green – In the USA, most ground wires will be green, or at least primarily green.
- Green & Yellow – Some systems will use a green wire with a yellow stripe for the ground.
- Bare – If the wire is not primarily green, it may also just be a bare copper wire.
Whenever you are connecting wires in a system it is important to only connect the ground wire to another ground wire, or directly into the ground. Never have the ground wire touching an exposed hot or neutral wire or it will give the current an alternative path to travel, which could cause problems with the device being powered.
Is the Ground Wire Hot?
When a system is working properly the ground wire will not have any electrical current traveling through it. This wire is only in use when there is a fault of some sort. It should never be assumed, however, the wire is safe to touch unless you have taken appropriate steps to disconnect it from any electrical source. This wire could become energized at any point when it is connected to a live system.