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Mark S
Brown Wires (US)

I've got a house that was built around 1947. Some aspects have not been updated in a very long time. For example, I took down a few ceiling lights last night and lo and behold: brown wires. Black wires, too. But the brown wires threw me.

From what I can tell, brown wires are neutral in the UK, whereas in the US neutral is typically white. Now these wires are old--totally ungrounded. Is it just the case that brown wires were used for neutral in the 1940s?

(Or maybe my wiring is older. Maybe it was put in while we were still part of the UK!? ;) )

At any rate, has anyone ever seen or dealt with brown wires? They are a uniform brown, so it's very unlikely that they are just dirty or aged. (Though they are, both.)

Oh, and while I've got you reading: is it worth re-wiring the room--this is a kitchen we're talking about--to put in grounded line? I'm working off a move-in, first-house budget, so money is tight. Is grounding something I should put money toward now, or later?

Re: Brown Wires (US)

Welcome to the forum.

If this were my house, I'd be adding a number of new circuits to the kitchen from the new breaker panel you're about to install.;)

Since you have the ability, add these circuits (each as a separate)
Backsplash outlets
Dishwasher & Disposal (if code allows them to be shared)
You can add dedicated circuits for other specialty items such as a high end espresso maker.
Oven / stove
Cooktop (if separate and electric)
Wine cooler
Ice maker
Trash compactor
Home security

Unfortunately a well wired house doesn't cost a penny more than a poorly wired house. Although a well wired house is easier to maintain, repair and remodel and are a heck of a lot safer. Upgraded electrical systems can be a selling feature, but rarely bring in any more money.

Re: Brown Wires (US)

Good advice Houston.

If you're refering to the color of the outer sheath on NM (romex) brown, white etc is fine. Only recently did they start using color codes.

Remember wire is only supposed to be good for 40 years, so if you're thinking about removing the lath or sheetrock a roll of new wire is well worth the expense.

Good Luck from Columbiana, Alabama
Maurice Turgeon, thesemi-retiredelectrician.com

Re: Brown Wires (US)

Another possibility is that the brown wire is just dirty and discolored white wire.

Mark S
Re: Brown Wires (US)

Thanks for the advice everyone.

Houston, I left a message with an electrician. Hopefully I can get an estimate on all that work. From what I can tell--and I know very little about wiring--I'm going to need to start over with a new breaker box and move out from there. The current box is nearly full of circuits. (Can more be added? Or are the pre-cut breaker slots the limit?)

All wiring through the house seems to be run through nylon (?) sheaths. And most of it has brown and black cables. But yesterday I went to pull out the loose wires, which fed a ceiling light I removed, in order to close the circuit and turn back on the other kitchen lights. Well I found three cables coming into junction box, and inside the junction box--three black cables, three brown cables, and a red cable! And it was the lone red cable that powered the old light. What's the story with that? I just left it alone because I didn't want to try to close a circuit using the stray 7th wire.

And it looks like I'll need new circuits throughout the house. Yesterday I was pulling up some rotten floorboards using a 15-amp circular saw. I tripped the breaker by starting the saw. The only other things on the circuit were a two-bulb ceiling light and a one-bulb trouble light. That seems a bit weak to me. Though in fairness, I have yet to figure out how they setup circuits in this house. It could also have been powering another light or two in another room.

This isn't going to be cheap. Is it?

Re: Brown Wires (US)

Get several quotes. Like 5 or 8.

You may or may not need a new breaker panel. If you have 1" breakers you could go down to 1/2" breakers and double the space but the panel has to be made for that AND the service (amount of power coming in) has to be enough. 100 amp would be the minimum these days. 200 amp is more common, depending where you live.

Generally electrical work isn't cheap.

Here's an excellent suggestion; Take a few electrical courses at the local college, continuing education or skills center. You'll walk away with a firm understanding of how homes are wired today. Then when you go home, you'll see what a mess your place is and want to fix everything. Don't do that right away. Finish learning first. Have an electrician do the "heavy" parts such as hang a new circuit panel if you need one. The rest of the house you can do yourself with the proper education.

Have the electricians bid the job 2 ways; 1- a full blown re-wiring, 2- just replace the panel and other bits a Pro needs to do. The difference will be substantial. Now don't get the idea that you'll save every penny of the difference, because copper is VERY expensive making wire and electrical parts very expensive. You'll save about 2/3 of the difference between the 2 quotes, depending on the access to run wires.

If at any time you doubt your ability to do electrical work in your own home, by all means hire a professional. The watch them every step of the way, ask questions (without getting in the way) and learn why they are doing what they are doing.

Re: Brown Wires (US)

Mark S The red wire is probably a return from a switch.


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