Phasing Order in IEC Color Codes

Currently, IEC 60445 international standard is used for conductor terminal color identifications. I've obtained different versions of the standard (2017 being the latest) and also IEC 60446, which was replaced. In the recent versions of all of these standards line conductor coloring is given by BLACK, BROWN and GREY with clarification given as

NOTE The sequence of colour codes in 6.2.3 is alphabetical, and does not indicate any preferred phasing or direction of rotation.

However, when I was researching the topic earlier - before I had obtained the standards - the ordering of phases came up as BROWN - BLACK - GREY respectively for 3 phases, in multiple sites such as:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_60446

https://wiki.openelectrical.org/index.php?title=Cable_Colour_Code

Which refers to the above standards. What is going on here? Is it common practice or is there some other standard for Europe only for example?

Quick Answer: The ordering of the phases is defined in the standard CENELEC HD 308 S2: 2001 as BROWN - BLACK - GREY for the CENELEC countries.

2 Answers

Is it common practice or is there some other standard for Europe only for example?

In Europe, it would be best to follow 60445:2010, but this is most likely similar to the old 60446, they moved the requirement and this was merely a documentation change (as far as I can tell). Also as far as I can tell, CENELEC has followed the IEC standard since 2004

Three-phase cables

For three-phase cables, rather than accept the European consensus – which is to colour code the phases brown or black – the UK committee considered alternatives. The importance of clearly identifying the individual phases using different core colours was acknowledged. Accordingly it was decided to propose alternatives for consideration by other European countries, rather than adopt the harmonized system. The committee proposed that three separate phase colours be used for flexible and fixed rigid cable cores. The colour of the earth/protective conductor was to remain green and yellow.

The committee succeeded in persuading the other European countries to adopt separate phase colours (brown/grey/black) and in May 2001 CENELEC HD 308 S2 was published. This has just been implemented in the UK, by BS 7671Amendment 2: 2004. Issued on 31 March 2004, this amendment also includes some editorial changes and references to the Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002.

The CENELEC standards now mirror IEC standards.

The old 2007 version of 60446 also listed the colors as this:

Section 5.2.3 For AC-Phase conductors the preferred colours are BLACK, BROWN, and GREY

Source: https://webstore.iec.ch/p-preview/info_iec60446%7Bed4.0%7Den.pdf (now withdrawn)

The standard has been withdrawn; the fourth edition (IEC 60446:2007) was merged in 2010 into the fifth edition of IEC 60445 along with the fourth edition, IEC 60445:2006. Source: Wikipedia 60446

CENELEC follows the IEC codes. Not a big deal if you are in europe, if your in the UK then the colours changed drastically:

In 1977, CENELEC published Harmonized Document 324 S1, covering the identification of insulated and bare conductors by colours. However the UK was not obliged to harmonize with this because, at this time, the IEE Wiring Regulations were not a British Standard. It was not until 1998, when CENELEC revised HD 308 S1 to include rigid cables within its scope, that the UK committee responsible for BS 7671 Requirements for electrical installations decided to review the UK position. By now the UK was the only country within Europe not to use harmonized cable core colours. The committee decided that, for single-phase installations such as those in the home, core colours of fixed rigid cables should be changed to match those of flexible cables such as lighting pendants:

Live - Brown
Neutral - Blue
Earth/protective conductor - Green and yellow.


This will remove the colour differences between fixed and flexible cable cores. The UK public are already familiar with the colour coding of flexible cables and it is anticipated that this change will not result in too many problems.

So, what is going on here? Is it just common practice or is there some other standard for Europe only for example?

No, the confusion is in the transition from standards. In European countries the standards have been around for a while and follow the IEC/CANELEC standards.

The standards are determined by country, some have adopted NEC standards or IEC standards. There is a table listed here(and pictured below), that can show the relation between countries and standards.

When you are working on a project that is in a foreign country it can be difficult to know which electrical standards are applied to the building code – the National Electrical Code (NEC) or the International Electrical Code (IEC). Most of the world, outside the U.S. and its neighbors, have adopted a version of the International Electrical Code. For example, all of the European Union countries use a version of the IEC, however, they have small differences and sometimes create whole new translations for their local languages. Some countries have created their own version of the International Electric and others have adopted editions from other nations. Needless to say, with multiple codes and multiple versions of electrical codes, it can be confusing which countries use exactly what code.

The standards determine the wire color, some countries deviate or add from the main standards. So it becomes imperative to look at the national electrical codes for the region you are working in.

It is my thinking that the variations come from trying to maintain backwards compatibility in wiring colors because the IEC standards came after the national standards were in place.

Source: esgroundingsolutions

• I understand your point and thank you for the list. But my question is the sites I referenced (and many others) give a special ordering while claiming that their source is IEC 60445, which doesn't give any specific ordering. So maybe I thought this ordering is special to CENELEC countries - by standard or common practice. So, I'm wondering if anyone can give me a reference to this point or experienced to say this is how it is done commonly in these countries. – obareey May 31 '19 at 12:35
• @obareey I think the confusion is in the changing of standards over time, it really depends on the country. For example, the UK and singapore are aligning their standards to the CENELEC/IEC standards of brown/grey/black. This process started in 2004 and is now finished. – Voltage Spike May 31 '19 at 16:55
• In IEC 60446:2007 in section 5.2.3 it is written that "NOTE 3 Neither a phasing nor a direction of rotation is implied by the colours given.", so this is not it. However, in the website reference you gave, it has mentioned CENELEC HD 308 S2 standard, which defines the order. Link: eclass.teicrete.gr/modules/document/file.php/TH155/… – obareey Jun 1 '19 at 8:12

My understanding is that the standards document(s) you are looking at (60446 and 60445) are not written or designed to be used as a wiring code.

European countries use it as a guideline for writing their national wiring codes in an effort to make things more standardized.

So it does indeed not say what color each phase should use. You would need to look at the specific national wiring codes to find those sorts of rules.

I think most (all?) of them use BROWN - BLACK - GREY.

I don't have a current copy of the IEC codes, but in 'Wiring Methods' section (CH13?) there should be something like 'Panel Wiring to IEC requirements' which actually says: L1: Brown, L2: Black, L3: Grey.

Here (PDF) I found a copy for you. Go to page 35 to see the thing I'm talking about. It specifically says that is the colour order for 'most of Europe'.

• Do you have a reference? – obareey May 31 '19 at 12:36
• @obareey Electrical wiring - Wikipedia "In European countries... harmonise national wiring standards... IEC 60364... this standard is not written in such language that it can readily be adopted as a national wiring code." Also see first paragraph of IEC 60364 - Wikipedia – hekete May 31 '19 at 13:20
• Everything I've ever seen regarding EU three phase has stated L1: Brown, L2: Black, L3: Grey. But they all need their own national wiring code to explain old installations as well as what new ones should follow. – hekete Jun 1 '19 at 6:10