Household electricity

Plugs

The inside of a plug showing the positioning of the earth, neutral and live wires, as well as the fuse and cable grip.

A plug connects a device to the mains electricity supply. The cable between the device and the three-pin plug contains three copper wires that are coated with plastic.

Each part of the plug has a function.

Features of a plugFunction
Outer insulationAll three wires in the cable are bundled together and there is extra plastic insulation wrapped round them all for safety
Cable gripThis holds the cable tightly in place so that wires do not become loose
Live wireCopper wire coated with brown plastic along which the current enters the device
Fuse A glass or ceramic canister containing a thin wire that melts if the current gets too high
Neutral wireCopper wire coated with blue plastic that also connects to the cable in the wall and completes the circuit
Earth wireCopper wire coated in striped plastic that provides a path for current to flow from the case of the device to the ground if there is a fault

Earthing

An electric cooker with the wiring section magnified to show the live, neutral and earth wires as well as the mains power. The earth wire is also connected to the cooker's casing.

Without the earth wire, if a fault occurs and the live wire becomes loose, there is a danger that it will touch the case. The next person who uses the appliance could get electrocuted.

The earth wire is therefore connected to the case and is attached to a metal plate or water pipe underground. As the wire is made of copper, the earth wire provides a low resistance path to the ground. In the event of a fault, the live current passing through the case will follow this path to the ground instead of passing through a person.

Fuses

A fuse provides a built-in fail-safe to the electrical circuit for a device. The fuse contains a thin wire that will melt if the current gets too high. If there is a fault that causes the casing of the device to become live, a large current will flow through the low-resistance earth wire. This high current will cause the fuse to melt.

Once the fuse has melted, the circuit is broken and no more current flows through the device. This means the case of the device is no longer live and there is no more risk of electrocution.