Firstly, for context, I should say that this is British wiring and in a fairly new home. I have a ceiling light that I have to replace. Annoyingly I couldn't get a clear view of the wiring in the previous fitting because it was all mashed up and I had to remove all wires to get at it. Now im left with a fitting with wiring that doesn't make much sense to me and all the power off the the lights in my house :(

I've got, what appears to be, two lives, one neutral and an earth. Looking at the switch it looks like one of the lives (the slim brown one) is coming from the switch so that's a switched-live, which leaves me with a live and neutral (the ones in the sleeves).

What's going on here? and how do I get this wired back up to a "normal" light fitting (with Live, Neutral, Earth connections)?

Thanksenter image description here

  • Don't you want the lamp connected to the switched live rather than the live? Commented May 5, 2021 at 16:47

3 Answers 3


To me that looks like 2 Hots a neutral and a ground.

Many times I have pulled wiring like this to have a fan and a light fed from 1 circuit at the switch(s)

We would need to see the wiring at the switch(s) to be sure but one of the “hots” may not be in use if only one switch.

If 2 switches one will be for a light and the other for the fan. Both are wired from the same breaker in the panel and because of that can use the same neutral.

If only 1 switch cap 1 of the hots and see if the other is hot with the power on swap hots as needed with only 1 switch and cap or cover the other for safety.

I am not sure about junction boxes, on this side of the pond a junction box would be required it doesn't look like there is one but that is probably a difference in our electrical codes.

  • 1
    No box is required in the UK, this just gets covered by the canopy. Older fixtures used a ceiling rose that served as both a terminal block and canopy holder. Newer ones are screwed directly to the ceiling like this and either there are terminal blocks mounted in the canopy or the installer has to provide them. What I don't understand about UK standards is why the green/yellow sleeve is required in this situation. Is there an installer who would fail to understand that the bare wire is ground, but who would be enlightened by the sleeve? :)
    – jay613
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 14:33
  • @jay613, since it appears set up for a fan and a light how does the UK deal with fans? The NEC started requiring fan rated boxes if the ceiling box has this wiring unless a fan could not be installed (over a tub or two close to a wall).
    – Ed Beal
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 15:08
  • 2
    Because there's no box behind the ceiling you mount a fan similarly to the way shown above. You use a surface-mounted bracket and the cable exits within the fixture's canopy. The bracket in OP's photo is for lamps and can be hung from plaster with suitable plugs. For fans there is a different kind of bracket that must be hung from joists. If you really want to go between joists you have to open up and block it. If you're retrofitting a fan to a lamp that is between joists you move the cable over to the new bracket and hope the fan's canopy covers up the mess.
    – jay613
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 15:31

Thanks for all your help folks. With a little help from a multimeter I was able to confirm that the smaller brown was indeed switched-live, and the two with the sleeves indeed neutral and live. I've just terminated the live and wired the switched-live and neutral to my new fitting. I guess the intention with the live is, as some people have suggested, for ceiling fan, or might also come in handy for smart home stuff like Philips Hue lightbulbs that always need power.

I've selected Ed Beal's answer because it contains the solution I found.

If only 1 switch cap 1 of the hots and see if the other is hot with the power on swap hots as needed with only 1 switch and cap or cover the other for safety


That actually is normal wiring for a ceiling fixture, at least in the US. Whether or not you have a ceiling fan you might decide to install one. Ceiling fans don't have wall switches generally: a pull chain turns the fan on and off as well as changing its speed. It looks like the cable, itself, was made for installation in the US, with the UK electrician using coloured sleeves to identify line, neutral earth.

  • I have probably wired a thousand or more ceiling fans with switches in my career. The NEC even points this specific setup out now requiring a fan rated box in the US even if only a lighting fixture is installed but the spare wire could be used for a fan because it is so common to add them later.
    – Ed Beal
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 15:04

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