Faulty electrics are extremely dangerous, causing 12,500 fires and 2,000 electric shock accidents in the home each year, according to the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC).
However, taking a DIY approach to fixing electrical problems can easily prove fatal; one small error and 240 volts could be coursing through your body (a little worse than bruising your thumb with a hammer!).
Call in the experts
If you suspect your home has faulty wiring, you should get a fully qualified, registered electrician to take a look (find one through approved organisations such as NICEIC, NAPIT or ECA).
But how do you spot problems in the first place? What are the tell-tale signs and causes? And what measures can you take to prevent them from occurring?
Electrical fault ‘spot list’
Fuse box (also known as the fuse board or distribution unit):
• If a fuse box has a wooden back, or cast iron switches, it’s a sure sign it’s very old and needs replacing. The same applies if the fuse box has no labels on it.
• Some boxes may have a mix of fuses, including those that can be re-wired. Again, this is a sign it’s old and needs attention.
• A black electric cable entering the box may also indicate it’s out of date. Modern wiring into fuse boxes is PVC insulated in grey or white. The old black cables are insulated with rubber, which decays over time.
Sockets, plugs and switches:
• If there’s only one or two in a room, it can indicate the electrics in that part of the home are old and out of date.
• Broken plastic revealing the inner workings of the socket or switch.
• Are sockets of the more modern, 3-pin variety, or of the round-pin type? Round-pin indicates they’re old and need changing.
• Black switches.
• Sockets fitted into skirting boards, rather than directly into the wall itself.
• Plugs which feel hot.
• Old, round switches can date back to pre-1960s.
• Braided flex (which can look like cord or rope wound around itself) hanging from features such as a ceiling rose.
• Flickering lights.
• Light fittings with bulbs that need replacing more regularly than usual.
On-going maintenance, prevention and checks
• Don’t overload sockets with too many extension leads and ‘four-in-one’ type plugs.
• Upgrade all old wiring, even if you haven’t had problems up to that point.
• The NICEIC recommends that you have a full electrical inspection of your home by a qualified electrician every ten years (particularly important if you’re thinking of selling your home).
• Make sure you keep the certificate after an inspection for re-selling purposes.
• Rewire before you decorate – wiring work often requires pulling up floorboards, working behind plaster and plasterboard, and under carpets and flooring.
• If you’ve got a number of electrical jobs the need doing, they can all add up and it can be more cost-effective to have a home totally re-wired. Get quotes for both.
• Change wires that don’t go anywhere and are either not taped up at the ends, or have ends wrapped in electrical tape.
• Tighten up wobbly switches, plugs etc (after switching off the power source).
Vital to get your electrics checked
If you haven’t had your electrics tested by a qualified electrician, it could be a good idea to do so. Many home insurance policies require that you do at least once over a certain period, and you could be invalidating your cover if you haven’t.