Friday, 27 February 2015

Make sure your next home is not an electrical death trap

Moving house is always a stressful time – whether you rent or own your home, finding your next home can be a bewildering choice. Most people have a tick or wish list of what features their next home must have, but how much notice do you take of the electrics? Sure you might have a cursory look at the sockets – a little knowledge will tell you if they're in need of replacing.

Factoring in the cost of electrical upgrades will be necessary in many homes, so before you buy or agree to rent, make sure you are happy with the electrics or provision is made to upgrade them to suit your needs.

Look beyond the location and window frames!

A house in the best location and with excellent kerb appeal, may be hiding a multitude of electrical sins under it's wings. Don't fall for the looks alone, scratching more below the surface when viewing could uncover electrical problems that you may not have been aware of until you had already moved.

  • Lack of electrical sockets

Many homes in the UK were built when reliance on electricity wasn't so huge. It is not unusual to see homes built in the 1960's or 1970's have just a couple of single sockets in the living room and perhaps one double socket in the kitchen. When you consider how many electrical gadgets we own – from TV's to games consoles, sky boxes to cordless telephones, it is quickly obvious that two single sockets would be nowhere near enough to cope with the demand!

The reality is, many people are living in households with not enough sockets for their needs. In turn this is creating a reliance on extension leads. This in itself is not the crime of the century, however extension leads used in locations such as a kitchen where most powerful household appliances are located, are when dangerous electrical issues such as overheating, fire and electrical shock or injury could occur due to unintentional extension lead misuse.

What needs to change: If purchasing a house which appears to have had no electrical updates carried out recently, it is a good idea to ask a qualified and registered electrician to carry out an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) to ensure the wiring is safe. You can request an EICR prior to purchase so you know what you dealing with. If the wiring is sound, it would be a good idea to ask the electrician to install additional sockets where they will be needed. As electricians in East London, we bring many owned and rented homes up to modern living standards by simply installing extra sockets in prime locations such as the kitchen and living room.

  • Age of electrical accessories

Signs that the property needs electrical attention sooner rather than later is the age of electrical accessories. As electricians in South East London we still come across homes that have not had any electrical work carried out since the 1920's! So when we say old accessories we really do mean old! Look out for round switches and sockets rather than square. The pins and switches will also be round. Additionally look out for old style sockets installed in skirting boards rather than on the wall and take a look at the light fittings – if you don't see a PVC cable hanging down into the light pendant, this means that the wiring may well be outdated and needs attention from an electrician.

What needs to change: Electrical accessories of this age will need to replaced as chances are they're going to be unsafe. Using an electrical installation of such an age will be putting you and your family at risk of electrical shock and injury. The property may well need a full rewire, so make sure you factor in the cost of this in the offer you make on the property. Ask an electrician as soon as possible to advise on the best solution.

  • Wiring condition

A common problem we see in homes here at Fulcher Edwards is the condition of internal home wiring. Many householders assume that because the sockets and switches seem modern that the wiring will be fine too. Unfortunately we have seen too many times shocking wiring systems that are either out of date, have been tampered with or are showing signs of deterioration due to age. Many home owners want to upgrade their switches and sockets from white to chrome for example only to find out from the electrician that the wiring is in a dangerous condition.

What needs to change: Old wiring in itself is not necessarily a safety issue so long as there is no sign of tampering and it is being kept as it is. However wiring of this age would not allow for upgraded electrical accessories. Wiring that is found to be dangerous would require a full or partial rewire dependant on the overall condition of the home electrical system. This is why as electrical contractors in London, we advise that an EICR is carried out to ascertain what condition the electrical installation is in your London property.

Many people assume that because the sockets and switches seem OK that everything else is. If you rent your property, ask your landlord for the EICR certificate. If there isn't one, what are they trying to hide?

  • Look out for DIY electrical work

Some signs of electrical DIY are obvious, others less so. One of the easiest methods of looking out for substandard or DIY electrical work is to look for cables that are situated on walls in a haphazard way. A prime example of this is cable running up the centre of a wall that has been covered with wallpaper. You will be able to see the cables underneath the wallpaper. Whilst this does not automatically mean the installation is unsafe, it gives you a good idea of the standards, and the fact that someone thought this was acceptable.

If the seller or landlord mentions that electrical work has been carried out recently, ensure that you see the Part P certification for the work as this is a legal requirement. Without it, you have no way of knowing if the work is even safe.

Well maintained property electricals are a valuable property asset (rewires are pricey.) They also provide you and loved ones with peace of mind day to day.

What needs to change: Signs of DIY electrical work and uncertified recent electrical work will need to be corrected by a qualified and registered electrician. If no EICR has been carried out on the property in the last 10 years (or 5 years in a rented property) then this should be carried out as a priority to ascertain what condition the electrics are currently in.

  • How old is the fuse board or consumer unit

If you are looking for a swift answer as to the likely condition of the property electrics, then take a look at the fuse board/consumer unit. The age of the fuse board does not automatically deem the electrics safe or unsafe, but it will indicate how likely it is that you need to spend money on upgrading the electrics. Fuse boards with a wooden back could have been installed as long ago as the 1950's and chances are will need to be upgraded to ensure electrical safety. Older fuse boards may still be safe so long as they are checked over by an electrician to ascertain this fact. However, if you are looking for the highest standard of electrical safety in your property, the consumer unit should be fitted with a working RCD. The presence of an RCD is normally marked clearly on a switch located on the consumer unit itself as either RCD or T (for test.) Sometimes the RCD can be separate but either way will be clearly identifiable.

What needs to change: A fuse board with a wooden back needs prompt attention by an electrician, older fuse boards or consumer units without an RCD would benefit from testing for safety by a qualified electrician. As far as electrical installations in London go, we would not necessarily recommend a consumer unit upgrade if the householder didn't want to spend the money as long as the consumer unit was safe as it currently stood. However, to obtain the recommended level of electrical safety, it would require a consumer unit upgrade if no RCD was present.

A consumer unit upgrade can cost a fair chunk of money – make sure you account for this in your purchase price!

  • Check the earthing to the property

This is something that is nearly always overlooked by house buyers and almost always by tenants. Correct earthing in a property is essential to avoid serious electrical injury and shock from the lack of earthing. Lack of earthing to a property can cause items such as taps, boilers and other metallic surfaces to become live without warning. If you touch such items, you then act as the earth with the electricity passing through you. A very scary prospect.

You can check for earthing by looking at the gas and water pipes to the property. You should see the earthing conductors clamped to the pipes. If you don't see anything like this, then you should contact an electrician as soon as possible to rectify this problem and avoid an horrendous electrical shock taking place.

Electrical Safety will always be important

Leaving electrical safety to chance is never a good move and if there is a problem it won't just go away. This 'Think Electric' video was used by Electrical Safety First back in 2008. The principles still have not changed, so for more information or to recap on our blog post, give it a click!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Set your heart not your house on fire this valentines day

If you are planning a weekend of loving this weekend, make sure that the flames of love do not spread to your home undetected.

What are we talking about?! Well it's none other than a timely reminder to test your smoke alarm! Special occasions such as Valentines Day actually puts you at greater risk of a house fire occurring. From a forgotten steak catching fire in a frying pan to getting carried away with electrical impulses of another kind ;) the last thing you need to deal with is an unexpected fire – and your skills with a fire extinguisher may not be as impressive as you hope! ;)

Is your home even fire safe?

You might consider yourself careful when it comes to fire safety, however we don't need to tell you that fires, particularly electrical fires, can start without you realising. You could be asleep in bed getting some post Valentines Day rest when a fire breaks out. The only way of getting out of your home in one piece is to have a working fire alarm that is located correctly.

At Fulcher Edwards we see all kinds of fire alarm 'situations' in peoples homes. The classic one, I've pulled the battery out, is very much alive and kicking. There are also the 'well meaning people' who have brought their fire alarms and now they're sitting in their box in the garage where they might be fitted in the next year or so....then there's the people who don't really like the look of fire alarms so they'll put it out of the way in a windowsill or on a shelf. And finally (phew!) there are the people who have a nicely placed fire alarm, but never test it!

Help! I've never fitted a fire alarm so mine is on a shelf!

Fitting a fire alarm is thankfully easier these days and you don't need to opt for screws. However, where you place the fire alarm is important so that it alerts you to a fire at the first opportunity.

Some form of smoke alarm is better than no smoke alarm at all, however it is important that you place your smoke alarm in a better place (like the ceiling) as soon as possible. There are two options:

  • Consider having mains powered smoke alarms fitted in your home. These need to be fitted by a qualified and registered electrician. Not only will they be expertly placed, but you won't be reliant on just batteries. As electricians in South London we fit fire alarm systems for home owners and businesses in and around the city.

  • Contact your local fire and rescue. In many areas there is the opportunity to have a fire safety inspection of your home and if eligible, you can have free smoke alarms fitted in your property.

I've got smoke alarms fitted what should I be doing now?

Once fitted and regardless of whether they're mains or battery powered, your fire alarms will need to be tested once a week. You do this by simply pressing the test button on each smoke alarm and hold it in for a few seconds. It should produce a loud beep so cover your ears!!

It is easy to forget to do this, so we support the 'test it Tuesday' campaign that reminds people to test their fire alarms on a Tuesday. The campaign has lead to many fire alarms being fitted and tested weekly in UK homes.

Having a working fire alarm ready for Valentines Day means your home is being taken care of, leaving you free to enjoy a night with that special someone ;)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Implementing the Lifetime Homes Standard

A home is for life so they say and isn't an Englishman's home his castle? Perhaps that's enough of the history lesson for today (it was never our strong point!) ;)

Many homes in Britain are becoming out of touch with todays modern living standards – from problems with compatibility of renewable energies, to low energy efficiency there is yet more doom and gloom on the horizon which suggest many homes would be of limited use as we get older or develop a disability.

Building useful homes

The Lifetime Homes Standard is actually not a new concept, it was developed in the early 1990's by a group of housing experts and was designed to make homes more accessible and inclusive to address the changing needs of individuals at different stages of their life.

From wider car parking spaces to level thresholds, wider door space and walls strong enough to support a grab rail, these living conditions make sense to most people. From families with young children, to coping with special needs or illness, you don't need to be elderly to benefit from a home designed with flexibility and adaptivity in mind.

With this in mind, it makes sense to be building all new homes with the Lifetime Homes Standard in mind. Unsurprisingly, it is never that easy with adaptation of the standard slower in rural areas than within urban areas. This is because there are more older homes in rural areas and less demand for new future proof housing.

How does electrical work comply with the Lifetime Homes Standard?

Aside from the physical features of the standard, home fixtures and fittings need to also meet the Lifetime Homes Standard. Of course an integral part of any home is the electrics and easy access to switches, sockets and the consumer unit is essential particularly to people with limited mobility or who use a wheelchair.

As electricians in South East London we are very aware of using the latest technologies when carrying out electrical installation and the fitting of fire alarms. We are very experienced in working in environments where adaptations are required and this includes adapting the fitting to suit the needs to the individual.

Criterion 16 of the Lifetime Homes Standard states that switches, sockets, ventilation and service controls should be at a height usable by all. This is a height of between 450mm and 1200mm from the floor. Basically speaking this means that sockets should be located within the height criterion (rather than near the floor ) and switches should be located at a similar height.

Consumer unit switches and associated devices like separate RCD are known as service controls and also need to be located within the height criterion. It is essential that electricity can be switched off in an emergency and switched back on in the event of a switch tripping.

We often install consumer units in a cupboard which prevents children from playing around with the switches.

Here at Fulcher Edwards we are often involved with installing adapted electrical installations and fully support the requirements of the Lifetime Homes Standard.

Good practice – looking to the future

If you are looking for an electrician to install electrical fittings for a person with changing needs, it is a good idea to identify what needs might occur in years to come such as a requirement for a stair lift, automatic window controls for inaccessible windows, additional lighting for any knock out panel area, and task lighting for underneath kitchen units if not already installed.

It is far more cost effective to anticipate the needs for such measures now, by asking your electrician to install capped off electrical outlets or fused spurs at the relevant locations.

Remember, never attempt to make electrical modifications yourself. Always ensure you use a qualified and registered electrician to carry out the work.

A new home is not required to meet the standard

There is no need to consider moving house in order to meet the Lifetime Homes Standard, it is possible to modify existing homes to meet the standard. Your electrician will be able to advise of the electrical aspect which should be possible to achieve in most homes.