I sometimes hear horror stories of sparkies giving duff advice to customers which can only be chalked up to ignorance at best or a fraudulent attempt to perform unnecessary work for higher profits at worst. Either way, anyone forking out falsehoods is best avoided as they either don’t know or understand their trade suitably enough, or they have cartoon-like dollar signs in front of their eyes and the word ‘SUCKER’ floating about inside their head as they prepare your quote. Here then is a quick compilation of common untruths to watch out for when seeking advice on your home electrics...


1. Unswitched sockets are no longer compliant with regulations and need to be replaced with switched versions.

False. Plugs and sockets have to comply with British Standard 1363 however this standard allows for both switched and unswitched socket variants. Older installations often have non-switched sockets, and they are perfectly acceptable. So long as the socket remains compliant with BS1363, is not damaged, impaired or faulty in any way, has sound contacts and passes requisite testing then there is no need to replace it with a new switched faceplate unless you, the client, specifically want the ability to be able to flick any connected equipment on or off via the socket front. That’s up to you though, there’s nothing in BS1363 (plugs & sockets) or BS7671 (IEE Wiring Regulations) stating that unswitched sockets, where encountered, are required to be replaced for switched variants.


2. Your old rewirable fuse box must be replaced with a modern equivalent fitted with circuit breakers.

False. Fuses, whether rewirable or not, have always provided an effective means of overcurrent protection and that hasn’t changed just because circuit breakers were invented. The only problems with rewirable fuses are the inconvenience involved in having to change the fusewire in the event of a blowout, and the risk of the wrong rating of fusewire being installed (or something else entirely such as a copper wire or nail!). Circuit breakers offer convenience over fuses in that they are easily reset and the danger of using incorrectly sized fusewire is eliminated. A new installation or rewire would have a modern consumer unit with breakers installed, but an existing installation does not have to be upgraded without good reason such as if there is damage to the existing hardware or if it can be proven to be inadequate in some way such as being underrated for the total load. All that said however, there may be occasions where it makes sense to upgrade a new consumer unit, and such would provide a better level of protection, but the point here is that anybody who states a rewirable box has to be replaced just for the sake of compliance may be wrong.


3. Your old fuse box/consumer unit lacks RCD protection and must be replaced.

False. Additions or alterations would require RCD protection if they serve special locations such as a bathroom or equipment outdoors, or socket outlets rated at less than 20A. At the time of writing, there are some exceptions to this, for example, a new socket dedicated to a particular purpose and labelled accordingly need not be protected (regulation 411.3.3), an example being a socket installed in an attic just to power a Class II TV aerial booster. Wholly new circuits will likely require RCD protection regardless of their purpose, especially where cables have been run in walls. If someone tells you they cannot possibly work on your electrics without upgrading your entire fuse box to an RCD protected consumer unit then they’re talking out of their hat. So long as the original installation complied with the standards at the time and is no more unsafe after work has been completed then no additional works are mandatory. If RCD protection is required, such as if you were having a new electric shower installed or additional sockets added then it is possible to install an RCD/RCBO just for the new circuit rather than having to upgrade the whole fuse board. A sparkie who insists an upgrade of the entire fuse board is necessary should be able to demonstrate that this is the most cost effective and/or practical option rather than saying the work is to be performed merely for the sake of compliance.

showerunit


Here's a good example. It's not a great picture but this shows an installation I came across at a client's house where a previous installer has fitted a new electric shower. Although the consumer unit contains breakers instead of fuses, it predates the requirement for RCD protection and doesn't have one. An RCD is required for the new shower but instead of upgrading the whole board, the installer has chosen a more cost effective option and fitted a secondary unit to the right which contains both a circuit breaker and RCD just for the shower to use. Although it would be advantageous from an electrical safety point of view to replace the old board with a new RCD equipped variant, the old board was nonetheless compliant with the regulations at the time of its installation, it continues to provide an effective means of fault protection and replacing it is not a mandatory requirement in this case.

It's like a classic car which was built before seatbelts or airbags became mandatory. Just because it lacks such doesn't mean it fails an MOT, nor is the owner required to retrofit such items even though it would be to their benefit in terms of safety to do so.


4. You have no supplementary bonding to your kitchen/bathroom water pipes and such must be installed.

Not necessarily. The job of supplementary bonding is to ensure any exposed metalwork is all kept at the same potential. As an example, if a live wire comes into contact with your hot water pipe, supplementary bonding would ensure the hot tap doesn’t rise to a higher potential (voltage) than its neighbouring cold tap or to the metalwork of a nearby electrical appliance. If that were to happen then you would become a conductor as you touched between the two different conductive parts and an electric current would flow through your body which wouldn’t be too pretty. With everything bonded together, all metalwork should be at the same electrical potential even under fault conditions which prevents current flow across any conductor (or person). That said, supplementary bonding is not required if all three of the following conditions exist according to regulation 701.415.2:

i) All final circuits of the location comply with the requirements for automatic disconnection according to regulation 411.3.2.
ii) All final circuits have additional protection by means of an RCD in accordance with regulation 411.3.1.2.
iii) All extraneous conductive parts are effectively connected to the protective bonding according to regulation 411.3.1.2.

In other words, if your main earth is up to scratch, you have modern RCD protection on all circuits and recent test results confirm the supply will automatically be disconnected within specified time limits in the event of a fault, then supplementary bonding may be omitted. This is because with these three conditions satisfied, the potential of any metalwork in the event of a fault should never rise above 50v before automatic protection kicks in and cuts off the supply. Now, the average homeowner isn’t going to know if all three conditions are satisfied as it requires specialist testing in order for disconnection times to be verified, however if someone is charging an arm and a leg for supplementary bonding to be installed, it may be worth seeking a second opinion on whether it is actually really needed, especially if the house isn't too old or if the consumer unit was recently upgraded.


5. Your main earth bonding needs to be upgraded.

Not necessarily. Modern regulations demand thicker earth bonding cables than previously, and it is often worth upgrading the  bonding if having major electrical work performed. The state of the bonding will be one of the first things checked by a competent sparkie as protection in the event of a fault hinges on it being in place and up to the job. Older installations with bonding undersized by current standards need not necessarily be upgraded however, so long as the existing bonding is mechanically sound, shows no signs of damage or overheating and it can be established by calculation that it is sufficient for the job. Upgrading the bonding is essential if it can be proven that the existing is damaged or doesn’t match up to the maths, and a good sparkie may refuse to perform new work on an installation if permission is not obtained to correct any issue with the bonding before work commences. The bonding has to be checked and certified on the BS7671 certs that accompany any new installation work and a legitimate installer will be unwilling to put their name to any cert if they know the bonding is bad as it could land them in legal hot water later on. Installing new bonding can be an expensive affair as the consumer unit may be on the opposite side of the house to incoming services such as water and gas where the bonding is required. Again, if someone insists that this work is necessary, ask why. If two different electrical firms disagree on whether an upgrade to the bonding is required or not, it may be worth asking them to provide evidence to back up their decision (such as what calculations they’ve come to) or to seek a third opinion.


6. An unswitched Fused Connection Unit (FCU) must be replaced by a switched version.

Not necessarily. Like the sockets mentioned earlier, FCU’s must be compliant with BS1363 but may be switched or unswitched depending upon the application. For a new appliance being installed, the manufacturer's instructions would specify the requirements. Where instructions are unavailable, common sense dictates that all permanently connected loads should have an easy means of isolation, so you'd have a switched FCU on your boiler, but you might have an unswitched FCU on a bathroom fan where a separate isolator has been installed. There is a place for unswitched FCU's, so anyone insisting you need to pay to have unswitched accessories changed for switched versions should be able to demonstrate why.


7. Switch/socket heights in existing houses have to be moved to comply with Part-M of the Building Regulations.

False. Building Regulations Part-M concerns the access and use of buildings. New buildings come under Part-M and since the 2004 amendment sockets are required to be higher up the wall and light switches lower down than previously in order to be more accessible to people with impaired movements such as those confined to a wheelchair. According to Part-M, switches and sockets should be mounted at a height of between 450mm and 1200mm from the finished floor level. People used to traditional UK housing may be surprised to find sockets so high and switches so low. That said, Part-M only applies to new builds, so if your current abode was constructed before Part-M (2004) came into effect then there is no need to abide by it even if the property is being extended or fully rewired, although if undergoing a full rewire it would be unwise not to comply. It’s also worth noting that these heights apply to ‘inhabited’ rooms of a dwelling such as living rooms and bedrooms. ‘Uninhabited’ rooms such as a garage or utility room do not have to follow Part-M guidelines.


8. A lighting circuit with no earth must be rewired.

False. In older properties the CPC (Circuit Protective Conductor) was often omitted from lighting circuits to save cost. This was because plastic ceiling roses and switches were installed and, generally, left in place by the homeowner. As tastes began to change, people started fitting decorative metal switch faceplates and light fittings, but without the CPC there was a risk that exposed metalwork would become live in the event of a fault. These days, where a lighting circuit without an earth is encountered, it would be prudent to rewire it, but doing so is not mandatory. So long as all fixtures and fittings on that circuit are of Class II (non conducting) enclosures, the line wiring is sound and the circuit passes all requisite testing, then the only precaution required is to affix a warning label at or near the consumer unit and ensure the homeowner is aware that metal accessories are not to be retrofitted later. If metal accessories are insisted upon then rewiring or installing a CPC will be necessary to ensure the presence of an earth at all points in the circuit.


9. You have to use an NICEIC registered electrician for rental or council owned property.
False. There are several Part-P self-certification scheme operators of which NICEIC is probably the best known, but all carry government approval so any particular electrician or electrical firm is free to choose whichever scheme they prefer to be affiliated with. I have seen some councils or landlords specify NICEIC approved sparkies be employed on their properties, but what they should really be asking for is a Part-P registered electrician. NICEIC has become something of a colloquialism; like telling someone to Hoover the carpet, but that wouldn't mean you're excluding them from using a Dyson or a Vax to get the job done! Whether someone is registered with NICEIC, NAPIT, Elecsa, Stroma, BSI, Certsure, BESCA, Benchmark or OFTEC, their certificates are valid and should be accepted by all landlords, letting agents, councils, surveyors, insurance companies or any other interested parties. Refusal to accept a certificate because it has a logo other than that of NICEIC on it would result in swift (possibly legal) action by whichever scheme had been snubbed once it is reported to them.


10. A bathroom ceiling light must be Ingress Protection (IP) rated.
False. I've seen a couple of condition reports this year where the installation has failed because the bathroom ceiling light isn't IP rated. They've actually coded it as a C2 (potentially dangerous). I've also heard of other sparkies describing such as 'illegal' which is plain ridiculous. Here's the thing with bathrooms - electrical equipment located in Zones 0, 1 and 2 (i.e. in or around the bath/shower) need to be appropriate for that zone, however no zone extends above 2.25m in height, so unless you have a very low ceiling then your ceiling lights are outside of the zones and don't need to be IP rated. You don't even have to install IP downlights in a bathroom, although I personally choose to do so in most cases as that is what the customer expects, and corrosion shouldn't be a problem because they're made for the job. The only stipulation for a light in the bathroom is that it is appropriate for the environment. That means to say a plain open (non-shaded) batten bayonet light fitting is just fine, but you wouldn't install a standard fluorescent fitting because the metal would rust and condensation could cause malfunction of the control gear. Anyone failing a report because of a bayonet batten fitting or similar should be asked to look at it this way - a pull cord light switch, pull-cord shower isolator or an occupancy sensor are also often fitted to the bathroom ceiling and are never IP rated, so how come someone listing the light fitting as being non-compliant doesn't flag up these other accessories?


11. A 230v extractor fan cannot be installed in a shower cubicle/above a bath.
False. I had an arguement with a plumber recently when he insisted that an extractor fan installed in zone 1 (above the bath or in the shower cubicle) had to be of the low voltage SELV type and a 230v fan wasn't permitted. I referred him to Regulation 701.55 which states that certain permanently connected current-using items of equipment may be used in zone 1 so long as they are installed in accordance with manufacter instructions and made for the job. It goes on to list permitted gadgets and specifically mentions "ventilation equipment". If a 230v fan is made to be installed in zone 1 and if it is installed correctly, then it is perfectly compliant. Look at it this way, many people have a 230v 7000-10500 Watt shower right in the middle of zone flippin' 1 where the electricity is separated by the water by just a few centimetres. That's perfectly acceptable because the shower is made to be installed in that environment and is also on the permitted equipment list of Regulation 701.55. A measly 6 Watt bathroom fan which may well be installed at a high level above the 2.25m height of zone 1 anyway is perfectly compliant.


12. A plastic consumer unit enclosure must be changed for a metal one.
False. As of January 2016, BS7671 Amendment 3 demands new consumer units installed in dwellings are made from metal or are enclosed in a metal box. This does not apply retrospectively. You only need to change from a plastic enclosure to metal if there are demonstrable issues with the plastic box such as a crack or hole exposing live parts or because the existing enclosure is too small. There mere fact a CU is made of plastic is not a reason for it to require upgrading or for it to fail an Electrical Installation Condition Report. More on this issue here.

 

Remember, electrical installers are not the ‘sparkie police’. We can only advise, not enforce, although any installer has the right to highlight inadequacies and to refuse to undertake any work where they believe safety may be compromised as a result. As an example, if you ask me to install metal fittings on a lighting circuit with no CPC then I will refuse unless the wiring is upgraded because the result will be less safe afterwards. If you find someone else who is prepared to ignore the problem, then they'll have their bank balance and not your best interests at heart - and they will be unlikely to provide certification admitting to what they have done after the fact because they will know it to be unsafe.

BS7671, the IET Wiring Regulations provides non-statutory guidance, and regulations aren’t always black & white. Different electricians/installers can sometimes interpret some regulations in different ways and some may have best practice standards which differ to others. It is possible to have two sparkies argue about the right or wrong of a particular point and both may be able to back up their argument to show they’re in the right simply because these things can sometimes be open to interpretation.

The bottom line is that if you’ve asked for work to be done and the installer is insisting they've found extra work is required either as part of the job or before they can begin, then you should at least have them put into writing the reasons why the extra work is required and/or seek a second opinion.

My best practice promise guarantees that I won’t perform any unnecessary work. Any concerns I discover on an existing installation outside of work I’ve been hired to perform will be put to you in writing clearly explaining the issue and why it should be resolved. If you’re unsure, you can contact NICEIC, the Competent Persons Scheme which oversees my work, and have them verify my findings.

Any installer you use, if on the level, should be able to do the same.