How to do DIY electrics safely
Over the last few months, we have tried to increase public awareness on safe electrics and the importance of hiring a registered electrician to carry out work in your home. However, we understand that homeowners have a right and will complete DIY work in their home. With the rising number of injuries due to DIY electrics, we have put this guide together to keep you and your family safe.
In attempt to save money and time hiring a tradesperson, and amid fears of rogue traders taking advantage, more and more homeowners have chosen to take matters into their own hands. Liverpool Victoria Insurance claim that 29% of Brits play around with their electrics each year. That’s 18,850,000 million people risking their life and their family’s life every year in the UK.
DIY electrics could include anything from changing your socket covers, to installing a new light, to extending a circuit, to even rewiring a house. However, only 5% of the public say they would attempt a full rewire.
With no real regulations in place to stop homeowners from carrying out small electrical work in their own home, they continue to do it. Nearly six out of ten DIY projects are relatively safe and successful, even with homeowners lacking necessary skills some jobs require. Almost a quarter of DIY jobs have gone so wrong that a tradesperson has had to be called in to fix.
Ironically, the motivation to carry out DIY electrical work in your home is to save money, but it ends up costing a staggering £67 million each year to fix those DIY faults. NAPIT reported that one third of registered electricians spend around a quarter of their working time correcting botched DIY jobs.
People have confessed to cutting through power leads, attempting to repair electrical items that were still switched on and even drilling into wiring buried in the walls. It’s important to remember, some types of work you should not carry out, due to the work needing to be safety tested, prior building application approval, and a certificate of electrical conformity.
When it comes to DIY, how much do you really know? Have you got the skills to carry out work that complies with the regulations and is safe? Or are you out of your depth and in need of professional help?
We know that however much the government and companies stress the necessity for a registered electrician, there will still be those who do it themselves. Our message is to you is if you are going to do your own electrical work in your own home, be safe.
Just like gas work, electrical work carries catastrophic risks, such as: death, fire, electric shock and serious injuries. Follow this guide to make sure you know what you are doing, shouldn’t be doing, what regulations to follow and when to call for help.
Follow 17th Edition and Part P Regulations
The Local Authority Building Council reported that up to 70% of the public were unaware that certain types of work required compliance. Lack of awareness of the regulations (Part P and Wiring Regulations) is what is driving the DIY nation in the UK.
If your electrics fail to comply, then you are breaking the law and will invalidate your home insurance. Your insurance provider will not cover you should any damages or faults occur.
Some electrical jobs you should never attempt to do yourself. Part P of the Building Regulations was introduced in 2005 and is a set of laws which breaks down electrics in a domestic property into two categories: minor and notifiable works.
Minor work is altering, extending and or changing any existing circuits in the home, except in a bathroom, which is known as a special location. Notifiable work should only be carried out by a competent electrician and includes house rewires, creating a new circuit, changing a consumer unit. Notifiable work requires prior permission from the Local Authority Building Council in the form of a building application.
The alternative route of having notifiable work carried out in your home is by hiring a registered electrician, who can sign the work off themselves and certify that it meets current Building and Wiring Regulations.
Minor Electrical Work
You are entitled to carry out minor electrical work in your home, as long as you comply with Part P of the Building and Wiring Regulations. But what does that mean for you?
Minor work can include: replacing socket covers, control switches, ceiling roses and replacing cables from a single circuit if damaged; adding additional lighting points to existing circuits; replacing light fitting.
You should not carry out any minor work that is in a special location: locations containing a bath/shower; swimming pools; hot air saunas; electric floor heating systems; garden lighting or power installations; solar PV.
If you are unsure about the electrical work you are carrying out, it’s best to check with your local building council. Remember that any DIY electrical work carried out by an unregistered person must be tested and certified by a competent electrician, to ensure the safety of the wiring in your home. A large percentage of homeowners wouldn’t think about getting their DIY electrics checked, but it’s important you do due to home insurance invalidation.
Safe DIY Electrics
The internet allows anyone to Google advice on DIY tasks. From wood work to plumbing to electrics, the internet has the answer. However, whether it is the correct way is another question. Internet tutorial videos have given one in ten Brits the false sense of security and confidence that they can easily carry out certain jobs by themselves.
The risk of accident is high when carrying out DIY electrical work in your own home, with one in twenty – that’s more than 3 million people – having ended up in A&E due to a DIY failure.
The advice you get from the internet is not always reliable. There is a great chance it could lead you down the wrong path with your electrics, and cause you more problems than you originally had. You may have aimed to save money, but often it will cost you more money to do it yourself and then have a registered electrician repair the work that you have attempted.
With over 12% of homeowners prepared to attempt to extend a circuit and 17% ready to install an external power source, it’s important to know how to work with electrics safely.
The first step before you carry out any electrical work in your home is to safely isolate the power. If you know the circuit you are working on and it is clearly labelled on your consumer unit, then you can safely isolate the circuit by flicking the circuit breaker off. You can then double check by switching the light on in that room, if it doesn’t come on, then it is safe to work on.
However, if you are not sure which circuit breaker the room belongs to or the circuit breakers are not labelled, then proceed to turn off each circuit breaker (and RCDs) in the consumer unit, from left to right before turning off the mains switch last. This is in order to make sure there is no current flowing through the mains switch when turned off last.
You can then check with a voltage detector on the electrical circuit you are working on, with the probes on positive and negative, to check that there is no power going through the circuit. This will take seconds, but it could be the difference between getting a severe shock to saving your life.
If you plan to carry out work yourself, make sure you have the right electricians tools to do the job safely. We suggest using these tools as a minimum for electrical work:
- To test for the presence of power, you should use an approved voltage detector.
- Make sure you use a VDE 1000V screwdriver to protect you from any shocks.
- VDE cable cutters will make sure you are trimming wires neatly and efficiently and protect you from any shocks.
- A cable detector to check the location of wires in the wall.
Top 5 Tips to Remember
We want to give you some tops tips on how to stay safe with DIY electrics and what to avoid. To get started, make sure the power is turned off and safely isolated before you touch any electrics.
It’s important to be sure that you know what you are doing, the risks of carrying out the job and the warning signs.
- Make sure you have read up the current Building Regulations and Wiring Regulations.
- Check for wires in your wall. Commonly, homeowners have drilled into wiring and it has resulted in electric shock. A cable detector can help avoid accidents by tracking where the cables are buried in the wall, before you start work.
- Ensure your power tools are in working order and use battery operated where possible.
- Make sure you are using the correct tools for the job, as well as access equipment. This includes correct and safe fibreglass ladders.
- Make sure you have an RCD fitted in your consumer unit. An RCD is a lifesaving device which turns the power off when faults occur in the electrical circuit. You can also find plug in RCDs to use for added protection, especially with items such as lawn mowers, hedge trimmer, etc. If you don’t have an RCD fitted in your consumer unit, this could mean that your consumer unit is not up to the current standard and therefore you will need to get in a registered electrician to carry out checks.
If It All Goes Wrong
One in five homeowners choose to carry out work because they fear rogue traders. However, when it all goes wrong, they turn to a trader to help them. Sometimes it can cost the homeowner more in trying to rectify a wiring problem, than it would to have called an electrician to begin with.
Electricians are the trade which is most often called out to help correct dangerous and faulty DIY electrics. A third of electricians have said they have seen or been involved in fixing faulty electrics so bad that they had resulted in fires, significant repair costs or serious electric shocks. Electricity can kill. It’s safer for you to not attempt to carry out extensive electrical work yourself, leave that to a registered, competent electrician.
If you hire an electrician to carry out the work for you or if you need a helping hand in a disaster, make sure you are hiring a registered, competent electrician who is up to date with the regulations and will ensure the safety of you and your family.
We fully understand that homeowners will carry out DIY electrical work in their own home, however we would always strongly recommended hiring a registered electrician.
If you want to find out more, then take a look our video tutorial for how to work on your electrics safely!