Electrical systems are complex and only an experienced electrician with the appropriate equipment can truly determine whether or not they’re safe.
However, there are some simple checks that anyone can do, and indeed should do, at least once a year, to check the condition of your household electrics.
You don’t need any knowledge or experience in electrics. You don’t need any tools and you don’t need to do anything risky.
Just a few simple checks can either give you some peace of mind, or give you an early warning of something that needs a closer look by an experienced electrician.
1. Check when your next inspection is due.
All mechanical systems require routine maintenance in order to ensure that they continue to work effectively & safely.
Just like the need for an MOT on a car, your electrical system needs to be inspected and tested by an electrical engineer at periodic intervals.
This is called an “Electrical Installation Condition Report” or “EICR”.
Look for a sticker on your main fuse box that says “Date of next inspection”. It will look like this…
Some homes will have more than one fuse box.
There should be a label on each fuse box, and each label only applies to the box that it is on.
If the date for the next inspection has expired, or there is no label at all, then it’s time to find a local electrician to do an EICR.
2. Check your main earth cable.
The main earth cable is probably the most important cable in your entire system.
It is coloured green & yellow (or sometimes just green) and is roughly a little thicker than a pencil.
It will go from your main fuse box to the incoming supply by your electricity meter, like this…
Alternatively, it may be going to a rod that is driven into the ground just outside your house, and should be protected by a box with a label like this…
Check that the main earth cable is not damaged in any way and that it looks like it is securely connected at both ends.
If you have any concerns about the condition of your main earth cable, you should contact a local electrician and ask to have it checked out.
3. Check that you have “Bonding”.
“Bonding” is a very important safety feature that connects the gas, water or oil pipes to your electrical earthing system to prevent you from getting an electric shock off any pipework in your house.
The bonding cable(s) look just like the main earth cable and should be connected close to where your main gas, water or oil pipes enter your house.
Check that these “bonding” cables are not damaged in any way and that they look to be securely connected to the pipes.
If you have any concerns about the condition of your bonding cables, you should contact a local electrician and ask to have your bonding assessed.
4. Check you have “RCD” protection.
An “RCD” is a device that will automatically trip your electric off in the event of a fault.
Unlike fuses, they can detect faulty appliances, electrical fire, leaking current and most importantly, they will detect any electricity passing through a person to the ground and cut the power instantly (within 40 milliseconds).
Every home should have at least one RCD protecting the electrical system.
Look in your main fuse box for a device that has a small button on it marked “T” or “TEST”.
Push the small test button on each device. The switch will trip down.
Now see which parts of your house no longer have a power supply.
You can take peace of mind in the fact that all those circuits have RCD protection.
Ideally, every circuit in your house will be protected by an RCD, but at the very minimum you should have RCD protection to underfloor heating, electric showers and electric sockets.
You can turn the power back on by pushing the switch(es) that tripped, back into the ‘up’ position.
If you have difficulty resetting the RCD, you can follow this simple Step-by-step guide to reset a fuse box.
If you have any concerns about RCD protection to your electrical system, you should seek advice from a local electrician.
5. Check that your circuits are labelled.
Each switch in your main fuse box should be labelled so that it is clear what each one does.
For obvious safety reasons, it is important to know which switch will turn the power off to various parts of your house.
Also, an unlabelled fuse box is a sign of shoddy work on the part of the person who installed it and may indicate that other things might not have been done very well.
You can safely label your fuse box yourself by turning one switch off at a time and then seeing what parts of the electrical system no longer have a power supply.
You could also contact a local electrician to do it for you if you prefer.
6. Check that you have a Surge Protection Device (SPD)
Surge Protection Devices are little bit like pressure valves.
When your electricity supply ‘surges’ above the standard 230v, this device gets rid of the excess voltage so that it doesn’t run through your electrical system.
Your electricity supply can occasionally ‘surge’ above 230v.
In recent years, you would barely have notice this, as most traditional electrical appliances wouldn’t really be affected.
At most, you might have noticed your lights flicker for a second or two.
However, sensitive electronics can be seriously damaged by these surges and we certainly have more of these devices in our homes today than ever before.
Computers, laptops, smart TVs, washing machines, heating controllers, microwaves, wifi routers, LED lights, smart phones etc.
In fact, any electrical device that contains a circuit board can potentially be badly damaged by an electrical surge.
There should be a device in your fuse box, close to the Main Switch that looks a little bit like a fuse but doesn’t have a switch.
It will have a coloured indicator. Either Green or Red.
Green means that it is in good working order. Red means that it is no longer working and needs to be replaced.
If your Surge Protection Device is indicating ‘Red’ or you don’t have one at all, you should consider getting a new one installed.
This is a small price to pay compared to the cost of replacing the various devices throughout your home that can easily be damaged by an electrical surge.
If you don’t have a surge protection device in or near your main fuse box, you might want to consider getting one installed by a local electrician, especially if you have a number of sensitive electrical appliances.
7. Check that your fuse box is fire resistant
A new regulation came into effect in July 2015, stressing the importance of enhanced fire risk protection.
Since that date, all new fuse boxes in a domestic home are required to be metal-clad rather than plastic, in order to prevent the spread of fire that could result from electrical faults inside the fuse box.
Check to see whether your fuse box is made of plastic or metal.
If you have a plastic fuse box and it is located either under a wooden staircase or in your main exit route out of your house, you may want to consider asking a registered & competent electrician to upgrade it.
A recent study, overseen by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that the average cost of a new fuse box (consumer unit) is £1,075
This can seem like a large spend, but when you consider that a new fuse box should last for a good 15 – 20yrs, it averages out at less than £5 per month.
Provided that it is done by a reputable & registered electrician, it will contain all the new devices, providing the highest level of protection against the spread of fire, electric shock or surge damage to your appliances.
8. Check that all visible cables have a complete outer-sheath.
Look at all your switches, sockets, lights and other electrical fittings throughout your house.
If any cables around the fittings are visible, you should only be able to see their outer protective sheath (usually white, black or grey).
You should not able to see any of the coloured inner cables (red, blue, black, brown, yellow, green etc).
If you can see any coloured inner cables, these can easily be damaged and may not prevent adequate protection against electric shock.
Some electrical fittings have a clamping device inside the fitting that grips the outer sheath, preventing cables from accidentally being pulled out of their connections.
If the outer sheath of the cable doesn’t go all the way into the fitting, it’s possible that the connections inside could be insecure.
If you are concerned about the condition of the cable connections to any of your electrical fittings, you should contact a local electrician to have a closer look.
9. Check for loose fittings throughout your house.
Are there any switches, sockets, lights or other electrical fittings that are not securely fixed to the wall or ceiling?
Most electrical fittings are installed using a ‘solid strand cable’, commonly known as ‘Flat Twin & Earth’.
Unlike ‘Flex’ cable, which is used on appliances, ‘solid strand cable’ is not designed to move after installation.
Therefore, any movement in the electrical fitting, no matter how small, can cause the connections to become loose over time and could result in overheating.
Excessive movement can also cause the cable to weaken or break.
If you have any insecure electrical fittings, you should contact a local electrician to have them fixed.
10. Check for cracked, broken or open fittings throughout your house.
Cracked or broken electrical fittings are likely to also have internal damage which could cause the fitting to overheat or stop working.
Most importantly, a broken electrical fitting might not provide adequate protection from live electrical parts inside and someone could easily get an electric shock.
If you have any cracked or broken fittings, you should contact a local electrician to get them repaired.
11. Check for scorch marks or heat damage to fittings throughout your house.
Any light brown scorch marks on the surface of a fitting suggests that the connections inside are overheating.
Darker heat marks or even slight melting indicate a far more serious problem.
If there are any signs of scorching or overheating to any of your electrical fittings, you should contact a local electrician to investigate the issue further.
We use more electrical appliances today than we ever have in the past and it’s easy to forget that our electrical system naturally deteriorates with time and requires routine maintenance.
If you live in a new build property, or have recently had your home re-wired, there’s a good chance that your system is up to date and there’s probably not much that needs attention.
However, if your electrical system is older and it’s not been inspected for a while, it’s likely that some kind of maintenance or upgrading is required.
You can read more about electrical safety in the home here https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/what-we-do/consumer-campaigns/
If you live in the Swansea area, check out my fixed price services here https://www.fuseboxwales.net/
When is your next inspection due?
__________ / __________ / __________
Is your main earth cable in good condition?
YES / NO
Do you have bonding cables to your gas meter, water stop tap or incoming oil pipe?
YES / NO
Do you have RCD protection?
YES / NO
Is your fuse box clearly labelled?
YES / NO
Do you have a Surge Protection Device?
YES / NO
Is your fuse box fire resistant?
YES / NO
Can you see any exposed inner (coloured) cables?
YES / NO
Do you have any loose fittings?
YES / NO
Do you have any cracked, broken or open fittings?
YES / NO
Is there any scorching or heat damage to your fittings?
YES / NO