Are My Electrics Safe?
Our highly qualified independent surveyors will offer you advice on your property problems and can carry out a building survey on your property or prospective purchase; whether it is residential or for business. We can prepare a schedule of condition and property report in relation to your lease. We carry out dilaps reports for landlords or tenants. We can also offer independent valuations.
A good surveyor carrying out a structural survey isn't an electrician but they will have a good general knowledge of electrics and be able to advise you. The aim of having a structural survey is to have one knowledgeable surveying professional that can advise you on all the different elements within the property.
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How safe are my electrics?
This is question that we are asked when carrying out structural surveys and whilst we do comment upon them in our survey reports we are not electricians and whilst we have knowledge and experience in this area and we regularly look at electric fuse boards, electric wiring, electric switches, electric sockets and electrics in the roof we give general advice. Our reports are not as detailed as an electrician's but we do carry out earth tests and we feel we do spot things that the average person would not, as we should be able to being surveyors.
There's a lot more to electricity than you think
We recently had a meeting with an electrical contractor that we use for maintenance and safety of a group of houses that we manage. We have been using this company for many years and we have come to rely on their electrical expertise over the years and the standards they set for themselves and they stick to.
We recently had approximately 15 properties electrically tested by these electrical experts to see if they meet Institute of Electrical Engineers standards from one level are the houses electrically safe to the top level being as safe as they can be.
Different properties have different problems
There was a good range of properties within the 15 properties we asked them to carry out electrical tests on, from a bungalow, to terraced houses, semi-detached houses and detached houses of a variety of ages, including a Georgian property, some Victorian properties, right up to modern 1960's, 1970's and 1980's properties, so it was a good chance to have a general chat about what electricians are seeing go wrong with the electrical installations and discover what they mean when they say that electrics in a property are safe, or for that matter when they say electrics are unsafe.
The electrical standards are a moving target
We have to start by saying that in our time as surveyors electrical standards have changed beyond recognition, from the changing of the colouring of wires from red, brown and black which now seems so long ago that we are questioning ourselves when writing this article, and we still see this wiring about rather than the wiring that we have today. There is also all the older wiring that has a mixture of different rubber coverings that perish over the years which we often see in roof spaces.
There have also been major changes in the electrical regulations in relation to standardisation throughout Europe , although we still use different voltages which is a fundamental difference.
How is electricity regulated in the UK ?
The Institute of Electrical Engineers , commonly known as the IEE, set the standards of various reports that are filled in. These have been known by various names, including:
Periodic inspection report or PIR's
Electrical institutional conditional report – from 1st January 2012
From a layman's point of view we can see there are now three reporting categories where there once was four reporting categories.
Also the Electric Safety Council aids in this task.
The IEE sets the standards but who ensures the standards are carried out?
One way it could be said that the IEE ensures that the work is carried out to standard by the inspections of the electrical contractors that carry out such work, however equally it could be said that the various electrical trade bodies set or uphold the standards. Probably the best known one of these is the NICEIC electrical body. In fact it was so well known it was often thought of as the only electrical trade body, however there are others.
What concerns an electrician about electrics
As building surveyors we are always interested in what concerns the electrician about electrics and every few years we ask the question to ensure we are keeping up to date with the latest information. It was interesting that when we spoke to the electricians this time that their concerns were similar to what they had been in years gone by. These were:
DIY electrical repairs
Unqualified trade people repairs
New installations to kitchens and bathrooms
DIY electrical installation, stand well back
We don't know whether it's the pursuit of saving money that brings someone to carry out electrical work or a keen DIYer who feels they can do anything, but when we ask a good tradesman about carrying out work they always use an electrician for electrics, yet some DIYer's sometimes feel able to carry out electrical work. Electricians still say they still see it even though Part P of the Building Regulations was brought in to limit DIY work.
What is Part P of the Building Regulations and how does it affect electrical work?
In 2005 Part P of the Building Regulations required any major electrical installations to have a Building Regulations Certificate. We have written another article explaining our understanding of exactly what it covers but there is nothing as good as asking an electrical contractor.
Other articles on electrics and surveys in general that may be of interest to you:
Tradesmen carrying out DIY standard repairs when fitting kitchens and bathrooms
The electricians spoke of how some tradesmen after very basic training feel they are competent to carry out electrical work. Interestingly most good surveyors should be aware of this and that is why within our building surveys we carry out earth tests on the electrics. There probably is as much as one in fifty surveys that we find problems when carrying out our earth test where the whole system is tripped and other faults are diagnosed. This can be as simple as wiring up the socket point wrong, but when you are in a kitchen with water this is not ideal.
The electricians also told of how they had recently come across a kitchen that had been fitted and the electric unit had been completely boxed in. When the builder had been asked about access he had cut around a metre so that, as the electricians described it, they had to almost carry out keyhole surgery to inspect the unit and it was certainly not what they would consider as ideal working conditions.
Bad electrics start fires
As we recently discovered with one of our properties if the electrics are not up to standard fires can start. In this particular case the fire was on the outside panel which is the responsibility of the national network company. Nevertheless a fire is a fire, particularly when it starts outside your front door and main means of escape.
Have an IEE test and report
The electricians went on to explain that if you have an Institute of Electrical Engineers test and report then if there is anything unsafe on the property they are not allowed to walk away without sorting it out. They cited an example on one of the properties that we manage where there were electrics to a shed or two in the garden (the sheds of course being built in wood) which were very DIY standard electrics and they had to cut the electricity off there and then.
Unfortunately electrics work so well we forget about them
The electricians also commented that over the years electrics have improved and standards have improved and we get to the stage where it's very rare to have an electrical problem and people when they move from one house to another forget that the last occupant may have been a made DIY electrician and may have inadvertently extended an older property and overloaded the system and it is probably human error that causes a problem. This can be in a best case scenario of the fuseboard switches cutting out or a worst case scenario of a fire.
The Institute of Electrical Engineers recommends testing the electrics whenever a property changes hands
Whilst we don't know of any requirements with regard to how frequently electric tests should be carried out, we are well aware, and we say so in our survey reports, that you should have an Institute of Electrical Engineers test and report by an NICEIC electrician or equivalent when the property changes hands. However, we are never sure how many people actually take this advice. We will also highlight this within the executive summary section of our building surveys, but again we are not certain how many people carry out this advice.
It is interesting that we are aware that our building insurance requires us to have a test and report every five years but at the end of the day it's the client's choice as they live in the property.
But I've had my house re-wired so there can't be anything wrong with the electrics
Finally, we will finish with this comment. The number of times that we have been to survey a house as a surveyor carrying out a building survey and been advised by the owners that the house has been re-wired, or the shop has been re-wired, or the pub has been re-wired. This simple phrase ‘has been re-wired' means so many different things to so many different people.
First of all we believe that it is used by many people in innocence as they truly do believe that the property has been re-wired. Normally what they mean is the extension or the alterations that they have had carried out in that area has been re-wired. Very rarely has an electrician been given the opportunity to strip back all the electrics and re-wire the house. Our concern is always where a property has been partly re-wired whether the original wiring is as good as it should be, particularly with the extra loading. Again we come back to it is well worth having an Institute of Electrical Engineers test and report by an NICEIC approved electrician or equivalent.
Meet our independent surveyor at the property
When having a survey with us we always recommend you meet your surveyor at the property so we can get a full understanding of your needs. We can also advise you on any specific areas of concern that arise.
All our surveyors are independent meaning they are not attached to any estate agent, bank or building society so really do only have your best interests at heart.
Our sketches and photos, circles and ovals
Throughout our survey reports we use lots of sketches and photos as the feedback we have had from our clients over the years is that the sketches and photos give them a much clearer understanding of the property issues and problems. It also gives them better understanding to negotiate with regards to price on this matter or make allowances and budget for future work.
We also include circles and ovals in our reports (like the photo below right) to highlight specific areas. Again this is just another tool we use to make our reports as clear to you as possible.
An example sketch
An example of one of our photos
Commercial Property Surveyors
If you have a commercial property, whether it is freehold or leasehold then sooner or later you may get involved with dilapidation claims. You may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at www.DilapsHelp.com and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site www.DisputesHelp.com .
We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).
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