Undertaking your own minor electrical work – First things first

Before you undertake any electrical work, however minor, familiarise yourself with the basic facts on how a domestic system works and make sire you understand how to proceed safely. You also need to be aware of the current regulation that cover electrical wiring in the home. If you fancy yourself as a DIY electrician please read on and understand everything that you need to know ahead of undertaking the works.

undertaking your own electrical works

Understanding the basics:
Electrical circuits are based on simple principles. For any electrical appliance to work, the power must be able to flow along a wire from its source to the appliance (say, a light bulb) and then back to the source along another wire. If the circuit is broken at any point, the appliance will stop working – the bulb will go out. Breaking the circuit – and restoring what is required – is what a switch is for. When the switch is in the ‘on’ position, the circuit is complete and the bulb operates. Turning the switch off makes a gap in the circuit, so the electricity stops flowing.

Mains electricity in your home flows through live or ‘phase’ wires linked to every light, socket outlet and fixed electrical appliance in your home. The current flows back out of the building through the neutral wires.

Any material through which electricity can flow is known as a conductor. Most metals conduct electricity well, which is why copper is used for electrical wiring. The earth itself – the ground on which we stand – is also an extremely good conductor, which is why electricity always flows into the earth when it can, taking the shortest available route. This means that if you were to touch a live conductor, the current would divert and take the short route to earth – through your body.

A similar thing can happen if a live wire accidentally comes into contact with any exposed metal component of an appliance, including its casing. To prevent this, a third wire is included in the system and connected to the earth, usually via the outer casing of the electricity companies main service cable. This third wire – called the earth wire – is attached to the metal casing of some appliances and to earth terminals in others, providing a direct route to the ground should a fault occur. This sudden change of route by the electricity – known as an earth fault – causes a fuse to blow or circuit breaker to operate, cutting off the current.Basic circuit

Building regs and electrical wiring:
Regulations – known as Part P of the Building Regulations – have been introduced to promote better standards. Similar legislation for Scotland is covered by the Building Standards (Scotland) Regulations. These regulations do not prevent the DIY worker from undertaking electrical wiring, but they put strict limits on what can be done without supervision and inspection.

All local authorities have Building Control Officers (BCO’s) who are responsible for monitoring the regulations. You should therefore contact your local BCO to ascertain how exactly your particular authority applies the regulations.

Certain tasks can be undertaken without having to notify the authority, and most BCO’s do not require any communication or paperwork for ‘non-notifiable’ electrical work. However, where similar work is carried out in locations such as kitchens and bathrooms or the wiring will be complicated or extensive, then the work becomes ‘notifiable’ and must be discussed with the BCO before it is carried out.

Non-notifiable work:
A DIY worker can do the following, anywhere in the home without having to inform the BCO in advance:

  • Replace sockets, fused connection units, switches and ceiling roses.
  • Replace damaged cable for a single circuit.
  • Refix or replace enclosures (mounting boxes for sockets and switches) on existing circuits.
  • Provide mechanical protection in the form of a conduit and plastic channel.

Also without having to inform the BCO in advance, a DIY worker can do the following anywhere in the home except in kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms and in special locations – such as with a bathtub or shower, swimming pools and paddling pools, hot-air saunas and outdoors – or when installing extra low voltage lighting:

  • Add new light fittings and switches to existing circuits.
  • Add new socket outlets to existing ring circuits and radial circuits.
  • Add fused spurs to existing ring circuits and radial circuits.

Notifiable work:
The BCO must be notified before a DIY worker undertakes any electrical work not listed above or if the work is categorised as one of the exceptions described as above, Although DIY electricians are permitted to carry out notifiable work, the cost and complexity of obtaining approval, testing, and certification from the BCO may make it more economical to have such work done by a professional electrician.

If you are planning on undertaking some notifiable work perhaps it would be better to speak to us first? Call First Call Electrician on 01245 330428.

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