For many people, electrical power is often like that old adage of children. To be seen and not heard. With electricity the power is used but the method of supply is seldom seen or thought of. The ability to flick an a switch and instantly turn on a light, or provide power to our appliances is taken for granted, yet there is a complex web of cables and technology hidden throughout our homes.
And there is the problem. For rather obvious safety reasons, all of the electrical supply cabling must be safely hidden out of sight, perhaps buried in the cavity of a wall, or in metal tubes.
The minimum standard requirements for most aspects of building works also apply to electrical works, naturally with safety being the primary consideration. Cables must be protected against all kinds of damage, however caused, and the quality standards of materials used are constantly being upgraded. In a modern home it is probably rare to find faults in the electrical system, though recent reports indicate that problems can arise, even with brand new houses. Because standards of quality and workmanship are continually being raised, if the house being purchased is twenty or more years old, it would be wise to have an inspector check out the electrical supply. Quite apart from the quality of the connections, materials and fittings, the age and condition of the cabling may be of some concern. Some idea of the age of the electrical cabling can be gauged from the face plates and switches. The older style are usually squarer, more angular in shape, and less smooth looking. While the age and looks of switches cannot give an accurate indication of the state of the wiring, obviously the older the equipment the greater the possibility of problems. However, if you are inspecting a renovated house and notice that with a 30 year old home the light switch face plates are new and modern, ask if the electrical wiring has also been updated or checked. Hidden out of sight may be the old original wiring. Modern electrical cabling is resistant to average wear and tear for a good many years but quite often older cable covering can be prone to perishing. If an older cable covering perishes a short circuit could develop through the crack in the outer covering, which could lead to a fire.
The mechanical components in the switches can simply wear out, with replacement being the only option. Some indication of the state of the cabling can often be found in the under roof area. In older houses the cabling was usually loosely draped across and in between the joists, and is easily visible. You will need a strong torch. Clamber up through the manhole, just head and shoulders is enough, and shine the torch along the joists. The cabling should easily be seen, but don’t touch it. Try to assess the quality of both the cabling and the workmanship.
If the cables are neatly clipped to the joists, are straight, tucked unobtrusively as far as possible out of the way, there is a good chance the electrician was conscientious and the quality of workmanship reasonably high. In an older house it is quite possible the cabling may have been laid loosely draped across the joists, and in between them, and either clipped here and there, or not at all. When something like this is found, get an electrician to carry out a detailed inspection, as the condition of the cables may be suspect, simply due to age.
Once an inspection has been made, rewiring costs (if necessary) can be established, becoming a bargaining point when considering putting in offers. With the high growth in the use of modern electrical appliances over the past few decades, so the need for the number of electrical power points has also increased. Quite typically a modern living room will need access to a power supply for a sound system, TV, video, heating, computer, telephone answering service, table lamps and so on. In older homes rarely will provision have been made for this number of power outlets, because the need was simply not there at the time. Hence the use today of multiple extension power boards. However, it can be possible to overload the electrical system if too much power is taken from a single point. This is typically why fuses blow. It is thoroughly recommended that a count be made of the power points in each room, and a list drawn up of the items likely to be needed. In this way, it should be readily seen if there are enough power points. Particularly important are the living, will be. The ideal is a power point for each appliance, with adapters or power boards usage kept to a minimum. Because the ideal can seldom be achieved, the options are:
- To convert an existing single power point into a double
- To arrange for an electrician to lay in another ring main, of say six to eight power points
- To use one or more power board extensions