Check your electrical system
As the custodian, it is your responsibility to regularly check your electrical system and to ensure that any issues identified are addressed. To make it easier for you, we provide a checklist that you can use when you check the system where you live.
The frequency of your regular inspection depends on various factors, including how old your electrical system is and how you use it. We recommend going over the system at least once a year. The older your electrical system is, the more often you need to check it. If you suspect that the electrical system is no longer safe to use, it must be taken out of service immediately so that a more detailed inspection can be carried out. Better safe than sorry!
Checklist for checking an electrical system
Work through the points in the checklist and mark the points that are OK and the points that need to be addressed. Use all your senses as you walk around. Listen for unusual sounds, pay attention to burning smells, and look for things like discoloration and cracks. It is a good idea to print the page so you can make a note of what needs to be done.
The distribution box, also known as the fuse box, is the electric heart of your home. All the wiring starts here, and it contains the fuses that trip if the wiring is overloaded or if there is a short circuit in products connected to the electrical system. Be careful as you check your distribution board. If you are unsure, ask a registered electrical installation company to help.
- Are any of the fuses hot, in other words too hot to touch? If so, you should reduce the number of electrical products connected to that fuse. If it is still hot an hour after doing so, you should call an electrical installation company.
- Are the fuses (old-style ceramic fuse holders or MCBs) marked so that you can see which part of the home each fuse covers? Make a list of which fuses cover which areas.
- Are the ceramic fuse holders properly screwed in and fitted with a glass cover? If the glass cover is missing, there is a risk that someone could touch dangerous voltage. It also means that if a short circuit overheats the fuse, the small 'eye' could be ejected and start a fire. Check all the fuses and make sure none of them is loose. If they are not properly screwed in, they can overheat and in turn cause a fire.
- Are the fuses tripping frequently? This is a sign of overload or a fault in the installation or in a connected product. If you have many heat-producing products like hobs, washing machines or irons all connected at the same time, this could be the reason for the overload. Try spreading such products around outlets covered by different fuses, or do not use them at the same time. If there is still a problem, check if a connected product or cable is damaged. If you cannot find anything wrong, you should contact an electrical installation company.
Residual current device
A residual current device is a cheap life insurance that also protects against electric fires. It instantly cuts the power if an earth fault occurs either in the electrical system or in connected products. It works in earthed and unearthed systems, and also provides excellent protection if electrical products are used incorrectly. If you do not already have a residual current device, you should ask a registered electrical installation company to install one. It is not a very expensive process. Also remember that the residual current devices must be tested at least twice a year.
- Does the residual current device switch off when you press the test button? If it does not switch off, ask an electrical installation company to look at it. If the faulty residual current device is portable, simply discard it. Just remember to buy a new one.
Permanent, visible wiring
Permanent, visible wiring means electricity cables running along skirting boards, ceilings, interior and exterior walls, etc. The insulation on wiring ages over time and can crack. Permanent, visible wiring may also be subject to external wear and tear.
- Are there signs of damage or discoloration on the insulation of the wiring? In this case, the wiring may be dangerous or old, meaning it needs to be replaced. Consult an electrical installation company.
- Are the wires positioned where they are exposed to wear and tear or other external factors? If so, they should be checked frequently, or ideally given better protection or relocated. Consult an electrical installation company.
Cables and electrical products
If lots of electrical products are used in old systems with a limited number of outlets, the resulting messy cables create an untidy impression and are notoriously difficult to keep clean. And you need to be careful because tangled cables can pose a safety risk.
- Are all the cables intact, with the external insulation running all the way into the product, plug or extension socket? Replace broken cables or cables with incomplete insulation.
- Are any cables being crushed? Make sure there are no cables running under things like a TV bench, chair leg or doorway. Crushed cables are a safety hazard.
- Are any of the cables touching a hot surface? Very hot surfaces can damage the cable insulation. Make sure there are no loose cables touching things like electric heaters, hot light bulbs, hobs, ovens or hot water pipes.
- Are any cables rolled up in a tight coil? The heat given off by a single electricity cable is normally not a problem. Heat can, however, build up in bundles of current-carrying cables. That is why you should avoid tangled cables, and if you are using an extension reel, make sure the cable is fully unwound.
- Are there products with broken housings? Replace them or take them to a service centre for repair.
All outlets must be earthed for safety reasons. In homes built before 1994, however, dry residential rooms with an insulating floor were exempt from this requirement. This means that if your home was built before 1994, unearthed outlets are allowed in rooms such as the living room, the hallway, the bedrooms, and the dining area in the kitchen. Note that a room cannot have a mixture of earthed and unearthed outlets. And if there are not enough outlets, this will encourage the use of extension leads and power strips, potentially causing problems of their own.
- Are all outlets earthed, except for homes built before 1994 as explained above? If not, consult an electrical installation company to find out what you can do about it.
- Do any of the rooms have a mixture of earthed and unearthed outlets? If so, you should hire an electrical installation company to put this right.
- Are the outlets in the bathroom protected by a residual current device? 230 volt wall outlets in the bathrooms and shower rooms must be protected by a fixed 30 mA residual current device. You can tell it is a residual current device because it has a test button and an on/off toggle switch. Do you have 230 volt outlets in wet rooms, but no residual current device? Contact an electrical installation company immediately! 110 volt outlets do not need to be protected by a residual current device.
- Do you have fewer than three outlets per room? If you only have one or two outlets in normal-sized rooms at home, your property does not meet modern standards. If you have lots of lights and other electrical equipment, it may be a good idea to ask an electrical installation company to install extra outlets.
- Are plugs loose when they are plugged in? This might be because the plugs or wall outlets are broken. If you know what you are doing, you can replace the broken parts. Call an electrical installation company if you are at all unsure about what you are doing.
- Are there cracks or discoloration on the wall outlet covers? If you know what you are doing, replace the broken outlet with a new one of the same type. However, you must not change an outlet from unearthed to earthed, or from earthed to unearthed. Remember to switch off the power first! Call an electrical installation company if you are at all unsure about what you are doing.
Halogen bulbs and mirrored bulbs get very hot while they are switched on. Some LED lights can also get quite hot. The heat could start a fire if the lights are close to or are touching combustible material.
- Are there any hot lights near flammable fabrics?
- Make sure that curtains are not hanging close to or touching lights, and that bedside lamps are not so low or unstable that they can come into contact with bedding or fall into it.
- Are any lights flickering or otherwise not working normally? This may be caused by a loose contact in the light fitting, which can result in overheating and fire. Get the fault fixed.
- Are you using bulbs with a wattage higher than the maximum for the light fitting? This could cause overheating and fire. Change to a bulb recommended in the light fitting manufacturer's instructions. This is particularly important for mirrored bulbs and halogen bulbs.
Many houses and second homes are heated directly with electric heaters. If the air circulation around the convector heater is obstructed, the temperature inside the heater may rise and pose a fire hazard.
- Are your convector heaters positioned where they are well ventilated? Make sure that the air circulation around all the heaters is good. Do not place furniture directly against a heater. Also, never hang fabrics directly over the heater. Vacuum the back of the heaters from time to time, as the collecting dust may pose a fire hazard.
Fridge and freezer
- Pull out the fridge and the freezer at least once a year and vacuum the floor and also the coils and the compressor at the back – the dust may pose a fire hazard. This simple step also reduces energy consumption, which is good for your wallet and the environment.