Landlord electrical safety – when did you last check your wires?

According to Electrical Safety First, a UK based charity, electricity is the cause of more than 20,000 fires a year – almost half of all accidental UK house fires. With this in mind, its vitally important that landlords across the country take their landlord electrical safety responsibilities very seriously.

Today’s household is more than likely to have over three times as many electrical appliances as households back in the 90s. Having at least two TVs, multiple kitchen appliances, games consoles and computers is the norm in virtually every home. Whilst technology has made many of our lives easier, the overwhelming number of gadgets and gizmos we own has made the risk of electrical accidents in the home is higher than ever.

The legal requirements of landlord electrical safety

Keeping tenants safe in your property is a legal requirement.  Getting your wires checked will provide you with the evidence that your electrical system is safe, satisfying your insurance requirements and giving you peace of mind. For a residential property, the maximum period between testing and inspection is 1-5 years or on change of occupancy.

Mandatory Electrical Safety Checks for all private landlords are expected in April 2020 – read more here.

Who should carry out electrical work in your property?

It is important that any electrical installation work is only carried out by a competent person. This means electric-trained engineers who have the knowledge, skills and experience needed to avoid dangers to themselves and others that electricity can create. It’s easy to make an electrical circuit work – it’s far harder to make the circuit work safely.

Hire a competent engineer to inspect your electrics and conduct a full Electric Installation Condition Report (EICR) via our Landlord Services Page.

Get to know your electrics

Although it is best to hire a professional for any electrical installation work, this doesn’t mean to say you should forget about your electrics altogether. Familiarising yourself with the basics of landlord electrical safety and knowing how your home is wired will always be handy.

Main switch and fuses

The main switch in the consumer unit (fuse box) allows you to turn off the supply to your electrical installation. Some electrical installations have more than one main switch. For example, if your home is heated by electric storage heaters, you may have a separate consumer unit for them. The consumer unit should be easy to get to, so find out where the main switch is to turn the electricity off in an emergency.

Older homes often have re-wireable fuses which automatically disconnect the circuit to prevent danger. When a fault or overload current flows through the fuse wire, it will become hot and melt when the current goes above a safe level. The melted fuse breaks the faulty circuit and protects it against overloading.

Circuit-breakers and RCDs

Newer homes are likely to have circuit-breakers in the consumer unit which switch off a circuit if there is a fault. Circuit-breakers are similar in size to fuse-holders, but give more precise protection than fuses. When they ‘trip’, you can simply reset the switch. However, you first need to find and correct the fault.

An RCD is a life-saving device which is designed to prevent you from getting a fatal electric shock if you touch something live, such as a bare wire. It provides a level of protection that ordinary fuses or circuit breakers cannot.

How old is your wiring?

Faulty and ageing wiring is one of the major causes of electrical fires in the home. You can avoid these by having regular checks carried out on the condition of your cables, switches, sockets and other accessories. There are clear signs that can help you tell the age of electrical installations in your home. These are:

  • Cables coated in black rubber (phased out in the 1960s)
  • Cables coated in lead or fabric (before the 1960s)
  • A fuse box with a wooden back, cast iron switches, or a haphazard mixture of fuse boxes (before the 1960s)
  • Older round pin sockets and round light switches, braided flex hanging from ceiling roses, brown and black switches and sockets mounted in skirting boards (before the 1960s)
  • Wall-mounted light switches in bathrooms (before the 1960s)

Get tenants involved with electrical safety

Whilst it is a landlord’s responsibility to keep the electrics in good condition and organise inspections – tenants also have some involvement. Kindly ask your tenants to be conscious of overloading sockets and to report any electrical issues they come across. Encourage them to be wary of warning signs such as burning smells, sounds of arcing (buzzing or crackling), fuses blowing or circuit-breakers tripping.

Electrical accidents are most likely to happen when equipment is damaged or misused. Failure to correct the problem could have devastating effects. This may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised at how many of us fail to follow basic safety guidelines.

Also ask your tenants to never drill or fix nails in walls without knowing what’s behind them. Walls and partitions conceal electrical cables and gas and water pipes that will cost a lot to repair if damaged.

Landlord electrical safety: plugs, sockets and cables

Damaged plugs, sockets and flexible cables can cause electric shocks, burns and fires. For the protection of your property, you and your tenants should check the plugs and sockets for burn marks, sounds of ‘arcing’ (buzzing or crackling), fuses blowing, circuit-breakers tripping and hot temperatures.

Plugs must be carefully removed from sockets. Pulling out a plug by the cable puts a strain on it, and could damage the contact between the plug and the socket. This could result in the plug overheating, its wires becoming loose or an electric shock (if the earth wire is disconnected).

Any plug-in appliances you provide or that your tenant brings with them should have a British Standard safety mark. They have live and neutral pins with insulating sleeves that allow you to put them in and pull them out of sockets safely.

Most lamps, televisions, computers and other household items will use 700W or less. Larger appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and toasters, irons and heaters will use more than 700W. For your convenience these are just standard two plug fuse ratings: 3A and 13A. Appliances up to 700W require a 3A fuse and those over 700W need a 13A.

Checking a plug

All modern appliances in the UK use the familiar square-pin 13-amp plug. These plugs are used for handheld appliances such as hairdryers and vacuum cleaners, and appliances like microwave ovens. The plug and cable can suffer damage, particularly if they connect to handheld appliances. Checking a plug and its cable does not need a lot of detailed electrical knowledge. All you need to do is:

  • Remove the plug from the socket and check the plug is not damaged.
  • Look for signs of overheating, such as discoloured casing or cable.
  • Check that the plug is marked British Standard BS 1363
  • Check that the cable sheath is firmly clamped in the plug and that no coloured wires are showing.

Checking a cable

There should preferably be no joints in your electric cable, and certainly no repairs with insulating tape. If for any reason, you need to check that a cable is correctly wired and fused, you should remove the plug from the socket, remove the cover, and check that:

  • The brown wire goes to live (L)
  • The blue wire goes to neutral (N)
  • The green-and-yellow wire goes to earth (E)
  • The cord clamp holds the cables heath securely and that both of the screws are tight
  • The screws holding the three wires are tight
  • The fuse is the correct size and meets British Standard BS 1362 – see the manufacturer’s instructions if you are not sure what fuse to use
  • The fuse clips securely into its holder. It should not be loose and there should be no signs of overheating
  • The cover is securely replaced

Landlord electrical safety can be dangerous

If not managed correctly, electrics can be extremely dangerous and present serious hazards. To minimise any threats, trailing cables must be hidden and you must always replace damaged cables immediately. Touching exposed live wires may give you an electric shock or you could even be killed.

Similarly, – although it may sound obvious – be sure to unplug any appliances before carrying out any maintenance. Another serious issue is using an electric heater to dry clothes. Water dripping onto live parts of the heater is bound to cause a fire or electrocution. In addition to this, blocking the heater’s ventilation with your clothes will cause it to overheat and set alight. If you’ve ran out of underwear for work tomorrow and you want to quickly dry some clean pants on your heater: please don’t.

Landlord electrical safety: adaptors and extension leads

You can expect to find around four sockets in an average room in a house. Although this is enough for most purposes, an increase in the use of computers, games consoles and other appliances has led to an increase in the number of sockets being needed. Extension leads and adaptors often provide a quick and easy solution but they must be used carefully. If misused or overloaded, extension cables and adaptors can overheat and cause a fire.

Electrics and water

From an electrical safety point of view, the bathroom is possibly the most dangerous room in the home. The consequences of an electric shock are far more severe in a bathroom or shower room as wet skin reduces the body’s resistance. There are special requirements for electrical installations in bathrooms.

Although electricity makes gardening much easier, wet conditions and contact with the ground can present serious hazards. The risk of injury or death from electric shock outside is much greater than the risk from using electrical equipment indoors.

Professional help is at hand work with a reputable supplier that can look after your wiring and testing. We have a network of electrical engineers across the country that will be able to ensure your property is properly tested and safe for your tenants. No matter where you are in the UK, we can help.

Visit our services page here.

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