When it comes to electrical work, bad habits and misguided improvements can end up costing you a small fortune. Here we speak to a fully qualified electrician and Registered Electrical Contractor (REC), Denise Boyle, to get expert advice on keeping your home safe and avoiding being the victim of a dreaded cowboy contractor.  

Although a more hands-on approach to home improvement is on the rise, with people taking their lead from TV shows and Pinterest to become DIY experts, there are still some areas that should be left to the professionals.

Electrical work is definitely one of these. In unskilled hands, it can go from a low-level blown fuse to – in the worst case scenario - an injury or death.

Only Registered Electrical Contractors (RECs) can carry out most electrical works in domestic premises. Prosecutions can be obtained against individuals who undertake Restricted Electrical Works (excluding Minor Electrical Works) in domestic premises while not registered, or falsely portray themselves as registered when they were not.

Denise Boyle is a fully qualified electrician and also the accounts manager at EBO Home Rescue who are registered with Safe Electric. She’s seen her fair share of home disasters and electrical misadventures. Here she shares her insider advice on how to avoid needless accidents in the home.

Unsafe routines

Much of the time, says Denise, it’s the small oversights that end up risking safety in the home.

Denise explains: "I came across this job. There was a tumble dryer in the house and the tumble dryer kept tripping the fuse. And [the family] just kept resetting it and resetting it so that the tumble dryer would finish, until the tumble dryer went up in flames. The fire brigade was out and all and I had to go and disconnect everything."

Luckily, the tumble dryer only caught fire at the plug, so Denise’s job was simply to put in a new cable. However, the fire could have easily caused a serious injury – not to mention hundred, if not thousands, in repairs.

Denise says the house may not be standing today "only that the main fuse in the fuse board did its job and blew". "That was because there was a good electrician in prior to me who did a good job," Denise adds.

Bad habits

When you’re busy, it’s easy to forget how many of your appliances are running. Most of us start our days trying to get out the door as quickly as possible, with a well-choreographed routine: quick shower, dishwasher on, TV playing the news, coffee machine puttering away. But Denise warns this can end up costing hundreds of euro if you’re not careful.

"The biggest thing I find is if someone has a washing machine and a tumble dryer on, if they were to go have a shower, there’s a high possibility of [the fuses] tripping," she says, noting that this only happens with electric showers.

Modern showers are one of the most demanding appliances used in the home, and they’re a particular bugbear for Denise: "What’s happening is they’re bringing out higher kilowatt showers because people want more pressure out of their shower." 

With more and more modern electric showers are installed to keep up with demand, there’s a greater need for proper regulation and skilled RECs. Often, a new shower will be fitted into an older installation without bringing an REC in to oversee the upgrade and ensure the wiring is done correctly. When this is not done, it can cause significant complications in the home’s electrical wiring, leading to a range of safety issues and costing up to hundreds of euro to repair.

This lack of awareness is what can turn a bad habit into a domestic disaster. How many of us notice light bulbs dimming when a shower is on? These are little reminders to be mindful of the electricity being used in your home and not overtaxing the energy supplies, which can lead to further faults.

Denise warns that attempting certain home electrical improvements can lead to costly repairs

Don’t be like Dermot

Tempting as it may be to channel your inner Dermot Bannon, Denise warns against fitting appliances yourself, particularly when upgrading something like a shower. This kind of work could even be a possible offense, as a bathroom is a special location and requires an REC to inspect the installation and ensure it can handle the increase in electricity needed.

The main culprits behind most home electrical issues, according to her? Ill-fitting and incorrectly installed cables. Pair this with an unawareness of proper electrical standards and you’ve got a situation of Mr. Magoo proportions.

"One of the worst ones I saw, there were fancy chrome sockets put in in one house. They took off the plastic ones and they put on all these lovely, beautiful chrome fittings but they kept getting a shock," Denise says. They connected them in neutral and in neutral you can get a triple voltage, and they kept getting shocks off it.

"There are minor adjustments that aspirational Dermots can do, though, such as ensuring light fixtures are properly fit into the ceiling and not leaving cables exposed, or changing plug sockets and light switches if they become discoloured. "It’s one of those things that people put on the long finger and think nothing of it," she says.

Safety guaranteed

The surest way to guarantee safe electrical work, she says, is to use a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC) from Safe Electric. Registered Electrical Contractors (RECs) must adhere to the Safe Electric Rules of Registration with regard to matters such as training, competence, inspection and audit, test equipment, insurance and completion certificates. It is through this registration system that Safe Electric, can monitor and validate that the electrical works completed meet the required safety standards.

"We’re up to date with our regulations and the new changes that come in due to new appliances," Denise says. "Safe Electric examine us once a year so that everyone is up to the same standard across the board, and so that there’s no cowboys!"

Finding an REC couldn’t be easier, as contact details of all RECs are available on their comprehensive online database, where you can search for a contractor by county. The database is constantly being updated, too, as Denise notes: "As soon as any new person joins they update it straight away, it’s like a membership."

Because of this scheme, it’s easier than ever to check whether your contractor is registered.

"Safe Electric issue a card, it looks like a bank card and it will have a Safe Electric number on it," Denise says. "It’s the same as when someone calls you from the gas company and they have a gas card. Safe Electric has enrolled that with the electricians as well."

This is a simple process, making it much easier for people to know their rights and know what to expect of a contractor.

A win-win

The Safe Electric scheme also works to ensure consistency and transparency in home electrical work, for the customer and the contractor.

Denise notes that in the past a contractor may leave a job without completing it, for one reason or another, and a different contractor would take over. This is no longer allowed, and the new contractor would have to contact Safe Electric to find out why the previous one left.

"There’s a comeback if you use a Registered Electrical Contractor, whereas if you used an unregistered contractor that isn’t the case, she says.

This works the other way, too. Denise recalls working on a house with a client that wasn’t inclined to pay and accused her of doing shoddy wiring work. She was able to call Safe Electric to have them come out to investigate the matter, and prove the work was done to the required standard. Her inspector came out, examined everything, did a full report and proved that there was nothing wrong with the job.

"That’s why it's good to be with Safe Electric, because there’s your report saying there is nothing wrong with this job, it’s done to the regulations that are in force and you can go back to the client and say there’s nothing wrong with it, which I did, and then he paid me."

Her advice for finding yourself with a non-REC? "Just get rid of them, straight away."

For more information on electrical home safety, safety checks and tips, read more here.