When it comes to home redevelopment, it can be easy to forget about restrictions and guidelines when you’re intent on making your home look better.
But it saves to be safe: statistics from Irish fire services showed that approximately eight fires a week were caused by faulty electrical installation.
Hopefully after reading our safety checklist and insider tips, you’ll know that it’s always safer to have a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC) carry out electrical works in your home. But did you know that it is illegal for non-RECs to carry out certain works?
Restricted works, as outlined here, must, by law, be done by a REC. A non-REC found guilty of carrying out these works could be charged with a fine of €15,000 and/or a sentence of up to three years.
Now, don’t worry too much - the cowboy contractor will end up in the cell, not you!
These rules are not to be scoffed at, though. Although it’s not you breaking the law, hiring someone who isn’t registered can cost you time, stress, and cash. After all, if anything goes wrong, the cowboy won’t have insurance to cover the fix. You will have to hire a REC to certify the work at your own cost – that means paying twice for the same job.
Here, we break down the jargon to explain exactly what your REC should and shouldn’t be doing.
1. Always use a Registered Electrical Contractor
Straight off the bat, this is the most important thing to bear in mind when planning home redevelopments. Under law, it’s illegal for anyone but a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC) to carry out electrical work in the home.
Assuming that an ‘electrician’ equals ‘REC’ is a dangerous mistake, and this law is in place to protect people from what can be horrific situations - think tumble dryers bursting into flames, constant electrical shocks each time you flip a switch, and worse.
Safe Electric, an agency licensed by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, has made it easy to find a REC, and lists all registered contractors on its website with its own county-specific search engine.
This list is updated once a new contractor joins the scheme, so you’re never at risk of accidentally hiring a cowboy. It works the other way too - if you’ve already hired a contractor, you can check to make sure they’re registered with just a click.
2. If it stays in one place, stay away from it
If the focus of your project is a rigidly fixed appliance, leave it well alone. A REC will be required to carry out or oversee any installation, testing or inspection of a device that is "fixed, fastened or mounted or otherwise secured" and might need connection or reconnection to the distribution network.
Take for instance shower upgrades. Showers are the culprits behind more and more home electrical disasters, as more people attempt to rewire older models for new ones. More often than not, attempted home renovations lead to the wrong size cable being used in the wiring, which causes blown fuses and other complications as the shower pulls more electricity than its wires can manage.
You should never DIY electrical works in your bathroom, as rooms containing a bath or shower basin are known as ‘special locations’ – only a REC can legally carry out electrical works in these locations.
Unless you want to be rushing around, naked and afraid in the dark, after your shower has blown a fuse, bring a REC in for this.
3. Don’t Touch the Distribution Board
We’ve all changed a fuse before, felt that thrill of accomplishment and self-satisfaction at being so electrically adroit.
But start tinkering with more complex electrical systems, and that thrill quickly turns into a painful shock.
The modification, installation or replacement of a distribution board must be completed by a REC, and with good reason. The distribution board is the control centre for electricity in your home, dividing electricity into circuits. Tampering with this incorrectly could lead to severe complications in your home, and possibly even accidents.
If you have tinkered with the distribution board, it’s best to get it inspected as soon as possible by a REC so that they can correct any fault that may cause issues down the line.
4. Don’t try to install or replace circuits
If tampering with a distribution board is like upending a road network, then doing the same with circuits is like removing all the traffic lights. This is such a delicate area of work that even installing one or more protective devices on them should be completed by a REC.
Even replacing one is too complex to justify with however many hours you spent watching Grand Designs or Room to Improve.
5. If you’re not a REC, don’t pretend to be
Perhaps the renovation and upgrade tips here are understandable, and it makes sense to leave the installation and upgrade work to the professionals. But maybe you feel confident enough to inspect the electrical works that are already there?
Don’t. As with the rest, it is illegal for any non-REC to carry out inspection, testing or certification of electrical works in the home.
It’s always safer to leave thorough inspection to those fully qualified and registered to do so, as there are any number of details we’re not trained to spot.
So what renovations are okay to carry out myself?
If home improvement is your passion, don’t be disheartened: there are plenty of works around the house that you can do. Minor electrical works such as like-for-like replacements of switches and smaller features, moving light fittings without affecting the circuit or adding a socket or two to an existing circuit are all safe to do, once you understand the process at hand.
In the long wait for Room to Improve, become your own Dermot Bannon with these jobs. But don’t forget: only hire a REC to do electrical works in your home, and use the Safe Electric website to find one in your area.
For more information on electrical home safety, safety checks and tips, read more here.