What to look for?
Exposed parts of the wiring – especially by the electricity meter and fuse box (now known as the consumer unit). An old-fashioned-style fuse board, with big white ceramic-style fuses. A mix of different socket and switch styles. (In rare cases) old round pin sockets or original dolly switches, both of which can be a sign that a rewire is necessary.
The colour and style of the cabling (see at light fittings and around the fuse box). Modern electrical installations are wired in PVC insulated cable, coloured grey or white, and a modern consumer unit will have circuit breakers and residual circuit devices (RCDs or RCBO’s link to page).
Rubber insulated cabling, fabric insulated cabling (used until the 1960s), or lead insulated cabling (used until 1955). This needs replacing as the insulation can rot, break down, lead to short circuiting. This creates a fire hazard and potential electrocution.
The general condition of the light switches and the plug sockets can give a good indication as to how old the wiring is. Look for any damage, such as loose boxes or perished fittings. Take action today if you can see live wires. If you’ve ever touched a socket and felt that it’s hot, this could be a sign that there’s overheating going on somewhere. It’s not normal to feel heat or see flashing light from a plug, or smell a strange burning smell.
What if it hasn’t been rewired?
We recommend carrying out a full report (link to Electrical Installation Condition Report) as quite often you cannot see the damage to wiring as it is hidden behind the walls
Unless the wiring is the modern PVC coated type, then a rewire is likely to be necessary. Even older PVC cable may need replacing, if it is not twin earthed cabling (with a second earth cable running within the outer sleeve). But this may only be evident if you can remove a switch or socket faceplate and look closely. Checking for this is not advisable – unless you can turn off the mains first.
How much is an Electrical Survey?
If buying a property, before exchanging contracts, arrange to get a qualified electrician to do a survey and find out exactly what work is required. This could cost from £100-150 for a survey with a verbal report. A full electrical survey with a written report is from £250.
Rewiring a property is messy, disruptive work and it happens in two stages.
First fix: cables and wiring are installed. The wires go everywhere: under floors, through walls and across ceilings. This is best done without carpets or furniture, so floorboards can be lifted and ceilings cut into. Plaster generally needs to be chased into.
Second fix: everything is joined up or made ‘live’ e.g. when the front faces of sockets, switches and lights are fitted.
It’s important to plan what’s going where in each room before starting the First fix stage i.e. lights, plug points and any other electrically driven items. Additions mid-way through can be costly and time consuming if work needs to be un-done. Try drawing a plan of each room and marking up the position of the contents. Then you can decide the lighting and switches you need. Remember to include under-cabinet and bedside lighting, smoke/heat alarms, garden sockets and external security lights.
Modern living means we use a lot of technology which needs to be powered. Think ahead – will you need surround sound or more gadgets? What about Ethernet cable to every room to ensure uninterrupted Wi-Fi or a security system?
3. Move out?
Full rewiring would ideally happen when homes are empty. If you can afford it, moving out while the rewire happens would make life easier and less disruptive.
But for the majority who can’t, we will do our best to protect your home with the use of dust sheets over furniture and expensive items, and by moving furniture around. We will try to keep the power on as much as possible, and if not we can install the new consumer unit and set-up a temporary supply of sockets.
4. What is Involved When Rewiring?
If rewiring work is required, it should be undertaken at First Fix stage (before plastering). This is at the same time as any central heating and plumbing work. If you don’t want your new cabling to be surface mounted, the installation will involve lifting the floor coverings and floorboards, routing out channels in the walls and perhaps in some ceilings that are inaccessible from above.
First Fix stage may also involve fitting new back boxes for all sockets and switches. In addition to rewiring for all power and lighting circuits, it is a good opportunity to rewire for: central heating controls, alarms, smoke detectors, doorbells, outdoor lighting and sockets, telephones and cinema and television aerial sockets. It is also an opportunity to redesign the wiring plan for sockets and switches.
A note about Sockets
Go for two-way or three-way switching for hallways and landings; rooms with more than one main access. Consider adding a separate 2 amp circuit with separate switching for table and standard lamps in the main living rooms and principal bedrooms. It may also be worth adding automated lighting, home network cablings, speaker cabling and other modern technology.
(If the mains connection and meter needs moving, this will be undertaken by the local electricity utility company. There will be a charge and several weeks’ notice will be needed.)
Once the First Fix stage has been completed, re-plastering can happen, walls and ceilings filled and made good, and the flooring re-fixed. The Second Fix work can then proceed: fitting sockets and switch plates, light fittings, the consumer unit and wiring any electric fans, cookers, extractor hoods, electric showers and the immersion heater (if there is a hot water storage cylinder).
(If you are working on a period building using vernacular materials, such as oak frame, cob or solid stonework, make sure your electrician is aware of this and has worked on such buildings.)
A note about Earth Bonding
Earth bonding (also known as equipotential bonding and cross bonding) is essential for any electrical installation to be safe. Even if your project does not require rewiring, make certain that the gas and water are earth bonded with 10mm cable. Earth bonding will ensure that if a fault should occur causing the metal plumbing, bath, taps, radiators or boiler casing to become live, i.e. for current to flow through them, this will not lead to electrocution.
The lack of earth bonding is often missed because it does not affect the functioning of the electrical circuits in the house. To see if your project has been earth bonded, look for the water stop tap and gas meter for metal clamps around the copper pipes with green and yellow striped earth cable attached.
If you are building with plastic pipe instead of copper, you may not need to earth the water stopcock, but please check and the gas will always need to be done.
Your electrician should, under UK Building Regulations, provide you with paper certifications that validate the work completed. If property owners fail to insist on this, they will inevitably run into problems when they try to sell the property. In the meantime, the wiring could be unsafe, risking shocks or fire.
For advice on any aspects of home electric wiring, speak to the experienced team at Pure Electric.