Electrical Advice

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

Answers to your common electrical questions

Q: What does a fishy smell coming from a power outlet mean?

A: If you notice a smell coming from your power socket or switch, there’s a good chance it could be damaged and cause a fire in the wiring behind the device. Turn off the power immediately and get it checked by a qualified electrician.

Q: Why is my light switch hot to touch?

A: When you reach to your light switch to turn it off, only to find that it is hot to the touch, you have a problem. This is not a normal situation, indicating that there are serious issues hiding behind your walls. If you don’t get help right away, you could end up facing a serious electrical fire in your home.

Q: What’s the difference between a 3-pronged plug and a 2-prong plug?

A: The third prong on a plug is a grounding prong. Two-prong receptacles do not have the same level of grounding as a three-prong device. The third grounding prong provides additional protection to the electrical system, the item plugged in, and you from electrical shock.

Q: What does “grounding” mean?

A: When you use an electrical appliance, the current flows from your service panel to the device. A grounded wire gives the unused electrical current a safe way back to the service panel so there’s no danger in the event of a short circuit.

Q: What is earth and bonding?

Similar to the term ‘grounding’ earth bonding refers to the thick green and yellow copper cable used to connect your electricity consumer unit or gas meter, to incoming supplies. The connection is made on the metal pipes and clamped within two foot of where it enters the building. Both earthing and bonding must be carried out on an electrical installation to meet the safety requirements of BS7671.

Earthing and bonding is done to prevent electric shock e.g. if your washing machine developed an electrical fault, the current would travel down the earthing path. Without an earth connection, the metal casing of the machine could become ‘live’. If you touch it, YOU become the earth path and could get an electric shock. Bonding connects all metallic parts and pipework too, using a protective bonding conductor, intended to limit the magnitude of touch voltages.

Q: What’s the benefit of whole-house surge protection?

A: When you protect your whole house from power surges, you’ll protect all of the equipment in it instead of just one piece that’s plugged into a surge protector. This can come in especially handy if you use a lot of electronics or appliances and especially if you are working from home and reliant on heavily reliant on your computer and internet connection.

Q: What is a “short circuit”?

A “short circuit” is an unwanted connection of very low resistance such as a wire which provides a very easy path for current – a bit like an electrical short-cut. For example: if the leads from a battery touch one another they create a very low resistance connection across the battery, causing a short circuit across the battery. Current will flow through this short circuit rather than through the proper circuit. This stops the proper circuit working and it may cause a fire because the leads and battery will become hot with a large current flowing.

Q: What’s the difference between a fuse board blown fuse and a consumer unit blown circuit breaker?

A: When the electrical current that passes through a fuse board fuse exceeds the limit, it burns a hole in the thin strip of metal. This stops the flow of current and it means you have a blown a fuse. Fuses need to be replaced. They cannot be reset.

However, when the electrical current exceeds the limit through a circuit breaker in a modern consumer unit, however, the breakers trip setting opens to stop the flow of current. Breakers are re-settable by flipping the handle on the face of the breaker.

Note old fuse boards / fuse boxes should be replaced with a modern consumer unit to meet current building regulations. Also, when rewiring, your electrician should always replace your old fuse board with a consumer unit.

Q What’s an RCD?

A: An RCD is a residual-current device, also known as a safety switch. The device is designed to monitor the electrical current and disconnect the power when a leak is detected from a fault in wiring, an appliance or switch.

Q: What is a GFCI?

A: You may have seen an electrical outlet with a “test” and “reset” button in the middle – this is a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter). It automatically shuts off an electrical circuit when it detects that the current isn’t flowing correctly. It’s also used to reduce the risk of electrical shock from a receptacle located in damp locations and/or counter top areas.

Q: What should I do if an appliance continuously blows a fuse?

A: First, make sure there are not too many appliances plugged into one circuit, as this can overload it. If it’s just one appliance, and happens only once, you could replace the fuse. If it happens again, you should repair or replace the appliance. If the socket or the circuit still blows fuses in new or repaired appliances, you should have the circuit checked by a qualified electrician.

Q: Are LED lights better than incandescent lightbulbs?

A: LED lights are more expensive to purchase than incandescent lights, but they’re more efficient (they’ll last 50,000 hours instead of 1,200 hours). They also have a lower annual operating cost, which is also more environmentally friendly

Q: Do I need a special electrical box to install a ceiling fan?

A: Yes. Because a ceiling fan is an active load that is heavier than most light fixtures, you need a special mounting box designed for this application. Saddle boxes are usually good for fans up to 35 pounds.

Q: What are low-voltage fixtures?

A: Low-voltage fixtures include a transformer to reduce voltage (say from 120 volts to 12 volts). The downside to low-voltage fixtures, however, can be higher installation costs. Also, transformers tend to create heat and mounting locations can be tricky.

Q: How often do I need to rewire my house?

A: There are no hard and fast rules regarding when a property should be rewired. Just because your wiring’s old, it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. Many factors affect the wear & tear on your electrical wiring, including the type of wiring and other materials installed, plus how your property is used.

You should carry out regular visual checks around the house yourself to determine on the condition of appliance cables, switches, sockets and other accessories. If you notice anything unusual – for example, burn marks on plugs and sockets, sounds of ‘arcing’ (buzzing or crackling), fuses blowing or circuit-breakers tripping – get a registered electrician to check your electrics as soon as possible.

That said, we would advise that you get a qualified electrician to perform a periodic inspection on owner-occupied homes every 10 years and every 5 years for rented accommodation to ascertain and certify if the electrics in a property are safe or otherwise. You electrician will also notify you of anything that needs upgrading.

This could involve a recommendation for either a full rewire, or at least a partial rewire of the property, along with equipment upgrades such as replacing an old fuse board and upgrading inadequate earthing and bonding throughout the property.

Q: Do I need an electrical certificate for a loft conversion?

A: Loft conversion electrical work must be designed, installed, tested and certified to BS 7671 standards by a qualified electrician in compliance with Part P of the Building Regulations. On completion you will be issued wit a BS 7671 compliant electrical installation certificate that must be forwarded to your local Building Control Surveyor for approval so a Building Control Completion Certificate can be issued.

Q: How often do landlord’s need to have an Electrical Inspection done?

A: A periodic Electric Inspection be done by a qualified electricians at the start of any new tenancy and every 2 years to ensure compliance with the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations.

Q: Do landlords need a PAT or Portable Appliance Testing certificate?

A: To ensure the safety of tenants, the UK regulations stipulate that landlord supplied electrical appliances must meet essential safety requirements, be in good condition and comply with the latest British Standards. It’s therefore advisable to get them checked regularly by a qualified electrician.

Get a free no-obligation quote for electrical work from Pimlico Electricians