Property maintenance company Aspect.co.uk, who provides electricians across London, released a study last year which revealed that two-thirds of UK residents feel unsettled in their homes – and many of the causes were related to issues an electrician could sort out relatively quickly.
Thankfully, there are many things to observe during viewings that can be telltale signs that parts of the electrical system need attention.
Warning Signs to Look Out For When Viewing Any Property
Is there Evidence of Rubber, Lead or Fabric Covered Cables?
If there is, this could be a sign you may need a brand new electrical rewire. Other symptoms of an electrical installation past its use-by date include old-style fuse boxes with cast iron switches, brown or black outlets with round pin plug holes, and fabric-covered cable hanging from ceiling roses. Such components are now obsolete and can be dangerous. So if the property you’re looking at has them, factor in the cost needed to replace them.
Nick Bizley, director of operations at Aspect, has this to say about unpredictable electrics. “Kitchens can suffer from electrical problems because that’s where there are lots of appliances that use a lot of electricity, such as kettles, microwaves, electric ovens, hobs, grills, and toasters. If they’re all on at once a circuit could get overloaded and trip. The only advice I’ll give here is to call in a qualified electrician. If your light switches or plugs ever behave in any way they shouldn’t, for example sparking sockets or flickering lights, it’s a job for a professional. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a big problem, but I’d recommend that only qualified tradespeople should be working on electrics.”
Is the Consumer Unit Up to Date with RCD Protection?
Old fashioned fuse boxes do not meet current regulations as they don’t provide adequate protection from electrocution and fire. Newer consumer units have miniature circuit breakers within them, which cut off the power in a change of circuit that exceeds a safe level. They also contain residual circuit detectors in case of an earth fault. Because they are made from metal, they are unable to catch fire, unlike older versions.
Are Sockets and Switches Free of Buzzing Sounds?
Switches or sockets that are making a buzzing noise tend to do so because of wear and tear and will require replacement. Alternatively, there could be a loose connection in the switch or socket, which is causing this. So rather than replacing the entire switch, check all the connections are secure, and then fasten it back onto the wall. With a reasonable amount of DIY knowledge, you should be able to tackle this yourself. But if not, call in your local electrician.
Is Visible Wiring in Good Condition?
It can be challenging to see what all the wiring is like throughout the house, as this would require you to lift many floorboards, which isn’t practical when viewing a property. Instead, keep an eye out for visible cables, to make sure they aren’t torn or have scorch marks around them. Dodgy cables shouldn’t cost much to change, but it isn’t something that can be left too long as they can be dangerous.
Are Outlets Free of Discolouration or Warmth?
As you go from room to room, look at the individual sockets and switches on the walls. If you notice yellow or brown marks around the edges, this is bad news. It indicates that somewhere, the wiring is defective, which is causing the outlet to overheat. You will need to call in a fully qualified electrician as soon as possible to investigate the problem further.
Is There an Absence of Smells Due to Burning Cables?
When you are viewing a property, try and detect if there are any unusual odors in the air. While this can detect a myriad of potential problems like blocked drains or vermin, a house can smell due to faulty electrics too. Specifically, if a hint of fish is in the air, this could be a sign that the coverings surrounding the cables are melting, which could eventually lead to a fire. Again, this needs to be dealt with quickly and by a professional electrician.
Mr. Bizley says smells can actually point to a range of problems: “Most smells can be explained. If you’re noticing a new or unusual smell, it can be unsettling. If you detect the smell of fish, it could actually be your electrics. Electrical shielding, when exposed to high heats, can give off an odd ‘fishy smell.’ In fact, ‘why do my electrics smell of fish is one of the most Googled’ questions people make about their homes, along with ‘is my roof leaking?’