Electricians can be expensive, so it’s no surprise that many people in Britain opt instead to tinker around themselves. However, be warned — DIY mistake cause 50% of electric shocks in UK homes. In the UK, the voltage coming into the house is one of the highest in the world at 230 volts. A shock with a voltage as low as 50 can cause your heart to stop beating properly, stop you from breathing and cause muscle spasms.
You can also receive electrical burns and loss of muscle control from spasms so strong they can break bones or dislocate joints. The risk of accident is high, one in twenty people have done DIY work that has led to them having to go to A&E — more than 3 million people in the UK. If you want to do any electrical work in the UK, it is incredibly important that you stay safe.
Have the Proper Kit
You might not save money compared to an electrician the first time you do DIY work because the tools you need can be a little expensive. They are paramount to your safety, however, and improvising or chancing it can be extremely dangerous. Make sure you have the following:
- Voltage Detector – you need a detector to check for the presence of power. This is important in diagnosis as well as safety, as you might think you have switched something off when you haven’t, leading to a nasty surprise. Make sure you know how to use it.
- VDE 1000V screwdriver – A VDE 1000V screwdriver is designed to protect the user from any shocks that they might get while unscrewing something they didn’t know was live. VDE stands for Verband der Elektrotechnik, an association of German electrical engineers that make sure their screwdrivers can pass heat conductivity testing, as well as 10,000 volt testing to make sure they provide more than enough protection.
- VDE Cable strippers and cutters – these cable cutters will allow you to efficiently and neatly trim wires while also giving you adequate protection against shocks.
- Cable detector – a cable detector will help to check for cables that are buried in the wall so you know where not to penetrate the wall, to help you avoid damaging the house’s electrics as well as putting yourself at risk of a shock.
- A copy of the British Standards BS 7671:2018 Requirements for Electrical Installations, IET Wiring Regulations – Most people just call this ‘the 18th edition’. Even qualified electricians have to keep updated with any changes to the 18th edition, as they make sure that everything you design or install is completely safe and functions properly. Without sticking to the 18th edition, you put the house at risk of electrical fires, broken appliances and more. If your electrics fail to comply with the 18th edition, you will also invalidate your home insurance, and your insurance provider will not pay for any damages that your faulty wiring has caused.
Part P Regulations
On top of this, you should know Part P of the building regulations, which is a set of laws that were introduced in 2005. These break down domestic electrics into minor and notifiable works. Minor works are what you should be doing if you’re doing DIY — extending or changing existing circuits in a home (except in a bathroom or kitchen, etc. — a special location). Notifiable works should only be done by a qualified electrician, which include things like house rewiring and creating new circuits. These works require permission from the council if you don’t use a registered electrician, which is why they’re called notifiable.
How to Isolate the Power Safely
Before you do any electrical work, you need to know how circuit breakers work so you can isolate the power provided to the electric item. It’s always important to double or triple check. If you are changing a light switch, turn the circuit breaker off and turn the light switch on. If the light doesn’t turn on, check the switch with your voltage detector. Make sure the voltage detector’s probes are on the positive and negative: checking will only take a few seconds but might save your life.
If you are not sure which circuit breaker corresponds to which circuits in the house (that’s a lesson to always label your circuit breakers if possible), you will have to turn off each circuit breaker and RCD in the consumer unit. Do this from left to right: once you have turned them all off you can turn off the mains switch. After this, you can be assured that the power is isolated and you can work on the circuit you wish to work on — though you might need a torch!