The condition of the wiring and electrical circuits in your house would unfortunately not have been included in the full survey carried out when you bought your home, and so you would not have been advised of any necessary remedial works. As parts of the electrical circuits in older houses – anything pre-1960 – may still have the original rubber-insulated cabling, it will definitely need checking.
As the rubber deteriorates and starts to flake, sparks between the exposed wires can cause a fire. Modern installations use PVC covering, which lasts longer but can still cause problems. Telltale signs of problems include flickering lights and fuses that regularly below.
Also look out for the burn marks, arcing (buzzing), excess heat, and check cables for damaged, loose and exposed wiring.
According to the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC), more than 12,500 house fires are caused each year by faulty wiring, out-of-date equipment and poor maintenance. If you are worried, seek professional advice. Both the NICEIC (020 7564 2323, www.niceic.org.uk) and Electrical Contractors’ Association (020 7313 4800, www.eca.co.uk) recommend electrical systems are checked out every 10 years. Expect to pay £100-£150. Any remedial and rewiring costs will depend on the size of the property. As always, get a couple of quotes, make sure that the contractor is registered with a recognisable professional body and get a written test report.
Replacing cables yourself is a skilled DIY job. It is easier when cable are surface-mounted, or when the old ones can be used to draw through their replacements. For anything else, I would advise employing a professional. The same is true when installing a residual current device (RCD), which cuts off the electricity if it detects a fault.
In addition, you can follow basic guidelines for electrical safety – don’t leave electrical appliances on when not in use; always switch electrical appliances off before going out or going to bed, and don’t overload adaptors.
Michael Kilcommons Sunday Times Section 10-Homes 07/09/2003