eICR – Explained easily

Not every electrical installation condition report (eicr) is carried out the same way. The person you hire determines what to inspect and test. It’s not like an MOT where the tester follows a framework set out by VOSA. I’m sorry to say dear reader, but you are unlikely to know a good eicr from a bad one. And I know that sounds condescending, but read on and I’ll explain why.

A good EICR will tell you if the electrical safety in the home you want to buy needs to be improved, is safe for continued use and what (if anything) would be necessary to bring the electrical installation up to date. Up to date is important because having sockets where you want them, a new kitchen or bathroom will need the electrical installation to be up to current wiring standards.

Just so you know you have landed on the right page, an eicr is called many things including:

  • Electrical installation condition report
  • Electrical safety report
  • Periodic inspection and test
  • Five year electrical check (because in commercial premises, insurers sometimes give that as a requirement)
  • Electrical inspection
  • Electrical safety certificate

What’s the difference between a good eicr and a bad one?

A good eicr will:

  • Help prevent electrical related injury (like electrocution and fire).
  • Help identify electrical problems.
  • Check the condition of the wiring.
  • Advise on any issues that should be resolved before you move in.
  • Help you budget for any work that needs to be done before you change things like socket location, kitchen or bathroom layout and a loft extension.
  • Explain in laymen’s terms what the observations and test results mean to you.

A bad eicr:

  • Shouldn’t take very long to complete.
  • Shouldn’t cost very much.
  • Will have no explanation on what any of the observations or test results mean.
  • Will not help you get a true picture of the electrical installation in your home.
  • Has lots of missing and incorrect information.
  • Will not help you negotiate with the seller on any problems found.

You are moving to Cardiff and want someone to check the electrical installation on a house you are interested in buying. It’s not a new build so you know the wiring and plug sockets could be two things making up defective electrical work. Do you want someone to have a quick walk around, take a few live readings and guess the rest? Or would you prefer someone to spend a couple of hours looking at the installation and carrying out tests designed to identify dangerous wiring and worn electrical accessories?

I might be wrong, but your new home is going to be one of the biggest financial purchases you are going to make. It’s also likely to be in the area you want to be close to your family and the preferred school for your children.

Choosing an electrician to carry out a thorough eicr means they are more likely to find if there are problems with the electrical installation. That’s not to say they will pick holes with the electrical installation, but a thorough eicr is more likely to find problems than a bad one.

I know it is one expense after the other when buying a home and I feel your pain (I really do, having taken on more than I bargained for myself), but getting the necessary checks done is wise. Customers have told me my EICR has saved them thousands (which is what a rewire in Cardiff will cost you these days). So when asking electricians for a price to carry out an EICR, bear in mind their fee will depend on how much they will check.

Oi, hang on a minute I hear you say. What about my lender, surely their check will flag up anything wrong with the electrics? They wouldn’t lend on a home in Cardiff with a dodgy electrical installation, would they? Take a look at the document or checklist they provide. Is there anything mentioning an EICR, cabling, wiring or electrical safety report on there? Or, better still, ask the seller if they have had an electrical installation condition report carried out recently. You might not even need me! If they have, and you are not sure what it all means, then you can send it to me for free. I’ll take a look and let you know.

A better result would be to tell the seller you are concerned about the electrical safety (with it being an old house) and ask if they have an electrical installation certificate. They might surprise you and say: “we had it fully rewired last year and have the certificates to go with it”. Bingo. That would be ideal for you.

A more typical reply would be: “we haven’t had any electrical problems as long as we have been living here”, or “my Father was an electrician”. Both are completely useless for someone who is about to commit to a couple of hundred thousand pounds. Don’t get suckered in because all the lights work and the kitchen looks new. As I mentioned earlier, I have carried out a lot of electrical work for homebuyers in Cardiff who have entered a whole world of pain which could have been prevented with a good eicr.

My EICR service is aimed at homebuyers in the Cardiff, Penarth and Dinas Powys area who are serious about getting the electrical installation checked before they buy. I’ll take a good look at the property and document all the results with photos and layman’s terms. This breaks down the findings with practical resolutions and costs so you can put them in your budget and get a clear idea of what you are buying.

If it’s cheap you want, then that’s not me I’m afraid. You can get an EICR in Cardiff for £65 (just ring around) but that’s likely to be a quick walk around and made up results. Yep, electricians have a good idea of what the test results would be on the house you want to buy. And If I can be so blunt with you, you wouldn’t know what they mean or if they were correct would you?

Typing that reminds me of some electrical work I was asked to cost on the back of one such EICR a few years back. The test sheet with the circuit details was completely wrong. I don’t mean circuit 7 had circuit 8 details on it, or upstairs and downstairs sockets were mixed up – or something that could have easily been mistyped. I mean the number of circuits, type of fuse board and earthing – all wrong. I assumed the wrong test sheet had been submitted (it was for someone else’s house). But then, it did have the correct address on, the outside front light was hanging off the wall and there was no main bonding on the gas meter. Those two items were noticeable from outside, so maybe whichever electrician submitted it never did go inside and check anything. Maybe, just a quick look from the outside. A lot of newer homes in Cardiff have gas and electric meter boxes on the outside of the house.

Whoever you hire to carry out an EICR for you: make sure it’s a thorough one. A lot of results can be made up and “limitations” be entered for the trickier/more time-consuming things to test.

It’s not just the worry of electrical safety when buying a home; the cost of repairs or rewiring can be disruptive and costly.

The sellers were totally unaware of a fire-risk brewing in their fuse board under the stairs (near the gas meter, so not a good combination – fire and gas that is) in the photo below. A loose connection on one circuit was causing one of the wires to heat up. I asked them if they had any problems with the electrics and they weren’t aware of any. But they noticed a fish type smell in the staircase area getting stronger over the last few days. When I gave them the fuse box cover to take a smell they immediately identified it.

So, the buyer of their home actually did them a favour by having an inspection and test carried out. They never had any electrical work carried out whilst living there or had the installation checked which is surprisingly common in Cardiff.

an electrical inspection helps identify wiring problems
During an electrical inspection in Cyncoed recently, I identified overheated wiring (third from the left) before posing a fire risk.

I see so many people purchase homes in the Welsh capital (sometimes first-time buyers) who haven’t had an EICR carried out. When I’m called to investigate a fault or price up electrical work and have to inform them of bad news, I always ask if the electrical installation was checked before they made an offer to buy. Here are some of the responses:

“The seller did not mention there were any electrical problems”. Well, I’m sorry to say, but not many people selling their homes do mention any problems. Have you ever sold or traded a car in for another, newer model? Did you make a list of the times it broke down or wouldn’t start? What about the last service where several faults were noted? Maybe that’s why you decided to sell it. Some do precisely that with their home.

The lender’s report did not mention anything about any problems with the wiring or electrical installation”.Take a look at what was checked by your lender. If you haven’t paid for an electrical inspection, then it might not get a mention. The most basic surveys are designed to check the house you are about to buy isn’t about to fall down – that’s it. Problems with the wiring aren’t going to make a place fall down. That said, with financial borrowing becoming stricter, it’s more common than it once was for comments on reports such as “EICR recommended” or “ask the seller for electrical installation certificates”. When you have just found the property you want, in the street you want at the price you want, these might seem worthless comments when there is nothing but excitement. But, take my word for it: some people are lucky when they hope for the best and some are not so fortunate.

“We lived in our last place for twenty years and never had any electrical problems”. Having carried out many electrical installation condition reports in Cardiff, I can tell you it’s not usually hazardous items (what electricians call C1) listed on the condition report. More often than not, it’s an old installation. Old doesn’t necessarily mean unsafe, although now you want to buy it and change the kitchen and refresh the bathroom, don’t you? That means altering the wiring. Whenever the wiring is altered or added to, it needs to have the fundamentals in place—Earthing, bonding and rcd protection for a start.

If the wiring is old (cable manufacturers say 25 – 30 years is a good service life) or has faults, you might not be able to install the latest rcd circuit protection. And this is often where the jar of worms opens for the poor, unknowing soul who hasn’t even unpacked all their clothes.

What exactly do you check on an EICR?

The fixed wiring and accessories – fuse board, light switches, light fixtures, socket outlets (and electrical appliances if you want me to inspect and test white goods).

Existing certificates are helpful, although rarely available, sadly. They can be used to speed up circuit identification and a reference to see if any test readings relating to electrical safety have deteriorated.

Without any previous inspection and testing reports, the electrician will usually start by identifying the circuits at the consumer unit. Once this has been done, I like to walk around the property and get an overall feel of the condition of the installation before any electrical tests take place. For example, lack of sockets, pull cords inside bedrooms, and rewireable fuse boards are signs of an old electrical installation.

Some inspectors will remove the electrical supply and begin a visual check of the cables and accessories – like lights, socket-outlets and switches before any testing occurs. Any items posing an immediate safety risk will be resolved wherever possible. Some of the dead tests can be carried out like ring continuity on the socket and insulation resistance testing, which measures electrical leaks over a minimal amount of time.

As a home buyer, it’s in your interest to know about the safety of electrical wiring and if additional work is necessary to bring the installation up to current regulations. So many people buy homes in Cardiff, Penarth and Dinas Powys and discover electrical issues after moving in. Don’t be one of them!

The codes used inside an EICR condition report

The trade associations electricians in Cardiff belong to (NICEIC, Elecsa, Napit, Stroma etc), provide condition report templates for us to use when inspecting and testing electrical installations. The codes are ambiguous, to say the least!

This is why I add my laymen’s report – to help give the buyer a better idea of what it all means to them. Customers have told me their lender have placed a restriction on the mortgage if a C1 or C2 code is listed. But that’s not to say a C3 isn’t important.

To give you an idea, at the time of writing, the trade associations agree that the lack of rcd protection on socket outlets inside the house would be classed as C3. But, if you buy a house without rcd protection it has no additional protection from electrocution or fire. It also means you won’t be able to add or change the location of existing sockets without it. What does this mean to you? You need a new consumer unit (fuse board).

  • C1 – Immediate danger. These need to be resolved as part of the inspection if at all possible. Exposed live wires or missing consumer unit covers are examples of a C1.
  • C2 – Potentially dangerous. These are safety related issues which should be resolved as soon as possible. No RCD protection on wiring supplying items inside a bathroom or lack of main bonding would be two things that come to mind.
  • C3 – Improvement recommended. Items with room for improvement or can be brought up to current regulations. Some electricians list older plastic consumer units on an escape route as something that can be improved on. The latest AMD3 models are metal and non combustible.

The series of electrical tests

  • The main earth to the property is safe and not reliant on other parts of the installation (like the gas or water pipes). Under fault conditions electrical current should travel to earth. So, if metallic switches developed a fault and the face became live; the current should travel to earth and operate the circuit protection inside the consumer unit quickly before a user could experience an electric shock.
  • Correct polarity – live and neutral in the right place. The live wire should always be where circuit protection and any switching is placed.
  • Main bonding to extraneous services is present and the necessary size. Under fault conditions the earth we walk on and earth the electricity network operator provides can be different. By connecting gas and water pipes to the main earth it will ensure there is no difference.
  • Continuity of circuit protective conductors on all circuits. All circuits need circuit protective conductors for safety purposes. They help ensure circuit protection will operate quickly to help prevent electrical shock and fire. Some older homes in Cardiff do not have earth wires on the lighting circuit. An eicr will identify a lack of earthing. It’s not something you can see without removing the fuse board cover or taking a light fitting down.
  • Insulation resistance. New cabling has a very high resistance from one conductor to another due to brand-new insulation. Old cables break down and can pose a shock and fire risk. Some older parts of the City like Cathays, Splott and Pontcanna had rubber cable. Registered Electricians in Cardiff use calibrated test equipment to detect worn out cabling which is less of a problem with the later PVC type.
  • Prospective fault current and earth fault loop impedance. The maximum amount of current that can flow from a live conductor to earth is called fault current. This is checked to ensure the parts of the installation can cope with this value. To allow circuit protection to operate quickly a low path to earth is necessary. This is called earth fault loop impedance and is checked at the consumer unit and accessories to ensure all circuits comply.
  • RCD protection. RCDs help prevent electrocution and fire by removing the electrical supply quickly when the circuit is imbalanced. An imbalance occurs when current leaks somewhere it shouldn’t due to a faulty cabling or appliances.
  • Functional checks. This will cover items such as isolators, switches and socket outlets.

How often should an EICR be carried out?

If you are buying a new build in Cardiff, then the electrical installation certificate will typically say next test date ten years, so you don’t need me on this occasion! But otherwise, it’s wise to have domestic properties checked every few years.

When an old installation is checked, the inspector will place a label on the consumer unit with the test date and recommended retest date noted on the paperwork. If no faults are found, five years is common.

If you are buying a house for the private rented sector in England however, then the law requires you to get an electrical safety check at least every five years.

How much does an EICR cost from you?

My EICR’s in Cardiff start at £230. For a more accurate quote, you can send me the address and if known, a number of circuits and if there is power in a detached building.

What is involved with electrical testing and how long does it take?

Samples of accessories are inspected and tested for functionality, safety, and testing (being the end of the circuit). Accessories include:

Light fittings
Light switches
Socket outlets
Smoke detectors
Showers
Cooker switches

The consumer unit cover is removed to allow inspection of the wiring and for testing purposes. The electrical inspector will not lift carpets or floorboards. I will only sample will use only parts of the electrical installation designed to be inspected for maintenance and testing purposes. A three-bedroom terraced house in Cardiff is likely to take four hours to inspect and test. Typing up the results, uploading photos and the laymen report can take at least one hour, often longer.

Is an EICR a legal requirement?

Home and business owners should check with their insurers for further information on what may be required to ensure the electrical safety of their property. You could also ask the solicitor carrying out the conveyancing work for your new home.

Who will issue the electrical installation condition report and will it be signed?

I will sign the report. I use the NICEIC online system, which provides a serial number and produces a pdf document which you will receive via email.

What does an electrical installation condition report like?

The report from the NICEIC is several pages and comes in pdf format. It consists of the items checked, circuit protection layout and test results. I also compile a document explaining everything in laymen’s terms which will help you understand what the observations and test results mean to you. It will also help you budget and negotiate with the seller.

eicr-example-page-1
This is page 1 of 13 of an EICR carried out in November 2020