Why You Should Book An Electrical Inspection before You Buy

An electrical inspection checks the wiring and accessories in your home are safe for continued use. It also compares the electrical installation with the latest wiring regulations (BS7671). When inspected, wiring is often safe but may need work before making amendments (132.16). Inspecting the electrics is important for home buyers or existing owners planning to extend or convert the loft for example. Wiring and electrical accessories wear and age so it’s wise to inspect them; especially before purchasing a property.

Why inspect the electrics when the lender hasn’t mentioned anything?

Customers in Cardiff often ask me to price up electrical work after moving home.  Its usually extra sockets, new light fittings, and electric showers. When i explain the price depends on the condition of the wiring the reply is almost always “Fine, no electrical problems”.  As a potential home buyer you turn the lights on, plug something in and it works – so what’s all the fuss about?

fifty-year-old-socket-outlet

The socket in this photo got warm when the owner used it for the hoover not long after moving in. An inspection revealed the wiring and accessories were fifty years old and needed to be replaced. Does the house you are about to buy have socket outlets like this?

Before any amendments or alterations are made to an electrical installation an electrician has to check certain items  as set out in BS7671 (the UK wiring regulations) – 132.16 . In layman’s terms you cannot install additional wiring or accessories if the fundamentals are not in place. On inspection the fundamentals for an electrical installation is earthing, bonding and rcd protection.  So if you are about to purchase a house, flat, apartment or bungalow in South Glamorgan you could hire me to check the electrics for you.  If it does need bringing up-to-date, or worse case scenario a full rewire wouldn’t you rather know about it before you make an offer?  If you have an electrical installation condition report (EICR, previously known as PIR – periodic inspection report) advising you to rewire the property and its going to cost you £6000 – wouldn’t you haggle with the seller? Unfortunately some buyers are made aware of electrical faults after purchasing.  They are disappointed and angry that the inspection their lender carried out never gave them any cause for concern. Have you looked at what your valuation or home buyers survey will cover? Some make no mention of inspecting wiring, electrical accessories, fuse boards or any other word you would associate with an electrical installation.

It’s not just the cost to put things right either, sadly.  If you move in and discover major electrical problems you might wish you hadn’t moved in until they had been resolved.  Some electrical repairs involve lifting floor boards and chasing out walls and can be a noisy, messy business. If you ask anyone who spent a fortune on paint, wallpaper and flooring and then discovered problems with the electrical installation they are understandably annoyed with the whole process which could so easily have been avoided – if the electrics were inspected before making an offer.

Problems home buyers face that electrical inspections were designed to help prevent

✅ Age of the wiring.  Cables deteriorate over time.  The insulation breaks down and the conductors (that is the part of the wire which carries the electrical current) can become exposed. The general consensus for the type of cables used in domestic properties buried inside walls is they are good for 25-30 years.  That time depends on how it was installed originally and if its been mis-treated in some way at a later date.  Electricians inspecting fixed wiring use a calibrated test instrument when carrying out an insulation resistance test at the consumer units wiring.

cables-shouldn't-be-close-to-central-heating-pipes

Upon close inspection the central heating pipes had damaged these cables. Wiring on the right of the green arrow was closer to the pipe with more damage. Both sections needed to be cut out. Although floors are rarely lifted on a typical home buyers report, low insulation resistance readings can be a reason to dig deeper.

 

✅Poor working practice.  Cabling and electrical accessories are sometimes not installed to best practice. Because most wiring is hidden, its not always obvious even to an experienced inspector.  Electrical outlets or a shower that work doesn’t necessarily mean its safe for continued use.  The wiring regulations electricians follow have been written to help ensure circuits will disconnect in the necessary time frame to help prevent electrocution and fire.  To achieve this requires planning, installation to good working practice and testing to ensure all is well upon completion.

 

This shower had been installed by a keen DIY’er unknowingly to him with a wiring fault from day one.  It worked although the protective device wouldn’t have operated like it should in the event of a fault.

 

✅Damage and neglect.  Its not uncommon to see a consumer unit covered in clothes and shopping bags that hasn’t been tested since the day it was installed.  Socket outlets broken and downlights with burn marks around them are common observations on an E.I.C.R (electrical installation condition report). Assuming your new home is going to be one of the biggest purchases you will make do you really want to buy something that hasn’t been tested? Would you buy a car for a fraction of the cost with no service or MOT history in years?

consumer-unit-with-no-cover-live-parts-accessible

This out-of-sight consumer unit had no cover (just a clear bag). The parts you can see are intentionally live. Someone could get electrocuted from touching parts inside. Imagine stumbling across that in the middle of a power cut!

 

✅Not up-to-date.  As i mentioned earlier the fundamentals need to be in place before any amendments or alterations are made. So maybe you just want a few more socket outlets, or a new shower, but if there is no main bonding to the gas pipe and you have a re-wireable fuse board you aren’t going to get an electrician to do just that. All registered electricians working in the Cardiff area would inform you they need to do the fundamentals at the same time.

 

10mm2-gas-bond-in-place

Main bonding must be in place before any amendments or alterations are made to the electrical installation.  The green and yellow cable you can see in the right hand photo connects to the main earth terminal in the consumer unit.  If the water pipe entering the house is metallic that needs a bonding cable too.  Your inspector may mention the consumer unit, gas meter and water supply pipe are rarely in the same location but need to be connected!

What you can do before booking an inspection on a home you want to buy

Simply ask the seller for any documents they have for the electrical installation.

Ask the seller for any documents they may have for any electrical work they have had carried out on their home. They may have electrical installation and building compliance certificates like the ones above.

If they don’t have any minor works or installation certificates; ask them if they would be prepared to get an electrical installation condition report carried out.

The purpose of an EICR is to:

  1. Check the installation is safe for continued use.
  2. Compare the installation to the current wiring regulations (18th edition).

This should help the requestor know if the installation is OK and if not, what is necessary to make it safe or up-to-current standards.

The format of the reports electricians use isn’t the most consumer friendly.  Sometimes one problem is listed several times because it falls under more than one area.  The explanations we tick or cross are written by electrical installation designers so don’t always make much sense to the consumer.  We are not supposed to enter opinions like “old installation needs a rewire”, but the inspector would tick the box that states the overall insulation resistance reading is less than one meg.

So if they have already done this (and its a property in Cardiff or the Vale) you can always send them to me to review if you wish by using the contact form at the bottom of the page  (you could also hire me to carry out a full inspection of the electrical installation if they haven’t already arranged one).

 

Five crosses, one problem – no rcd protection. This would be resolved by replacing the consumer unit

 

If its down to you to book an inspection, be warned its not a standard test like an MOT for example.  When you take your car for a test the inspector will check the lights, brakes, seat belts, suspension etc regardless of where you take it. Inspections for electrical installations are not like that. The amount that is visually checked and tested depends on the person carrying it out. Call three electricians in South Glamorgan and it’s likely you will get three different prices. Some will do an inspection based on what the customer wants to pay. It’s not uncommon to see “LIM” (for limitation) or “Not worked On” within inspection reports. Normal for large electrical installations or some entries where its just not possible to check on the day – but no good to you if most entries are limitations.  The more that is tested the more likely the inspector is going to find something. And the more you find, the more of an idea you as the home buyer will know how much it will cost to resolve before making an offer.
No one wants their dream house to have electrical problems, but inspections help budget for any work necessary. And if its major its usually better to have it done before moving in.

If you are buying a brand new home then relax. They do not need an electrical inspection because:

They have brand new wiring and accessories ✅
The installation has been tested during and upon completion and certified ✅
No one has had chance to meddle around with anything yet✅

Assuming the house isn’t brand-new although had electrical work: ask for the certification. Minor work and electrical installation certificates will clarify what has been done, when. It may be the seller whole heartily believes no problems exist, but without paperwork to confirm: do you want to take a chance?  As i mentioned earlier: just because an electrical item works doesn’t mean its OK for continued use.

I’ve just inspected an installation near The Bay where the electrics haven’t altered since the wiring was installed twenty years ago.  Nothing unsafe found, but for the home buyer who wants to move in and have a new kitchen it means the installation will need updating at the very least.

Typical faults and recommendations noted on E.I.C.Rs

I’ve just skimmed through the last twenty electrical inspections I have carried out in Cardiff properties over the last six months. I have listed the most frequent entries below so you, the home buyer knows what you need to look out for or at least be aware exist.

1. No rcd protection. RCDs reduce the risk of electrocution and fire. Fuses and circuit breakers do not. No rcd protection means an outdated electrical installation. If the home you want to buy doesn’t have them then you won’t be able to have any new work without replacing the consumer unit.

the-latest-specification-consumer-unit-i-inspected-in-2019

Modern consumer units have rcd protection. Does the house you are purchasing have them? Look for a device with a test button.

2. Lack of (or undersized) main bonding. Extraneous conductive parts (like gas and water pipes) need to be connected to the main earth terminal. The safety of the UK electrical safety system depends on this. If this isn’t up-to-date then it will need to be done. Look for a green and yellow cable on the gas meter.
3. No earth on the lighting circuit. This isn’t something you as the home buyer can easily check.  But just for your information: older wiring for lighting circuits did not carry a circuit protective conductor (earth). Historically light fittings were wooden or plastic and did not need an earth connection. Most light fittings on the market today will need an earth connection. Because light fittings are something DIY’ers are happy to do without the help from an electrician; its common to see metallic light fittings and light switches (which require an earth) with no earth connectivity. This is something that will be checked by the inspector as part of the testing process.

old-light-switch-with-no-earth

Nothing obviously wrong with the light switches in this house near Cardiff’s City Centre. When i inspected the wiring in this property in Pontcanna i discovered no earth wires on any of the lights. This is typical of a fifty year old electrical installation.

4. Low insulation resistance readings. On new cabling no measurable connectivity exists across the wires inside. Over time, the reading becomes measurable as the insulation breaks down. Low readings can indicate worn or problematic wiring. If your seller has the inspection report take a look at the reading obtained on the day. Low readings can mean wiring problems.  It can also mean issues with electrical items connected to the installation – like faulty immersion cylinders and outdoor lights and sockets full of water! The wiring regulations requires readings of 1 million ohms or less (usually written as 1 meg) to be investigated.

insulation-resistance-readings-not-taken

If the insulation resistance readings for the circuits have been left blank, they may have not been tested, or tested as a whole installation instead of individual circuits.

5. Bad working practice. Anyone can buy electrical items including consumer units, cabling, showers and socket outlets from DIY stores. Has your dream home had just anyone working on the electrical installation?

The owner of this house thought they could smell burning but couldn’t work out where it was coming from. I was asked to carry out an inspection and the low insulation resistance reading led me to the shower circuit. This photo was taken when i dropped the shower isolator down. The cable was badly damaged and needed to be replaced. With no rcd protection it was lucky a fire hadn’t started.

6. Non-working items. Outside lights, extractor fans and immersion cylinders – in-fact anything which can be lived without might be waiting for the new owner to resolve! On the subject of non-working items, one of the most devious things i saw for a home buyer was socket outlets that didn’t work.  I was asked to price up some electrical work for a couple who had moved in to a house and just finding their feet going from a rented flat to a big, old house. They noticed some socket outlets worked, some didn’t. To my amazement someone had replaced all the fifty year old socket outlets and light switches with brand new accessories. They also installed surface mounted sockets with no cables coming in to them. When i took a look at the electrical supply it dawned on me what had happened. Someone wanted to make it appear the electrical installation was brand new.  The reality was it was fifty years old and needed a full rewire.
7. Lack of socket outlets. Its not uncommon to see one single socket outlet in rooms on outdated electrical installations. So if you are thinking its just a couple of socket outlets on your to-do list, you may need to think again!
8. Light switches on the wrong side of the door opening (where the swing of the door has been changed). Historically for privacy reasons doors often opened so the person operating it would walk in to the wall rather than the room where the bed was for example.  Some properties have the doors replaced and swing in the other direction with the switch in the now difficult to reach side.

The light switch was on the opposite side of the door opening at this property in Canton. It’s not a huge problem, but worth noting. Some customers find this layout a nuisance and want them moved to the other side.

9. Exposed live parts.

exposed-live-wires-discovered-during-an-inspection

Exposed live wires posed an immediate risk within this rear garden. The twin and earth type of cable that had been installed offers little protection being outside and shouldn’t really be installed in this way. I removed the supply and terminated the cable inside a weatherproof enclosure until a new armoured supply could be installed.  Fortunately there were no small children, pets or gardeners at this property.

10. Mis-configured wiring. Cable should always be able to carry larger amounts of current than the overload protection it is connected to. A common issue detected when testing inside a consumer unit is a broken ring final circuit.  There is always the risk of overload with this type of fault. Overload can result in the cable temperature rising meaning a fire risk.
11. No main earth. Do you live in Pentyrch, Creigiau, Bonvilston or Cowbridge? You could be responsible for your own earth connection for the installation (usually when the supply cable comes in overhead). Electrical items will still work as expected posing a risk to the user who wouldn’t know any difference. An earth connection carries away fault current.  If there isn’t one then items can remain live for long enough to cause harm to users or appliances and accessories.

Copper earth rods are driven in to the ground when the property has a “TT earth set-up” (usually the supply is from overhead cables). In this situation the customer is responsible for their own earth – not Western Power. The problem is users would have no way of knowing if the earth connection was satisfactory. The only way to check the earth reading is low enough to comply is with calibrated test equipment carried by electricians.

Electrical installation condition report scoring: Satisfactory and unsatisfactory – do you buy or not?

Any defects noted will determine the outcome. The inspector will assign a code based on the severity of the fault found.  If a mortgage provider is involved they usually press the hold button if any C1 or C2 codes are noted.

Code C1: Items needing immediate attention.
Code C2: Items may pose danger in the near future.
FI: Area(s) needing Further Investigation.
Code C3: Areas of improvement and comparison with the latest regulations.
The wiring in your new home might be safe, but require additional work if:
– You are planning on modifying or installing a new kitchen.
– You would like to convert the loft in to a bedroom or office.
– You would like to replace the bathroom suite.
– You are planning on having an extension built.
– New cabling or circuits require a replacement consumer unit.
This is because the wiring regulations change over time to help reduce the risk of electrocution and fire. Purchasing a house in Danescourt built in 1990? The electrical system may well still be 1990 standards. Might be safe, but if you want to add a shower circuit or alter the kitchen then it might need extra work.

What is done as part of an EICR (electrical installation condition report)

A visual inspection.
Looking inside the consumer unit and socket outlets allows the inspector to check the cable and its connections. The idea of sampling accessories is to build a picture of the installation. If the cable and connections are good on five items that’s a good sign. If signs of old cable or bad working practice are present, the inspector may decide to dig a little deeper. Although electricians cannot see through walls or ceilings a through visual check will paint a valuable picture.

Have you watched your vehicle service in the garage? Mechanics use a torque wrench to check wheel nuts haven’t worked loose since its last inspection. Electricians check the screws forming the connection inside your consumer unit upon inspection. Poor connections can start fires. For the visual inspection electricians look for age, condition, alterations and obvious problems.
Circuit protection labeling should state what is being protected. Labels can be missing and incorrect. If your tumble dryer burst in to flames you would like to see “kitchen sockets” so you could remove the power quickly. Once the circuit information has been gathered the testing process can begin.

wylex-rewireable-fuse-board-with-no-circuit-description-means-additional-time-for-inspection

This old re-wireable fuse board in Rhiwbina had no labels on it. It adds time to the inspection to identify what fuse protects what.

Testing
The inspector will use calibrated test equipment to carry out a series of tests.
Dead tests (power removed from the circuit) and live testing. With all the tests complete the requester will know:.
* If the earthing and bonding is satisfactory.
* If the wiring is at a level that needs further investigation.
* If the circuit protection would operate in the necessary time frame to prevent electrocution and fire.

The testing sequence
The first test confirms the main earth is functional and isn’t relying on the gas or water pipe. The second check is to confirm polarity; the live and neutral are in the correct place. The series of tests that follow will clarify the condition of the wiring inside the walls and under the floors. Test equipment can measure current leaking between conductors and circuit breakers would trip should a fault arise.

Power for the whole property will be off whilst some tests take place (known as dead testing). So your landline will work, the broadband equipment won’t. Something to bear in mind if you work from home and rely on an Internet connection! The total amount of time the inspection takes will depend on:.
1. The number of consumer units – some properties have two.
2. The total number of circuits.
3. The size of the property.
4. If the circuit protection labels are present and correct (working out what belongs to which circuit can take some time!).
5. The amount of the installation being tested. In a domestic setting, it is common practice to test all the circuits. In a commercial environment with lots of circuits its typical to test in groups. So group A on one inspection, group B on the next, group C on the following test. This way all circuits are being testing in rotation.

When i’ve completed the inspection i enter all the observations, photos and test readings in to the NICEIC online portal to compile the results. You will receive the sealed report in PDF format with a serial number. I also provide a laymen report explaining what (if anything) needs to make the installation safe and up-to-date. Customers have told me this is useful because the forms we use are designed for electrical contractors.

So get in touch if you want a thorough inspection of the electrical installation using the form below. I will need access to the whole property including the loft and detached garage if power is present. If the property is with an agent, they usually want the seller to email them with the name of the person who will be collecting the keys.

Any paperwork that is available will help because:
It would highlight if something listed had become worse since the last inspection. ✅
It helps confirm the circuit layout – and if anything has altered since the last test. ✅
It confirms electrical work has been carried out by registered electricians. ✅

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