It’s easy to never give the electrics a second thought, but potentially dangerous warning signs should never be ignored
26 June 2019| Last updated on 19 January 2020
Electricity is something most of us take for granted, without giving much thought to its awesome power.
But if your home is in need or rewiring, that awesome power may become worryingly or even dangerously obvious, potentially leading to electric shocks or fires.
“Rewiring your home can mitigate the risk of a potential electrical accident occurring as a result of old and poor or damaged wiring,” says Martyn Allen, technical director at the campaigning charity, Electrical Safety First (ESF; electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk).
“Homeowners should be wary of the warning signs that the property’s wiring may need replacing.”
The cost of rewiring can be quite shocking – Allen says it can set homeowners back anything from £3000-£5000 for an average house. And cost isn’t the only consideration – he warns that rewiring a property will inevitably cause some disruption, including the need to replaster and re-paper walls after the work is complete. Then there’s the length of time it takes – the electrical work should take around a week, with redecorating after that.
However, ESF points out that if your home does need rewiring, there’s an alternative way to improve the safety of your electrics. Replacing the consumer unit or fuse box with a modern one that will include RCDs (residual current device, a life-saving unit designed to prevent fatal electric shocks if something live is touched) will protect homeowners from the dangers of mains electricity.
Allen says installing such a unit will take around half a day and set you back approximately £500, and adds: “If homeowners wish to go about having their wiring checked in the home, we recommend only ever using a competent, registered electrician to undertake this work.”
But how can you tell if your home needs rewiring or a new fuse box? Here are some of the warning signs…
1. Persistent burning smell
If you haven’t burned your dinner and there’s a burning smell that won’t go away, your house may need rewiring. If you smell burning and can’t identify the source, turn off the power at the circuit and contact an electrician immediately. The odour, warns Allen, is the “distinctive smell of an electrical burn which is similar to that of fish”.
2. Scorched or discoloured sockets or switches
Brown marks on electrical sockets can be the result of tiny fires caused by loose connections inside the sockets, which can create little arcs of electricity and fire. And just because there’s no scorch marks doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no problem, as the arcing could occur in the wiring within the walls. Don’t Ignore any discolouration, as the problem could become more dangerous.
3. Fuses blow repeatedly
If the fuses blow regularly and randomly, it could be a sign your house needs rewiring, although it could simply be a faulty appliance causing the problem. But if it keeps happening and you can’t identify an appliance that could be behind it, get an electrician to check your wiring.
4. Flickering or dimming lights
One flickering or dimming light is probably just a fault with a bulb, but if you notice regular flickering lights in several rooms, it could be a sign of electrical problems and should be checked out.
5. Electric shocks
If you’ve got an electric shock, however small, when plugging an electrical appliance into a socket, then it needs checking urgently. Similarly, if there’s a buzzing sound from a socket, get it checked.
6. Hanging sockets
If one or more wall sockets are hanging off the wall, exposing the wires behind them, it can be very dangerous – particularly if you have children or pets. Get an electrician to mend the socket and check the whole system quickly.
7. An old house
If your house is more than 30 years old and you don’t know if it’s been rewired, or the switches, sockets and fuse box look old, you should get an electrician to have a look at your electrical system.
It’s recommended that your electrical installation is tested every 10 years if you own your home, and every five years if you rent. Older houses also tend to have fewer electrical sockets, meaning extension leads are more likely to be used, and sockets can sometimes be dangerously overloaded.