It was installed by a proper electrician...”

I like to think I’m not one of those tradesmen who stands in front of a customer sucking air through my teeth while uttering phrases such as “Blimey, what cowboy installed that then?!”... but every so often I do come across a shoddy bit of work which piques my intrigue and forces the question.

Interestingly enough, the answer is often a defensive sounding “it was installed by a proper electrician!” When I then follow that up by asking if any certificates were left signing off the job as being tested, installed in compliance with wiring and building regulations, and the installer has accepted the legal liability/warranty for the installation work, I usually find that the ‘proper electrician’ took cash, left no paperwork and can no longer be reached on the phone number he was using at the time.

If you’re appointing any proper tradesperson then you should end up with a job that looks like it’s been professionally installed. If it looks shoddy or incomplete, you probably haven’t got a competent tradesperson, perhaps just a bad DIYer who thinks he can use his limited skills on your home to make some extra cash.

It’s not always easy to see the completed work as it may be out of sight in an attic or under the floor, but if it is a visible job and you can see it just looks a bit rubbish then you certainly shouldn’t be paying full whack for it.

As an example, take the ugly mess pictured below that I came across this week...

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Here, three cables exit a wall for three exterior wall lights. Despite being installed by a ‘proper electrician’ as the homeowner told me, there’s no paperwork. The homeowner could see it was a bad job and complained to me about how ugly it looks. It amazes me that someone claiming to be a professional tradesperson can install this, step back to look at it and believe it to be in an acceptably finished state justifying full payment.

It’s not just how it looks though, this installation is poor in other ways.

Firstly, look at the size of that hole through the brickwork. He must have used a 20mm hammer drill from the inside for a hole that large and to blow out the brick face. He also hasn’t left any drip loops in the wiring, so rainwater will run down the top two cables and right into that hole where it has the potential to cause damp to the inside wall of the house, possibly even getting into the electrics of the switch where it can cause nuisance tripping.

The installer has also used 6242Y (twin and earth) cable which I never like to see on the outside of a house. Twin and earth is made for internal use; I’ve seen the insulation degrade externally over time and, being a solid core cable, it will expand and contract in sympathy with changes in temperature, potentially fracturing eventually. I’ve had to deal with nuisance trip jobs in the past which have been tracked down to knackered twin and earth cables employed outside of the house.

So, here’s how I would have done it: I’d have drilled a smaller 10mm hole and fed just one cable through the wall rather than all three. Sealant or a grommet would be used to protect the hole and an IP rated box would have been mounted directly over it to both act as a cover and any damage to the brick face. My single cable would have entered the box at the rear and would then junction off to the three exterior lights. I’d have used a black rubber H07 cable specifically made for use outdoors with stranded cores that won’t fracture over time. The cable running up the wall would enter the underside of the IP box via a drip loop to ensure water running down it doesn’t get to the box.

Would all that have cost more? Probably not. I often find that the cowboys who put in half the effort usually also fleece the customer financially. They have the brass neck to do a lazy job and demand an inflated price, but even if my price was higher, I can guarantee my installation would have looked better, lasted longer and wouldn’t have the potential to cause damp or trip issues later down the line.

If you’re appointing a professional then you should expect to get a professional, so make sure you’re happy with the final finish when they ask for payment. If it looks like a bodged job, it probably is one.