- Wednesday, 26 December 2018 15:47
- David Savery
Working on a job recently with a kitchen fitter I hadn’t met before, I was amazed at his speed and skill; in just over 24 hours, he’d transformed an empty shell of a room with wall units, base cupboards and he was already busy fitting the worktop. There was still a lot to do, but the amount that had been achieved and the quality of the work to that point was quite something. When I remarked upon it, he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and told me he’d been doing it for thirty years.
And that’s what you get when you appoint a true professional to undertake a task: quality workmanship at an efficient pace. Skills which are honed from years of training and field experience and the skilled craftsman’s investment in the right tools for the job. If you’re not getting either quality or experience, then hopefully you’re at least trading these expected traits for a much lower bill, otherwise you’re definitely being short changed if not outright scammed.
Now, I myself *may* be able to fit a kitchen, although I would never offer it as a chargeable service as I lack the cutting and shaping mechanical skills and specialist tools for any kind of professional looking finish, but let’s say I want a new kitchen in my own home and I want to save on the labour costs... and I’m not too bothered about a perfect finish... and I have the time on my hands to spare... and I don’t care if the wife will constantly point out how shit it looks and…. well…, maybe then I’d give it a go.
The problem, as I mentioned, is that I don’t have the specialist saws, routers, jigs and other equipment to work with the materials to an acceptable standard. I don’t have the knowledge of what blades, fixings, adhesives or sealants I’d need to be proficient with or how to work with the materials to get the best out of them. As for the time involved, well I’d be better off applying my skills as an electrician to earn the money to pay a specialist fitter to do a proper job quicker than to give up my own working or leisure time to have a bash at it myself, and bashing at it is exactly what I would be doing. It might take me two weeks to achieve what a proper fitter can install in a couple of days, and even then it wouldn’t be to anywhere near the same standard and I could probably have earned a lot more as an electrician in that time than what I’d have saved by going down the DIY route.
Oh, and did I mention it would also look cack if I were to undertake it with my own non-specialist tools and ham-fisted skills? It would be like hammering in a nail with a spanner; I’m just not equipped for the job.
The long-winded point I’m trying to make here is that each trade has their own skillset and there are few efficient crossovers. A kitchen fitter may be required to make some basic minor alterations to the electrics or plumbing in the course of their work, but worthy fitters will have partner electricians, plumbers, plasterers and tilers they can call on if they don’t have the tools and training to undertake the task properly.
However, every now and then we come across another trade who travels so far out of their comfort zone and into an electrician’s territory that they really ought to have obtained a visa and a fistful of traveller’s cheques just in order to get there. Case in point in this example.
We were called to a house for a job relocating a bedroom switch drop as the door was to be re-hung. This is a Victorian property and it’s been meddled with throughout the decades by a previous owner who was obviously unconcerned with the physical appearance of the wiring seeing as it was strewn across walls at all angles, some clipped, some in trunking, all covered in layers of paint, some half buried, one cable even running down the line of the stairs. It was one of those where the more you looked, the more you saw, so I was surprised to see a modern Amendment 3 consumer unit on the wall as such would not have been fitted by a bona fide sparkie without them first performing some kind of survey of the place, preferably a whole Electrical Installation Condition Report which, judging by appearances alone, it probably wouldn’t pass without some remedial work.
When asked about this, I was told that the new CU had been recently installed by the kitchen fitter. I presume the fitter turned up to shoehorn in a new kitchen, found an old rewireable fuse box on the wall, and decided a new consumer unit with RCD protection would be required to cover the electrical modifications the new kitchen would require, and he’d be right, however why has he then undertaken the work himself instead of calling in a proper electrician?
No doubt he feels he is up to the task, so let’s take a look at some of the cock-ups he probably has no idea he’s made and how it will now bite the homeowner squarely on the buttocks...
Above we can see non-compliance with Regulation 416.2.2 which requires the top of the consumer unit enclosure to have an IP rating of at least IP4X, i.e. solid objects 1 mm in diameter or more will not enter. Notice how the cables are entering open holes; you can even see the light shinging through some of them. There's no edging strip to protect the cables from the sharp metal edges and no fire sealant to stuff up the holes allowing this metal consumer unit to do its intended job of containing a fire should one start within. Straight away it violates Regulation 134.1.1 which requires installers to fit equipment according to manufacturers' instructions. If this CU does burst into flames for whatever reason, the manufacturer in this case is absolved from any legal responsibility as it hasn't been installed to their specifications.
Speaking of bunging up holes, what's with the snot around the tail entry? It looks like ordinary silicon sealant or hot-melt glue, but these tails should have correctly entered via a tail gland to keep them insulated from the metalwork while properly sealing and securing them in place. Whatever this stuff is, it doesn't look like intumescent sealant, so chances are it'll melt in an overheat event opening a big air-hole to feed any fire.
Twisted wires? A big no-no. Twisting the ends risks fracturing the cores this is a sure sign of work by someone who doesn't know what they're doing as no bona fide electrician is taught to twist!
Another shot of those tails going through the snot-hole. Do you see how taught they are though? More slack should have been allowed along with cleats to hold them to the wall and ease the strain.
The board loading is not how a professional would populate it. Note how all the socket circuits are on one RCD and all the lighting on the other. Most of the electrical load is placed on the first RCD and a trip of either, regardless of the cause, will result either in all the socket outlets being knocked off or all the lighting. A professional would balance the circuits to load the RCDs more evenly and split them so that any single RCD trip will still allow some sockets and some lighting to remain operational.
Of course, there’s no paperwork to accompany this fugly installation. We’re missing an Electrical Installation Certificate and a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate. The former would be provided by a proper electrician, would detail all the inspections and the results of the tests for the final circuits, earthing, bonding and particulars of the installation. This is an important document as it means the electrician has diligently checked everything out, has installed the new consumer unit with the appropriate protective devices, has detailed any 'advisories' for the homeowner to be aware of, has minimised the risk of nuisance tripping and has accepted the legal liability for the ongoing safety of the installation following their work. Without this document, the homeowner’s insurance is invalid as they can’t prove they hired the right person for the work, so an electrical fire or shock injury is not covered. Similarly, a HSE, police or fire brigade investigation following a serious injury or incident is now also the homeowner’s responsibility.
As for the missing building regulations certificate, well if Local Authority Building Control ever get wind of anyone doing anything without planning permission for the work then I’m sure you can imagine how humourless those pencil-dicks get. Local Authority Building Control is like a promotion path for traffic wardens after they’ve issued a million parking tickets. Oh, and future property sale or rental is also going to be sticky as buyers and estate/letting agents want to know that the proper maintenance has been performed before any signatures are placed on their dotted lines.
A similar incident was highlighted on Twitter recently where a patio paving prat had used his slab-slotting-skills to also install some external power, seemingly using (internal) twin and earth cable, improperly installed so that tripping later occurred requiring a potentially costly call-out from a proper electrician. Of course, there’s not going to be any long term putting right without that paving coming back up, so I guess that corner-cutting exercise didn’t quite work out for the homeowner even if it did seem like a good idea at the time.
Still, at least it didn’t kill ‘em when it all went to cock. When electrics go bad, it can easily go so very bad so very quickly.
So, whether it’s a Jack of all trades (master of none), or another trade entirely who is working on your home, where modifications to the electrics are involved please ensure they appoint a proper electrician to take care of it, after all it’s your safety on the line in the long term. You wouldn’t get your kitchen fitter or patio installer to replace your car’s brakes, so don’t let your family go to bed at night having left a tiler, painter, plumber, pavier or the guy who empties your bins every fortnight perform work on your home electrics. It’s not their job, they won’t be there if it all goes bad and you can bet they won’t want to take any responsibility for the consequences.