To all those unenlightened builders, councils and odd punters who sometimes ask why we can’t do it for 50p. It should be remembered, that while “knowledge is power”, knowledge also costs! We sparkies (electricians) are required to constantly assimilate new regulations and technologies on what seems like a half-hourly basis. Our training never stops. Mostly, we learn these technologies in the wee hours and at our own cost. Training is very time consuming and expensive. Because our electrics generally pass through elements of other trades’ work, we’re required to have a basic understanding of these trades and their construction/installation methods as well.
Inevitably, attempts to manage these unabsorbable costs will form a small part of our charges. None of this is limited to sparks alone, but Joe Builder and Josephine Public really need to appreciate that what we do is more than “just a bit of wire”. No one is an island, and it’s important where possible that we remember our social and industrial obligations. If we’re to repay the time and effort put into our own early training by those who invested in us and gave us that chance, we must address the debt and in return, train our young people. Once again, this training costs. So to those potential customers who feel that the job could be done with a single pair of hands rather than two, it must be said that sometimes it can’t (or shouldn’t)… Corporate responsibility laws also mean that sometimes it is unsafe for a single operative to work alone. This is not to say that changing a bulb needs two “bods”, but you know what I mean… We need to maintain world-class training if we’re to remain a world-class economy (no matter how small a part of that economy we might be). Happily, we still have some amazing people doing great work out there. Gary Bennett of JTL Ltd http://www.jtltraining.com I’m looking at you!
But remember , teaching someone a trade doesn’t just put money in their pockets, it can show them how to dovetail into society and also show them where a little aspiration might lead. Only a short time ago, you will have witnessed inner city rioting and looting of a type never before seen. The experts seem to be split as to its root cause, but as non-philosophy graduates, we all know that apart from the opportunists who joined in, its genesis lies in the swathes of directionless, idle youth. That last statement was simplistic and non-PC, but there it is.. If you aren’t supporting young people and doing your bit to safeguard their futures and thereby your own, you have little to complain about when they’re robbing your house!
Part P, what’s that?
Back in 2005, the government brought in a new law that placed significant burdens on anyone intending to work on defined parts of a domestic electrical installation . They called it Part P of the building regulations. Part P was intended to have some clout and regulate the often dangerous electrical tinkering carried out by fly-by-nights and the untrained. One of the problems with Part P , is that it is a very broad brush and oddly, even the highly-skilled are naturally barred from working on domestic installations, without having to jump through a few hoops first. Compliance with the requirements of Part P is achieved in either of two ways:
Requires you to pay a fee to local building control; you (or your installer) carry out the work, and they then send someone round to test and provide the necessary certification. It is essential that you notify them prior to carrying out the work otherwise all sorts of direness might ensure…
You simply engage an electrical contractor or installer enrolled in a competent person scheme. They will do all the paperwork for you and provide you with a minimum of two certificates. Simples! Failure to do either of the above would result in dire consequences, with a maximum fine of £5,000.00, followed by even more dire consequences. As mentioned above, degree-level engineers and even the team that wrote the regs must adhere to the requirements of Part P . There are no exceptions.
Did you understand all of that?
Well, in 2005 it appears that a significant number of people didn’t and some people still don’t, even now! When we explain this concept to some customers they often develop a thousand yard stare, so we find ourselves having to do the government’s leg-work and explain what the Dickens, Part P is! We’re still finding recent electrical installations that have never been tested, let alone certificated. Despite the previous statement, the lack of consumer knowledge is almost understandable because the publicity surrounding Part P was, to be kind, not great…
The 5 minute Part P installer
Many of the “faithful” are up in arms that anyone “off the street” can take a short course and attain some sort of limited Part P approval. Kitchen and shower fitters are probably the main trades “taking fire” on this one. But there are, of course, many others too.
Here’s another instance of other trades dabbling in work that should arguably be restricted to the time-served. This is a hard one to call, because if the competent person schemes these people sign up with are doing their jobs, there should technically be no problem. However, it’s all very well buying a test kit and being told what parameters constitute a pass or fail reading. But if you don’t understand what you’re testing, how do you interpret your readings? What happens if that Zs is too low? Are you going to know why? And what about that intermittent low insulation resistance causing nuisance tripping of the RCD ? Assuming that you’re even lucky enough to detect it!
Having had experience of dedicated, installation subcontractor sparks who didn’t know one end of a continuity tester from the other, only the most enlightened 5 minute installers are going to “cut the mustard”. The jury may be out for some time on this one.
You want that where? We can’t do that!
Rogue traders is a cracking programme, but it has a small case to answer. While, quite rightly it has exposed the sharp practices of dishonest double glazing salesmen and their ilk, it has probably also inoculated some consumers against common sense. Scepticism can sometimes pervade meetings with new clients. Especially when they’re needing what they think are minor electrical works a short time after they’ve had the decorators in… Heath and safety places considerable burdens on installers. When asked to provide quotations for domestic work, they are deemed to have fully assessed an installation and are required by law to ensure that at any alterations do not adversely affect the existing electrical installation. This means that, no, we can’t “hang” three 10.5KW electric showers off your 60 amp supply! Not without some form of load-shedding or lock-out system, anyway…
Equally, when we say that you’ve no earthing to your lighting circuits and no main bonding, and that extensive upgrading is necessary for compliance purposes, chances are an installer is telling you the truth. It’s not too hard to have this verified by a third party, anyway. And, no, we can’t just put up that lovely ( Class I ) chrome light fitting where you’ve no earthing and dispense with the rewiring and the certification just to save a few bob, because certification legally protects both parties. There are still a surprising number of electrical installations that have no earthing in their lighting circuits and there are few instances where this wiring can be legitimately extended. If there’s no earth, how can you even test it? Indeed, in some instances extension of defective wiring of this sort could be illegal (duty of care, heath & safety and all that…). Rewiring is almost always recommended.
So when you’re having extensive electrical alterations to your property and, your sparks tells you that you need to have main bonding and RCDs installed in situations where they don’t currently exist. She/he isn’t trying to string you along. Main bonding , while appearing to do little, is hugely important and is essential to comply with regs. It’s worth noting, also, that if the electrical work being installed doesn’t comply with BS7671:2008 (as amended), then it cannot be Part P compliant. Lastly, in these difficult days we’re all too well aware that price is king, but “buy cheap and pay twice”. If you are tempted to decline the good advice likely to be given by a registered installer because you have a cheaper, easier, non-disruptive, non-rewiring alternative quotation, ensure you retain the full contact details of the chosen installer, because it is highly likely you will be needing to speak to them again, very soon…
It may sound patronising, but please, always choose a registered installer. These are individuals or companies that have voluntarily taken the time and trouble to have their businesses rigorously inspected on an annual basis and submit to constant technical direction. Those light-footed individuals offering here-today-gone-tomorrow prices haven’t!
Additionally, all competent person scheme providers offer powerful consumer tools for recourse against faulty workmanship (even the registered aren’t perfect). Ours can be found here: http://www.niceic.com/ More reading can be found here: http://www.esc.org.uk/
Sheds selling electrical gear
Many of the “faithful” have extreme views about DIY shops selling electrical equipment to the general public, as this almost promotes the lie that working with electricity can be safely carried out by anyone. Understandably, Joe and Josephine Public doing their own electrics can reduce potential work for time-served, legitimate tradespersons.
At Aegis we laugh at this notion. We’re probably a little out of step with that opinion as we’re free-thinkers and, self-servingly, we often get work off the back of people utterly failing to install something they originally thought trivial!
Another reason we’re not fussed is it’s also very hard to find a wholesaler open on a Sunday should the van stock fail in Outer Timbuktu (or Henley on Thames)!
Drive-by periodic tests
Carrying out periodic inspection reports ( PIRs ) at low cost has always been a contentious issue. Making any money at all at some of the low prices being charged, would require an inspector to do what is known as a “drive-by”. This phenomenon isn’t exactly the same as that which happens in South Central Los Angeles, but the outcomes can potentially be the same.
Where there is intense competition for testing work, this methodology is almost understandable, but is nevertheless foolhardy. PIRs can constitute consultancy and the penalties for getting this wrong through negligence can be heavy.
To correctly assess the state of an electrical installation requires an intimate knowledge of installation practices (and in very poor installations, clairvoyance!). It’s not possible to correctly do four or five full test and inspections a day. Many of the more fleet-of-foot would disagree, but it seems that the IET think so too. Which is why the recent amendment to BS7671:2008 has made changes to the practice of periodic testing and inspection.
The IET no doubt feel that the move to the new electrical installation condition reports ( EICRs ) will slow the whole process down and provide better and more faithful reports for end users.
Our feeling, is that while well-intentioned, it’s increased the work-load when we’re already under the cosh and, created more room for error. It’s also increased the requirement for even deeper explanation of technical terms to the client. Clients already require a heavy discourse on Ze, maximum allowable Zs and protective bonding…
It will be interesting to see what this does to those dedicated testing firms requiring their inspectors to produce “x” number of jobs each day, every day. Hopefully they’ll begin charging the correct rate for the job and call time on the current “race to the bottom”…