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Electrics

Reducing consumption

The building regulations require that you fit a minimum amount of low energy light fittings (and this has to be shown on the drawings) but with careful design you can make them all low energy at very little extra initial cost and with a large financial and energy saving over their lifetime. In a few years the conventional incandescent light bulb will cease to be available in the EU anyway. (see more about lighting design). If you are buying new appliances such as a fridge, freezer, washer etc. then it makes sense to go for at least an ‘A’ rated one. Some of the appliances now have ‘A+’ and ‘A++’ ratings and if you can afford them then go for it (but not at the expense of very long-term things like good insulation).

Home energy monitors are a good way of raising awareness about what is using electricity in a house. They can be fitted where the mains cable enters the house or to an individual circuit or appliance. Cost is about £30 – £50

PVC insulation

Problems with PVC bring up the question of the outer sheathing material on cabling not only because of the manufacturing and eventual disposal of the material but also because of the toxic fumes it produces in case of a fire. Polythene insulation is available but takes a bit of ordering and tracking down. The DIY wiki has a useful article on cables for domestic wiring

Avoiding electro magnetic radiation

This is a very contentious area. It concerns the electromagnetic radiation given out by electric wires and has been a concern not only about living very close to high voltage pylons but also the possibility that the wiring surrounding you in a house gives out relatively high doses of electrical radiation which may be harmful.

On the one hand we live in a universe which is heaving with electromagnetic radiation and we seem to have adapted to it pretty well. There’s all kinds of radiation flying about all the time everywhere, – light, heat, cosmic rays X-rays- you name it, and over the last few million years we have adapted to it. On the other hand there is the concern that having a particular type of relatively new sort of electrical field (a 50 hertz emf) around us almost all the time, at home and at work, may have an effect on us.

Most studies have been inconclusive about the effects, especially with pylons. There seems to be some evidence that if you spend many hours a day (like when sleeping) with your head near a power cable (say in the wall near your bed) and the cable is carrying a high current, then there could be a serious health issue, particularly with brain damage or brain cancer (however there is very little hard evidence of this). There are a couple of points to bear in mind. Firstly the electromagnetic radiation dies off as the square of the distance from the cable (so to be on the safe side, don’t have cables in the wall right next to where people might sleep). Secondly, our brains, (and lots of other parts of our bodies like nerves) work on extremely low voltages which might easily be interfered with or damaged by much higher external electrical fields. Keep watching the research on this. Try to stay scientific about it and avoid the panic mongers!Future proofing

Future proofing

A very difficult subject for obvious reasons (the future keeps changing!) but electrical wiring can often be run in ducts so that changes to wiring do not involve damage to surfaces and decorations (with all the implication of materials and energy having to be wasted and spent). Until ‘beaming’ electricity around the house in a sci-fi, Wi-Fi sort of way is available it is best to assume that the more ducts and spaces are available for future changes to circuitry the better. This not only applies to the normal lighting and power circuits but also to broadband, telecoms, security, video etc. see Service ducts and Telecoms / Home automation

There are a couple of other issues which are not particularly seen as important yet but may well become so:

  • As more and more electronic goods are used in the home it may be that there is a case for installing low voltage DC (possibly 12V) circuits so that they can all be fed off one transformer. There has been a slight move in that direction already with the agreement by European mobile phone manufacturers to standardise chargers so that they do not need to be replaced with each new phone. LED lighting may influence this when it comes into more general use.
  • Following on from European mains voltage standardisation, the current UK standard is now 230V +10%/-6%. This means your voltage can fluctuate between 216V and 253V. That is a variation of 37V which is very significant. It means that (for instance) a manufacturer of low energy light bulbs must make a product that will function properly at the lower voltage without burning out too soon at the higher one. Now if you test your voltage you will find that in many parts of the UK, much of the time it is close to the upper limit of 253V. This is not by chance. The power company sells you more electricity at the higher voltage than the lower one. It also suffers less transmission losses because of the higher voltage. It is not that they are swindling you, – just that you may end up getting more power than you need in some respects. While this may not matter with appliances such as resistance heaters (like an immersion heater where the water simply gets hot quicker), with more sensitive items such as halogen bulbs the extra voltage can seriously shorten the working life of the light. One answer to this is to fit a voltage optimisation unit. Models such as Vphase and VO4home are appearing on the domestic market. They can be wired in next to the consumer unit. About £200.

The law on who can do electrical work

Contrary to what many people think, the Building Regulations, Part P (which now covers electrical work) does not prohibit non-qualified people doing electrical work. However it may still need to be inspected by Building Control. There is a useful article on this subject on the Ultimate handyman web site

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