DIY Lighting Advice
The weekend is upon us again and the DIY stores will be brimming with people looking to put their own stamp on their property. Lighting upgrades, either swapping switches or changing the fittings themselves, seems to be a very popular electrical job that people feel confident enough to ‘have a bash’ themselves. Whilst this ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ may be what typifies us British, maybe you should take stock of the facts before you pick that screwdriver up. Read on for some DIY Lighting Advice:
This is an often completed DIY lighting job. Simple switches in bedrooms and such like can sometimes indeed be a “2 wire job”. However this is where you are forgetting that 3rd wire, the old misunderstood chesnut commonly known as “earth”. Any metallic light switch will be what is technically known as CLASS 1 and will require a connection to “earth”.
Now this is where it’s going to get a bit more technical:
Some old installations (approx pre 1966) don’t have an “earth” on the lighting circuits. The wire is simply 2 conductors for the live and switched return. In this instance I’m afraid you’ll have to either fit plastic (insulated/CLASS 2) switches or the only other option is to rewire the lighting circuit. This is not a DIY job! Under no circumstances should you either attempt to rewire the circuit, or press on and fit the metallic switches without a “earth” connection.
Even if you do have an “earth” within your old switch, as I guess most of you will, how can you actually be sure it is connected to the circuit properly? Assuming isn’t a legitimate option I’m afraid. Checking will require a continuity test between the “earth” and the MET (Main Earthing Terminal) to ensure it is connected. The equipment to complete this test properly is anywhere between £100-£500+, requires calibration and experience to not only be able to complete the test, but interpret the result.
I don’t normally waffle on with technical babble so I’m sorry. The upshot is if any of that was lost on you then just fitting them willy-nilly and hoping for the best is dicing with risk.
All The Colours Of The Rainbow
The next question is what about 2 way switching or even intermediate switching? 2 way switching is what you would have on your stairs where the lights can be turned on/off from either end. Be aware that these switches will have MANY more wires inside, and quite usually will be colours you won’t be expecting. Would you know what to do if you took the switch off and there was the following inside? Brown, Grey, Black, Red, Blue, Yellow & Green/Blue. I’m not quoting a rainbow, this is the scenario when you have an old circuit with pre 2004 colours and a new cable in the backbox with post 2004 colours (and some “earth sleeving”). Sounds complicated right?
Think that you can just “copy” the wires from one switch to another? We have attended many properties where DIYers have tried this and the new switch is either laid out differently or else labelled differently. This can cause the terminals to then be incorrect and the lights to not work as expected. Had these DIYers searched proper DIY Lighting Advice in the first instance, perhaps they could have avoided these issues.
So you’ve seen some fancy lights at the local DIY store and think, they can’t be that hard to fit, right? Again, as above, most decorative lights are CLASS 1 and will require an “earth connection”. You’ll be running into the same issues as with the metallic switches above so I won’t run back over that section. But are you aware of ‘loop-in’ wiring to the lighting circuit that is found in most houses? This is where a ‘permanent live’ is found at each light which goes from one light to another in a loop in/loop out fashion.
I bring it up as it is one we are most often called out for when DIYers have attempted it over a weekend. Take a house wired in the older, red & black (pre-2004) colours. What you’ll find a typical ceiling rose you might want to replace will be 2 black cables in one terminal, 3 red cables in one terminal and 1 red cable in another. I see the logic in putting all the red in one terminal (live right?) and all the black in the other (neutral of course?) when you replace it.
Well in doing that you’ve just created a live-neutral short. This will blow your fuse/circuit breaker every time the light switch is turned on! Cue large bang and no lights….. One black cable should be sleeved to indicate it is a ‘live return’ from the switch, but it hardly ever is, or it was and it’s fallen off over time.
Be careful when screwing the new light fitting up also. We have seen 2 cases where the securing screws have pierced the cable behind them in the ceiling. This resulting in much more costly repairs to the installation. I have also seen many examples of the ceiling being in poor condition and when attempting to use the screws and plugs that come with light fittings they have ended up hanging down.
You should always replace the supplied screws with better items and use appropriate plugs for the surface to which it is to be fitted. As most ceilings are plaster/plasterboard, fitting your lights using red wall plugs will give ZERO hanging strength to the fitting. As a lot of customers chose fancy fittings, some with glass drops, these can actually weigh quite a bit and the static load will just pull them from the ceiling. If you are to DIY your light fittings, be well aware of your ceiling type and the appropriate fittings which will hang your light.
DIY Lighting Advice – The cold hard truth
You probably aren’t equipped to do this task completely and safely. It’s also very likely that you don’t have equipment to properly test.
Your work isn’t covered by any sort of insurance, and faults which could quite easily damage your property (over 10,000 electrical fires every year in UK) would be your own liability. One look at the recent storylines in the UK soap operas highlights the truth that DIY work is NOT covered by your building insurance. Although it may seem unlikely, there is a good chance that if your DIY electrical work does injure someone (or worse), you could find yourself in potential legal problems….
I’m not saying this to try and dissuade you, it’s simply the truth. If you want all that risk and worry then that is fine.
Personally, I don’t attempt DIY plumbing work. If my pipes leak, I call a plumber. I’ll be honest, I can join a pipe together, but I’m no expert. I don’t want to flood the house and IF the house were to flood, I want my building insurance to cover it.
I USED to save money here and there and do DIY work at home but then it dawned on me. It takes me loads longer and the worry of it going wrong or whatever just isn’t worth it.
The best DIY Lighting Advice I could give would be this:
Spend the weekend doing things you love, with people you love. The weekend is short enough already! Leave the DIY electrical work and give a registered electrician a call.