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10 electrical safety tips at home

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Electricity powers so much of what we use in our homes and during our daily lives. From lighting, heating and cooking, to entertainment, doing the laundry, connecting us to loved ones and so many other uses, electricity is naturally now central to our everyday. It’s easy to forget that the electricity in our homes carries risks, and that we need to take care when using it, to keep ourselves and our families and belongings safe. 

In this article, we look at home electrical safety and what every household can do, whether renters or homeowners, to help avoid problems and safely enjoy all of the benefits that it brings to our lives and homes.

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Who is responsible for electrical safety in a rented home?
Who is responsible for electrical safety in an owned home?
10 top home electrical safety tips

Who is responsible for electrical safety in a rented home?

If you live in a rented property in England,  the landlord or housing provider must have the electrics checked by a qualified electrician before a new tenant moves in, and at least every five years after that. The electrician will issue an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR), which highlights if any repairs are needed. The certificate is valid for five years. In Scotland, landlords and housing providers are also required to arrange electrical safety checks at least every five years. 

However, tenants also have responsibilities when it comes to home electrical safety. They need to ensure that any problems spotted with any of the electrics in the property are reported straight away and should take all of the usual precautions and care when using any electrical equipment, appliances or devices .  

If you’re a Places for People customer and you’re concerned about a potential problem with the electrics in your home, please report the repair as soon as possible. 

Who is responsible for electrical safety in an owned home?

If you own your home, the safety of the electrics in your property is ultimately your responsibility. However, if you live in a new-build property that is still under the developer’s warranty, you’ll need to report any electrical issues to the developer. 

There is currently no legal requirement to get the electrics checked by a qualified professional in a home that you own, but it’s recommended to do so at least every 10 years, for your own peace of mind. 
It’s important to always take precautions when using any electrical equipment in your home.

10 top home electrical safety tips 

It’s often easy to forget that electricity can be dangerous, so it’s important to take sensible measures in your home to spot potential problems early and minimise the risks of anything going wrong.  Some of the dangers that can be caused by electricity at home might include fires, electrocution, or electric shocks. While these occurrences are rare, it’s always best to be prepared and take measures to stop them from happening in the first place. 

We’ve compiled a list of tips to help with electrical safety at home.

1. Check electrical cables for damage regularly

Over time, it can be possible for electrical cables that lead from appliances or devices to electric plug sockets to become damaged or to degrade. Sometimes wires can come loose, become exposed or the cable can be accidentally damaged without you even realising. 
For this reason, it’s important to check electrical cables regularly. Only check cables when the device or appliance is unplugged. You can look at:

  • The end that plugs into the socket. Is the cable in good condition and is the wiring well covered by the casing? 
  • The end that is connected to the device. Can you see any exposed wiring or does it feel loose? This can sometimes indicate a problem.
  • The length of cable between the two ends. Is this free from damage on all sides, with the wires all covered by the casing? 

If there is any sign of damage at all, such as loose or exposed wires in your cables, they should not be plugged back in or used at all, and the cable should be replaced before you use the appliance or device again.

2. Don’t overload electrical sockets at home

One of the most common causes of electrical fires in homes is overloaded sockets, where too many appliances or devices are plugged in and used at once. Sockets have limits, usually 13 amps or 3000 watts in UK homes, which means that you should not plug devices or appliances that draw more power than this into any one socket. 

Electrical devices should all show how many watts or amps they use, often on a label on the cable, on the device itself or in the manufacturer’s instructions. For an indication only, campaigning charity Electrical Safety First has published a list of common appliances and the amps and watts they use

Using extension leads and 4-way adaptors in the home is common, as we might often need power where there is no socket nearby, but care should always be taken to check how many watts and amps the extension lead is limited to (usually 3000 watts or 13 amps, but some may be 10 amps or less) to make sure you don’t overload it with what you are plugging in. The rating should always be clearly marked on the extension lead itself.

You should never plug an extension lead or 4-way socket into another extension lead or 4-way. Keep in mind, extension cables should be fully unravelled before use to prevent overheating. In addition, avoid covering cables with materials, such as blankets, which can also cause overheating.   

Check all of your sockets visually regularly for danger signs such as:

  • Scorch marks or black marks around the socket or plug
  • Any melted plastic on sockets, appliances or cables

You should also make sure that if you smell burning near to a socket, see any sparks or smoke, or if fuses blow for no obvious reason, you should stop using that socket and seek professional advice. 

If you’re a Places for People Customer, report the repair

Overloaded Electrical Socket Damages Plug

3. Keep electrical cables tidy and secured out of the way

Electrical cables that trail in a room can be a trip hazard and are more likely to be damaged, but can also potentially cause electrical problems, if they are pulled or get tangled in something else. 

Never wrap electrical appliance or device cables around objects as this can stretch them and can sometimes cause them to overheat. 

Never run cables under rugs as this can not only be a trip hazard, it can also cause cables to stretch or be damaged and can hide the problem so you don’t spot it early enough.

Make sure the areas that you tidy or run cables along are not near to hot surfaces, such as close to radiators, as this can damage the wiring inside the cable. 

Keeping electrical cables out of reach of young children and pets is also important. Pets can sometimes nibble on cables if they are within reach and children might pull or chew on cables if they have access to them. 

4. Unplug appliances and devices when not being used

Unplugging electrical appliances and devices when they are not in use is a good way to help keep your home safer, whilst also saving a little on the energy being used, as many devices will draw a little electricity even when they are not switched on or are in standby mode. 

Unplugging appliances when not being used will protect them from any power surges or overheating, as well as the benefit of using less energy. It also means it’s impossible to accidently leave them switched on if you unplug after every use. This is especially important for equipment that uses lithium batteries, as cause be a big fire risk.  

5. Watch out for water risks around electrical equipment

Water and electricity are very dangerous together, which is why the UK has such strict safety rules over the placement of sockets in kitchens and the lack of sockets in bathrooms. As well as keeping all electrical appliances and devices well away from water, it’s also important to dry your hands before using them. 

Some of the common risks you can look out for at home include:

  • Don’t give young children drinks or liquids to play with around electrical appliances, sockets or extension leads.
  • If you have pets, check the placement of water bowls is away from any electrical devices or sockets.
  • Never take electrical appliances and devices into the bathroom using an extension lead from another room or hallway.

6. Check that appliances and devices have enough room for air circulation

Electrical appliances will generate heat when they are being used, so they often have vents in the casing to help them cool down. This means that they need using in places where there is enough room around them to let the air circulate properly and prevent overheating, as this could be a potential fire hazard. 

You should never put things on top of electrical appliances like microwaves and never run appliances inside cupboards. Some kitchens have appliances built into the units or surfaces. This is fine as long as the work was done by qualified professionals, using appliances that were designed specifically for this use, as they will have vents in certain places where air can still circulate effectively.

7. Only use genuine electrical goods that meet UK safety standards

Genuine electrical appliances and goods sold in the UK have to meet strict safety standards in order to legally be available for sale here. However, similar products that are sold outside of the UK or imported into the country often don’t have the same standards and levels of safety, which makes them a risk to use. Counterfeit goods, such as ‘branded’ hair straighteners or hair dryers available cheaply online are usually made from inferior materials and do not undergo the levels of testing that products from the real manufacturers do, so these should be avoided. If a deal to buy electricals looks too good to be true, it usually is. 

Replacement chargers and batteries for devices can also sometimes fall under this category, and can be a significant fire risk if used. 

To help ensure that you are buying genuine safety-tested electrical goods, you can:

  • Buy electricals directly from the brand manufacturer or a trusted UK retailer.  Which? have a 1:1 chat what recommends tested and verified products within their database to help customers purchase safe and efficient equipment to their budget
  • Avoid buying electricals from online marketplaces where sellers are not subject to stringent checks e.g. social media marketplaces, Amazon marketplace.
  • Avoid buying generic unbranded electricals, batteries and chargers from shops or online

8. Check the manufacturer’s instructions before using new electrical devices and appliances

It’s often tempting to just plug and go when you get a new electrical device or appliance. However, making sure that you read the manufacturer's instructions helps to ensure that you’re getting the best performance out of your purchase, are operating it safely and can help extend its useful life. 

Reading Instruction Manual Of New Electrical Appliance

9. Store all electrical equipment in a safe and dry place

We’ve already mentioned how water and electricity don’t mix, but it’s also important to ensure that you store electricals in a dry and safe place where they are protected from the elements, whether they are used indoors or outdoors. For example, an electric lawnmower or other gardening electricals and tools are often kept in a shed or outbuilding, so you need to make sure that the storage area is watertight to help prevent parts of the machines from getting wet or starting to rust or erode over time, which can lead to a fire or electric shock risk. 

10. Clean, check and maintain electrical appliances regularly

We’ve covered regularly checking that your electrical appliance cables are in good condition, but doing the same for the devices themselves is also important in keeping them working as well as they should be and preventing potential safety problems. 

Keeping electricals clean and maintained can help you to spot potential dangers early, as well as keeping your appliances running at their best. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and care of electricals. You can also check out our guide on kitchen appliance maintenance tips.