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Danger zone

Putting right a horror domestic installation that could have had deadly consequences

A plumber I work with rang me to say that he was trying to replace a back boiler at a semi-detached ex-council house but was getting shocks off the pipework.

I couldn’t attend straight away, so told him to isolate all the power, disconnect the old heating supply from the fused spur and physically remove all connecting pipework and the fire itself to ensure there was no hidden wiring that was damaged.

He duly turned off and unplugged everything and said that when he tested the remaining heating pipes he didn’t get a shock so thought it was sorted.

However, the following morning when working on the gas main he got a proper electric shock which arced – although thankfully the gas was turned off at the time.

He called me again and I left another job to go over because it sounded serious. When I arrived I couldn’t believe what I saw – the whole installation was an absolutely horrific shambles. Without exaggeration, it’s the worst I’ve seen in the 20 years since I started my apprenticeship.

After removing the cover on the distribution board (DB) I found:

  • No main earth or bonding, with the old main earth left out and no new earth put in

  • Earths connected to the residual current device (RCD) bar

  • Neutrals for the second RCD into the earth bar connected to the metal DB chassis

  • No gland for tails for support, leaving a large hole on top of the DB

  • No steel wire armoured (SWA) gland at either end of the run

  • Insulation damage on the SWA leading into the garage

  • Badly cut tails with exposed copper

  • Tails doubled up with 6mm SWA for the shed

  • ‘Haircut’ on supply tails, with more than half the strands cut

  • Low voltage readings.

I set to work straight away to try and put it right but kept finding more and more issues. On closer inspection of the property, a range of other dangers were identified, including:

  • Low voltage and extra low voltage running together with uninsulated heating pipes

  • No earth for gas

  • Inadequate bonding for water and gas

  • Thermoplastic and insulated sheath cables (AKA twin and earth) on plug tops.

With a normal DB job, I’d take my time and ensure it’s as neat as possible, fitting residual current breakers with integral overcurrent protection (RCBOs) and surge protection devices (SPDs) where required.

However, after speaking to the client, it was decided the best course of action was to just fix the most pressing issues immediately and worry about upgrading the installation later.

I knew I couldn’t afford to spend hours straightening each cable to make it a work of art – I just needed to make it safe as quickly as possible, so I just fixed each issue as it was found.

It took a full day to make it safe before we did anything else, including waiting for the energy suppliers to check the supply and reseal the meter. And these were just my initial findings while I was carrying out insulation resistance testing – I knew more issues would be found when carrying out the full inspection and test, and sure enough I subsequently uncovered a host of other things, including Class 1 fittings throughout with no earth and a 3A appliance’s connector blocked into the ring main.

Even more horrifically, after everything had been made safe and the plumber carried out more tests, it was found, that even with the main shut-off valve in the ‘closed’ position, gas was STILL passing through the pipe and Transco had to be called.

I told the plumber that he’d had an extremely lucky escape and, indeed, it’s a miracle that someone in the house wasn’t killed because it was so close to being a disaster – there could have been a gas explosion or someone could easily have been electrocuted.

No qualified electrician installed that board. If they had, it would have been fitted to standard and at least some testing done to ensure the property was safe. Instead, it looks like it was carried out by someone who thought they had some electrical ‘knowledge’.

We’re seeing more and more of this kind of thing from non-qualified people who believe they know what they’re doing when it comes to electrical installations and just wing it. But the next time their ‘handiwork’ goes wrong, it’s going be too late for some poor soul.

I just feel sorry for the householder, who had only been in the property for three weeks. The whole thing was like driving off in an expensive new car – only to suddenly find out that the brakes don’t work.



Rowe Electrical

BRANCH: Tayside

PHONE: 01383 720010


The SELECT Verdict

A portrait of Stuart McKelvie

Stuart McKelvie

Training Development Adviser, SELECT

I took the original call from Craig about this issue when I was manning the SELECT Technical Helpline and it was immediately clear that he was furious and extremely concerned.

When I saw his photos, I shared his dismay and am only glad he was there to put things right.

We are all used to seeing bad and shoddy workmanship, but this is downright dangerous and the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

You might recall that in the last issue of cabletalk we outlined the measures that should be taken to ensure the safe installation of a consumer unit. Well, safe to say that whoever did this ‘install’ has deviated from every single recommended procedure.

More than ever, this episode shows the vital need for regulation and for electrical work to only ever be carried out by qualified professionals.

In this case, like so many others our Members come across, the unwitting householder will have had no idea that something was wrong and unfortunately that’s usually the issue with so much faulty electrical work – it stays hidden until it’s too late.

If this isn’t a wake-up for protection of title then I don’t know what is. I’m just glad Craig brought it to our attention and made things safe before someone was injured – or even worse.

More information For further information and advice please call our Technical Helpline on 0131 445 9218 or email



Watch Craig's video of what he found at


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