Cabling in gardens

Extending lighting & power from the house to the garden is a growing area of activity, with the increasing use of mains electricity for garden offices, sheds, border & tree lighting schemes, water features, etc. LED lighting in particular has dramatically reduced the installation & running cost of extensive garden lighting schemes.

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But the garden environment can be a harsh one for electric cables & accessories, requiring meticulous attention to waterproofing & electrical safety, and protection against cable damage in particular from abrasion and impact damage from shrub growth, rodents and gardeners (!). It’s easy to make things work when they are new and dry, not so easy after a year or two exposed to the great British weather. Above all, safety must never be compromised when dealing with 230V mains voltage circuits.

Many well-meaning garden electrics schemes fail after a disappointingly short time due to poor choice and installation of cables and accessories. For this reason, steel-wired armoured cable (SWA) in particular is an absolute necessity in this environment, delivering power safely & reliably over quite long distances to endpoints.

SWA cable

SWA being pretty tough cable, is tough to work with, requiring proper metal glands to terminate it safely on waterproofed accessories. Qualified electricians should be used to install this kind of cable, in addition to ensuring all aspects of electrical safety are met during the design and installation of the garden electrics as a whole. For free advice and a quote on all such work, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

 

 

 

 

Think you can change a light fitting?

One of the common DIY problems with electrics is changing ceiling light fittings. Sounds simple doesn’t it – take the old one off and reconnect all the wires to the new one – right?

Ceiling light 2

Well, it’s fairly simple only when there are 3 wires to worry about. Often though, the old light fitting is also acting as a ‘loop-in, loop-out’ cable joint, in which case there can be many individual wires (live, switched live, neutrals, earth) and it is very easy to mix them up. At best the light won’t work, at worst the fuse on the consumer unit will blow and other lights won’t work either. Add to this working off a ladder, a general lack of suitable test equipment to confirm correct wiring and earthing, particularly to fancy metal fittings, and this ‘simple job’ turns into a drama.

However tempting it is to try and change your own light fittings, it’s generally not a good idea. Even electricians find these to be fiddly and tricky jobs on occasions, but they will always leave it safe and working at the end!

The damage furry rodents can do

The one thing mice, rats and squirrels all have in common is their taste for electric cables which often leads to both their demise and tripped fuses & RCDs in your house and outbuilding/garden circuits.

Often next to their nests in lofts and pipes, the rodents chew off the PVC insulation on the cables, exposing the copper cores and  creating an electrocution hazard to you and them, particularly in lofts. Fire risk and tripped fuses/RCDs from short circuits and earth leakage can also occur.

Mice and squirrels are the main problems found in lofts, particularly the latter which although less in number, can be very destructive in a short space of time. Rats are a particular hazard to non-armoured cables in underground ducts and outbuildings.

The tell-tale signs to look out for are visibly nibbled & chewed cables and nuisance tripping which is often happens when chewed cables get damp or wet.
In all cases, action must be taken quickly to eliminate further cable damage and repair the already damaged cables. This often means removing the rodent activity (particularly in lofts) and/or adding additional protection to cables where it is not feasible to remove the rodents.

So the next time you hear the patter of tiny feet on your ceilings, don’t delay, it could prove an expensive mistake!

 

Changing 12V halogen downlight bulbs for LED

I often get asked if it is OK to just change 12V halogen bulbs like the one below for 12V LED bulbs :

12V bulb

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The 12V halogen bulbs are powered by a small 12V transformer in the ceiling space, which isn’t really compatible with 12V LED bulbs. It may work if you are lucky but is more likely not to work at all, or cause damage to the LED bulb or itself.

An electrician should always change the transformer for a 12V LED driver like the one below before fitting the LED bulb. The advantage of this option is you get to keep the existing downlight fitting if it is still in good condition.

LED driver

The other option is to remove the need for a transformer or LED driver altogether and replace the downlight fitting with a 230V mains voltage fitting, which allows a 230V LED GU10 bulb to be fitted. The advantage of this option is that there is less to go wrong in the future (only the bulb, which is a DIY replacement).

LED new-gu10-side

The difference in cost between the two options is almost negligible, as the cost of the LED driver offsets the cost of a replacement 230V fitting. Of the two options, I prefer the latter as there is less maintenance cost in the future.

If you’d like to discuss which is best for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

LED lights run a lot cooler than halogen

LED lights are much more efficient, long-lasting and economical to run than the older halogen types they replace.

From an electricians viewpoint however, they also offer a major advantage in the area of operating temperature, as LED runs much cooler than halogen. In recessed downlights in particular, an LED bulb like the one below is only warm to the touch after several hours of operation.

LED new-gu10-side

Whereas a similar halogen bulb like this one would burn your fingers a few seconds after switching on.

12V bulb

Heat management is a critical safety issue with recessed downlights and poorly installed halogen downlights (too close to joists, covered in loft insulation & dust, etc) are a significant fire risk. Having replaced thousands of halogen downlights over the last few years, I reckon around 5-10% have shown evidence of heat damage, some seriously.

So I only ever fit LED bulbs now!

If you are concerned about your old halogen downlights, call for free advice on keeping them safe, including replacing with LED.

 

 

 

 

 

Outhouse supplies

We’ve seen an increasing demand in the last few years for electrical supplies to outhouses such as sheds, summerhouses, garden workshops and offices. No longer is it just a simple light and a socket required, some of these outhouses now require enough power to run electric heaters, washing machines, woodworking machinery and the like. It is not unusual to see up to 7kw load requirements in some cases.

Careful consideration needs to be given to how the electrical supply will originate from the house and how lights and sockets will be supplied in the outhouse. Cable runs from the house need to be thoroughly waterproofed and protected against impact and rodent damage.

In many cases, taking power from the house ring main is not a satisfactory way to deliver sufficient power and resilience to the out-building. New circuits taken directly from the main consumer unit or incoming power supply point are often the best solution wherever possible.

In all cases we would survey the job and advise & quote on the best solution given a full understanding of the customers requirements for the use of the outhouse.

 

 

Replacing light fittings

It’s not uncommon for people to try and change light fittings themselves. After all, it should be an easy job, right?
Wrong! It’s a lot harder than it first appears.
Apart from the obvious electrical risk, common mistakes are:
- underestimating how tricky it can be to securely fix new (often heavier) fittings to plasterboard ceilings and walls
- getting the wires mixed up, leading to lights not working or fuses blowing
- getting all the wires safely terminated into a much smaller space than the original fitting – this is often the case when changing white plastic hanging pendants for more sleek-looking metal fittings
- not testing the circuit afterwards to ensure the fitting is earthed properly and wiring faults have been avoided. Testing is one of the main problems with DIY electrics – without the right test equipment, it is almost impossible to be sure everything has been done safely & correctly. This is why most electrical work should only be done by qualified and competent electricians working to Part P of the Building Regulations.

So next time you are tempted to do DIY on light fittings, remember a lot can go wrong – it will cost more to call out an electrician when all has gone dark, than getting the work quoted for and booked in advance!

 

Wet external electrics

The very wet winter has kept us very busy attending to fault diagnosis & repairs on external electrics, mainly garden lights & sockets.

The problem has rarely been with the actual weatherproof light fittings or sockets themselves, but with cable joints in the supply cables and poorly waterproofed connections to the accessories. Perhaps not surprising given that most external cables are of the armoured type which needs careful termination from both a safety and weatherproofing perspective:

SWA

Such cables need special terminating glands and use of good quality fittings which ensure the cable joints stay dry even when drenched with rain. Any dampness in the joints will inevitably to circuit RCDs tripping, often taking out several house circuits at the same time.

Wiska

If you have any concerns about any external electrics in your garden, don’t delay in getting it looked at, wet joints only ever get wetter!

 

Problem PIRs

Passive Infrared sensors (PIRs), usually known as sensors, are commonly found on external floodlights, but can also be separate from the light they are controlling.

LED PIR                                  PIR sensor

They generally give up to 10 years of service before faults appear:
- erratic operation, including operation during the daytime
- failure to operate the light at all (though this may also be a failed bulb..)
- turning the light permanently on

When such faults appear, unless the light bulb has failed, it is best to replace the sensor light or standalone sensor. This can normally be done in around an hour, a little more if the sensor is at high level on a house when the careful use of long ladders is required.

 

 

LED is here to stay

LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs should now be the first choice for all new and replacement light bulbs in the home.

The older halogen technology is being rapidly phased out and many suppliers are running down their stocks of these type of bulbs. Given that LED has got much cheaper, is long-lasting and very energy efficient, it is no surprise the transition is happening.

You can now get LED equivalent bulbs in just about all base fittings (small and large bayonet & screw caps, GU10, MR16, etc). However there are a few considerations to be aware of when buying LED bulbs:

1. Choose the ‘white’ colour you want ie. warm-white, daylight or cool white. If in doubt, stick with warm white as it is closest to what we are used to with halogen.

2. Choose the wattage you require, a rough rule of thumb is to divide the halogen wattage by 10 to get the equivalent LED. eg. a 6W LED is similar in light output to a 60W halogen.

3.  Choose dimmable or non-dimmable options, but note that dimmable LED will generally not work with exisiting dimmer switches. You need an LED compatible dimmer, which now come in most styles and finishes. It is generally best to ask an electrician to specify and fit this.

4. If replacing exisitng MR16 or equivalent 12V halogen bulbs in older downlights for example, you need to replace the transformer that powers the existing halogen MR16, as it won’t work properly with the new LED bulb (either or both will likely be damaged). An LED driver is required instead. In these cases, it is often better and more economic to upgrade the older downlight fittings to 230V fittings, and then use 230V LED bulbs. There is then very little to go wrong in the future. You should use an electrician for this kind of work though.

Sola downlight

We have gained considerable experience in specifying & fitting LED bulbs, dimmer switches and downlights, so please don’t hesitate to ask if you need advice or help in this area.