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Electrical problems can be daunting, even scary, largely because the workings of electrical systems is a mystery to the average homeowner. Not to mention the fact that electricity is invisible, an electrocution is a very real possibility when there are electrical faults on your property.
Adding to this misery is the fact that it can sometimes be a bit unclear what course of action you should be taken when a problem arises. Can you fix things yourself? Do you need to call a qualified electrician? Do you need to call your electricity supplier?
The truth is there are situations where any of these can be true. Of course, we would never recommend you taking on electrical work yourself if you don’t know what you are doing, but there are situations where you are legally allowed to do so. Similarly, there are situations where you have to get in touch with your electricity supplier. For everything else, there are qualified electricians, but when do you need an electrician, and when do you need to get onto your supplier?
From downed power lines to broken electricity meters, here are five situations where you should be calling your supplier, rather than an electrician.
#1 Your Meter is Not Working
Strictly speaking, neither you nor a regular electrician are allowed to touch your electricity meter when it comes to repairing or modifying your electrical systems. The meter remains property of the distribution network or your electrical supplier (which is why you often get a new electricity meter when you change suppliers) and any problem with that meter will have to be referred to your supplier.
Problems with electricity meters are rare, but if you do encounter a problem, it is likely to be the meter going blank. It is also possible that the meter could “leak”, reading more electrical usage than you are actually using, though this would be very difficult to prove.
Unless there was a sudden astronomical jump in electrical usage, your supply would likely put the change down to lifestyle changes.
#2 You Have no Power but Nothing has Tripped
If you have lost power to your property, but the fuse board seems to be fine and nothing has tripped, it would suggest there is a problem before the fuse board, which would almost certainly be a situation where the supplier needs to be involved. As mentioned in the last point, you are not allowed to modify or repair your electricity meter, and this goes for the connection point where the electricity enters your property as well.
Be sure to try a few basic tests first, such as checking all your breakers are not tripped. If you smell smoke or hear humming noises from the vicinity of your connection point, get on the phone straight away!
#3 There Has Been a Power Cut in Your Area
If you are experiencing a power outage in your home, your first port of call should be to look out of the window… if it’s dark out. If it’s daylight, you may need to go and knock on a neighbour’s door and ask, but the point is you want to establish whether or not the power outage is just affecting you.
If power is out in the wider area, it is definitely something that requires attention from higher up. Technically speaking, this would be a distributor issue rather than a specific supplier, since your neighbourhood could have several suppliers, but if you contact your supplier, they should be able to get the right people on the job.
#4 There is Visible Damage to Local Electrical Infrastructure
If you notice a downed electrical wire or damage pylon, contact your supplier immediately. Again, this problem will almost certainly fall under the responsibility of the distribution network, but your electrical supplier will be able to notify said distribution network, so they can get things seen to.
It should go without saying that you should stay well clear of any faulty electrical infrastructure, especially if it is a heavy duty electrical cable that is intended to deliver power to entire streets! If the affected wire is on your property, make sure to inform everyone who lives there and anyone else who might be calling round.
#5 You Need Your Connection Point Moving
Like your electricity meter, your connection point cannot be tampered with by anyone other than your supplier, the distribution network, or someone authorised by one of those two.
If you need your connection point moving, you will need to get in touch with your supplier. This could happen because your connection point is in a closet that you are converting into a toilet, or because it is on a wall that is being demolished for an extension, or any number of other reasons.
You may find that your supplier cannot do the work you need doing, as is often the case if the distance the point needs to be moved is too far. In which case, you will need to get in touch with the distributor.
Not every electrical problem needs your supplier’s attention. Here are five situations where a regular electrician should be more than enough.
#1 Your Lights are Flickering
If your lights are flickering, it’s never a good sign, but there are a few things to note here. Firstly, if just a single light is flickering, it’s far more likely to be an issue with the bulb in that light fixture. Or, failing that, the fixture itself. If all the lights are flickering make sure that everything else in your home is fine. Just the lights flickering points to a problem with the lighting circuit, but everything receiving inconsistent power points to a much wider problem.
#2 There is Visible Damage to Sockets or Cables
Whether it is a cracked outlet plate or scorch marks around the socket, a damaged electrical outlet, cable, light switch, or any kind of electrical fixture should be dealt with as soon as possible. Not only are these kinds of problems a serious health and safety risk in their own right, they can also cause significant property damage by starting electrical fires.
Most of the time a problem like this will develop after an incident, such as an impact on the socket, or a plug being violently ripped from the wall, but it is possible for them to develop quietly without anyone around, so it’s worth occasionally doing a little visual inspection of your outlets.
#3 Your Fuse Board Constantly Trips and You Don’t Know Why
Your fuse board is there to protect you from and your property from damage from electrical issues. It does this by “tripping” breakers and RCDs when there are electrical issues—essentially cutting the electricity to a particular circuit, or the whole property if necessary.
It is possible to identify the cause of the tripping breakers in some cases, but if you can’t figure out what the culprit is, you should get an electrician out to take care of the matter. If your fuse board is consistently tripping, it is doing it for a reason, so don’t fall into the habit of just resetting your breakers and acting like nothing is wrong.
#4 You Find Yourself Needing Several Extensions/Socket Banks
Socket banks and extensions are not inherently unsafe—manufacturers wouldn’t be allowed to sell them if they were—but they are not as safe as having properly installed electrical outlets on the ring main (the main electrical circuit in part or all of your property).
If you find yourself needing several extensions or socket banks, it’s probably time to get an electrician in to install some additional sockets. Not only will this be neater, but they will also be able to ensure that your electrical circuit is up to the load you are putting on it.
#5 You Smell Burning or Hear Noises From Electrical Fixtures
If you smell burning or hearing noises from outlets, cables, switches, and anything else of that nature, call your electrician immediately. There is no reason your electrical outlets should smell or make noise, and doing so is a definite sign of an issue.
In the event that you encounter this symptom, cut the power to the affected circuits immediately. If you’re not sure which breaker you need to trip, just cut the master RCD entirely. A symptom like this can quickly develop into an electrical fire, and you don’t want that!
As a general rule, anything before your fuse board (connection point, electricity meter, etc.) needs to be dealt with by your power company, and anything after the fuse board can be taken care of by an electrician and, in some cases, yourself (if you know what you are doing, of course).
Naturally, if you notice problems with the electrical infrastructure outside of your home, such as cables and pylons, you need to get in touch with your power supplier immediately.