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Living in a civilised society can often feel like a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we benefit from no end of luxuries and conveniences that we wouldn’t otherwise have had, but we do give up a certain degree of freedom to get those conveniences. Anyone who has tried to have a large extension built on their home will likely be able to attest to that. And, while the positives of civilisation greatly outweigh the negatives, those negatives can sometimes feel oppressive.
Electrical work is one area where we are often restricted in what we can do, even on our own property. Of course, there are perfectly valid reasons for this (more on that in a moment) but it can make knowing what you can and can’t do with your electrical systems difficult. Certain things are required by law to only be done by a certified electrician, whereas with other things, you are just advised to have an electrician take care of it for you.
Given the nature of electricity—especially in the amount that is delivered to a typical home—and the danger it poses, there is a strong argument to be made that you should have a qualified electrician take care of any electrical work regardless of what the law says. Still, we understand that people like to do things for themselves wherever possible.
So, do you need an electrician to move your power points around in your own home? The answer is; it depends.
In the UK you are legally allowed to carry out some “minor” electrical work yourself, without calling on a certified expert to do it for you. The thing is, there is some room for interpretation over what constitutes minor electrical work. For example, you are allowed to move outlets a “short” distance, but official regulations are a bit vague on how short is short!
The next area we will touch on that is not clear-cut is the matter of the work itself. Technically speaking, you do not need a qualified electrician to do any electrical work. The kind of work that the law speaks to just needs certifying by a qualified electrician, but it doesn’t have to be carried out by that electrician.
But, before you get it into your head to go and find an electrician willing to sign off on your DIY electrical work for a relatively low price, you should be aware that many electricians won’t do this for larger jobs. There is undoubtedly an element of wanting to push people to hire them to do the work rather than do it themselves, but there is also the matter of their own livelihood, as certifying unsafe electrical work would have serious repercussions for them.
We would hope that if you’re considering doing your own electrical work, you would know the answer to this, but for those who are perhaps reading this out of idle curiosity, the main reasons for the highly restrictive nature of electrical work are safety and convenience.
The latter of those is the least severe, but can have the widest impact. If you do something drastically wrong, and it causes a power outage in your local area, you could be inconveniencing a lot of people.
The other reason—safety—is, of course, the bigger concern. Faulty electrical work can be a major safety risk, resulting in injury and even fatalities. It can also cause electrical fires, which have the potential to spread and affect people outside your property.
The main takeaway here is that, while the regulation around electrical work is largely for your own benefit, there is also a great deal of it concerned with keeping other people safe from the fallout of potentially shoddy workmanship.
In terms of home outlets, you are unlikely to find much beyond a standard three-pin 230 volt outlet. This type of socket is known as type G. Some homes will also have a 115 volt European socket, often in the bathroom, which is primarily used for things like charging electric toothbrushes. There are other sockets with more substantial uses, such as 115 volt IP44 blue sockets, and three-phase sockets that are mostly found in industrial settings.
#1 Cut the Power
This is most often accomplished by switching off the breaker to the relevant area of your electrical systems. It should be noted that some properties will have several breakers that relate to different sets of outlets throughout the home. Be sure to try something in the plug you are moving to make sure there is no power coming from it.
#2 Prepare the Area
Make sure everything is unplugged, and you have plenty of space to work in. You will also need plenty of light, so have a torch to hand if you are working in a gloomy corner of the room.
#3 Remove the socket
Unscrew the socket from the wall and gently remove it from the cage. Unscrew the terminals holding the wires in place. Make a note of any unusual wire colours—they should conform to one of the standards of UK electrical wire, but you never know.
#4 Make a hole
You now need a new hole to mount your socket in. If you want to do this without professional oversight, it will have to be relatively close to the original position and along the path of the same electrical wire, so you don’t need to re-route or run new wire.
#5 Fit New Cage
Once you have your hole, you need to install a new cage for mounting your socket to. Be sure to run the wires through the cage before securing it in place.
#6 Seal Everything Up
Secure the wires in the appropriate terminals and fasten the socket back to the wall in its new location.
The more astute of you might have noticed that there was talking of making holes in walls above. Naturally, if you are going to move an electrical socket, you need somewhere to move it to. And, for the vast majority of sockets in a home, that will mean making a hole in the wall, not to mention filling the old hole in.
In many ways, this part of the task is more challenging than the electrical side of things. Granted, getting electrical work wrong can have far more severe consequences, but in this case the electrical work is just screwing some wires into terminals. It is far more difficult to neatly create and fill in holes in a wall.
In other words, even if you do the electrical work yourself, you may still find that you want to hire a professional plasterer to take care of the aftermath.
Most of the benefits of hiring a professional have been outlined above. There is a good chance in many cases that you will need professional oversight at least, if not the job itself doing for you. But even for work that you are technically allowed to carry out yourself, it can be a good idea to have a professional do it to rule out the possibility of inexperience causing problems that, at best, would be an inconvenience. At worst, they could injure or kill.
A professional electrician will also be able to take care of the messier side of moving a socket, such as knocking holes in walls and plastering over old ones. And, if they can’t, they will probably have a contractor they work with who can.
It is certainly legal to move an electrical outlet yourself in the UK, which isn’t necessarily the same as saying you don’t need an electrician to do it for you. After all, it is perfectly legal for you to change your own car tires, but the vast majority of us still take our cars to a garage.
If you are confident and know what you are doing, and you are not moving the electrical outlet far, there is no reason you can’t tackle this job yourself. If you are moving the socket far, however, or moving it requires running additional wiring, you are required by law to at least get a professional electrician to certify the work you have done.
Unfortunately, many electricians are reluctant to do this, instead preferring to do the work themselves. For that reason, we would recommend finding an electrician who is willing to certify your work before you start. That way, not only do you save money on not having to pay someone to redo your work, but the electrician can also make you aware of anything they feel is important before you get started.
But most importantly, remember that electrical work can be dangerous. If you are unsure, inexperienced, or just want to play it safe, do not tackle this kind of work yourself. Some things are best left to the experts, and for many, the benefits of doing it yourself do not outweigh the potential risks if you do it wrong.
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