Note: This page provides broad information only and should not be taken as complete and final safety advice. It is not a replacement for professional electrical advice, nor electrical equipment manufacturer instructions or guidelines. Always consult these sources.
So you’re moving into a new home? Exciting! Whether you’re renting or buying, changing where you live is a pretty big deal. Get the move done, meet the neighbours, explore the local area – so much to do! What Kiwis often forget however, is to check the state of wiring and plugs in a home. Before you start setting up the fridge and the flatscreen, it’s a good idea to check the home for safety and layout.
On this page, you'll learn things like:
- When you should get an electrician to check the wiring.
- Do’s and don’ts of electrical equipment.
- Planning the layout of rooms based on electrical needs.
What are your power plans?
Hey look, we don’t want to be dramatic here – we all probably have a working understanding of safety when it comes to electricity. After all we’re a bright bunch, us Kiwis. With that said, there’s some common challenges when it comes to housing in New Zealand, particularly older homes. Wiring and power points, like anything, wear over time. Electricity and worn components aren’t safe. So this guide is simply some helpful reminders when looking for a home and after moving in.
It’s not until we move that we realise how many electrical appliances we own. As we acquire these gradually, we just plug them in based on our home’s available outlets. But when we have to unplug and move these to a new place, we can be met with some hurdles –the most common being the ‘not enough sockets’ scenario.
Taking note of your power needs ahead of time and checking the electrical outlets of potential new homes is a good idea. Add it to your home browsing checklist, along with ‘water pressure’, ‘window hinges’ and ‘good bbq spots’.
Take stock of your appliances
The earlier you know what power requirements you have, the better. We’d suggest doing this before you even look for a new home, if possible.
Walk through your home with a pen and pad, noting down all the electrical appliances in every room:
- Living Room
At the same time, make a note of how many power outlets are in each room. Make sure you don’t miss the larger appliances like dishwasher and oven. While these are likely chattels staying with the property, they are important when it comes to comparing potential new homes.
Along with appliances and power outlets, note down where you have needed to use multiplugs. Ideally you can find a home that has more safe power outlets, thus reducing the need for a multiplug.
What you should end up with is a big list of equipment and plugs, divvied up by room.
Check power outlets
Right, so you’re on the hunt for a new place - or perhaps you’ve already found one. But now it's time to check the state of power supply to your home. Take care not to interfere with outlets or look behind them – unless you’re a qualified electrician.
Here’s what to check:
- How many power outlets are there in each room?
- How many sockets in each power outlet (e.g. single, double)
- How old do the outlets appear to be? Discolouration (offwhite) is a clue, as are smaller, narrower switches.
- On visual assessment, are the power outlets securely fixed to the wall?
- Where are the outlets positioned in each room?
- Do any rooms have one outlet only? Important when considering room layout.
If you find that outlets look worn or old, it’s a good idea to get an electrician in to assess these. Buying? You may even wish to make an electrical assessment part of your conditions (similar to a builders report).
At this stage, some people may want to look at the power fuse box, but we’d always suggest you get a qualified professional who knows exactly what they’re looking at. They can give you a clear idea on the state of the fuses and whether there’s going to be maintenance required to keep you safe.
Getting wiring looked at
Speaking of qualified professionals, you may wish to have an electrician take a look at the wiring in the home – they will assess electrical wiring where possible – such as in ceiling cavities. For older places that haven’t had renovation, the wiring can be worn and unsafe.
It’s common in older homes to have rodents chewing through wiring (or at least the surrounding casing). Certain materials used years ago are no longer opted for or considered safe. Get a full report and if the electrician recommends work to be done, we’d prioritise this. If you have concerns as a renter, talk with your landlord about the options.
Checking the fuse box and meter
An electrician can check the box on the side of the house to make sure everything’s in order. They can tell you if there are any fuses blown, and give you an idea of the age of the components. They will look for any signs of damage or charred components – it’s important to replace old, worn fuses with newer ones. At the same time, your electrician can show you the meter and answer any questions you might have.
Good quality multiplugs with surge protectors are okay, provided your wall outlets are in good condition. Chances are you’ll have at least one multiplug in the home. Here’s some things to check:
- Does the multiplug/board have safety features like surge protection and on/off switch?
- Is the board modern and in good condition? Discard/recycle older boards that are worn.
- Is the combined load of the electrical equipment safely under the maximum voltage limit quoted on the multiboard? Overloading is very dangerous.
- Is the multiboard safely out of the way of feet and foot traffic?
- Is the multiboard a low cost ‘cheap’ option? Strongly consider using something of good quality.
If you take precautions and use good equipment, you can use a multiplug in your new home. However never ‘daisy-chain’ multiple multiplugs together. This can present an electric shock and/or fire risk.
Safe lighting practices
While lighting is more fixture than equipment, it’s still an essential part of a home to check as you move in. As part of the wiring once-over, ask your electrician to review the lighting situation too. They’ll pay attention to things like quality of wiring to lights and clearance.
Lighting such as downlights need to be installed clear of ceiling material like insulation. Without ample space between lighting fixtures and insulation, the heat generated can become a fire hazard. New builds should have closely followed regulations and allowed space between lighting and ceiling insulation. Older homes may need to be checked over though. And if you’re getting new insulation put in, chat to the installation professional about lighting.
Another important lighting consideration is to find out the maximum wattage of light sockets. This can help avoid blowing bulbs or other issues. Using a bulb that exceeds the max wattage of the socket can make the bulb run very hot, and in some cases melt or explode causing a fire.
You can usually find this maximum wattage yourself, as it’s written on the light socket in most cases. There’s plenty of choices when it comes to light bulbs – your local home supplies store will offer all shapes, sizes and wattage.
Like any fixture, light fittings can loosen over a long period of time. Think about the years of people swapping out bulbs, incorrectly screwing in bulbs, and grabbing the socket to position the bulb. In the case of ceiling mounted downlights, this can result in loose fittings. The risk here is that fittings moving within the light enclosure can wiggle and break pieces off when simply changing bulbs.
Take a look at the ceiling lighting as early as possible to determine if you’ll need some maintenance work done. An electrician may look to replace the socket or enclosure entirely so that installing new light bulbs in the future is a simple, safe and clean process.
Outdoor electrical equipment
So you’ve done a check of the wiring, lights and plugs. It’s all looking pretty good. But inside the house is only part of the job. Outdoors you may have lighting and even outlets in some cases, for equipment like water features, automatic shade sails or power to a guest house.
With the guidance of an electrician check the following:
- Is cabling safely buried under ground or fixed safely along surfaces?
- Are you fully aware of where underground cabling is and made a note of this? Especially important for future reference should you start digging in the outdoors later.
- Where are the switches to outside lighting? Are these covered?
- Are there any external power outlets? Are these covered?
- Is the automatic garage door plugged into a safe outlet?
- Any outdoor electrical equipment – is this sufficiently weather proof?
- All electrical maintenance equipment like weed eaters and electric plug in mowers – in good, safe condition and not used during wet conditions?
Often our property will have some external electrical needs – just be sensible and if anything doesn’t look right, get it fixed!