Aug 20 2009: A fire causes $1-million damage to the Il Gambero restaurant in Lygon Street. Investigators believe it was started by an electrical fault in the kitchen
Recently I was called to a job in Preston. When I arrived the house had been disconnected from electrical supply by the local distribution company. A fault in the main switch board caused a fire that destroyed the entire switchboard, electrical meter and wooden meter enclosure. Luckily for the tenants, the smell of burning plastic and wood was noticed early and the relevant authorities were called immediately. If the tenants had not been home, the fire could have easily spread to the rest of the house and also the adjoining residence.
Examination of the burnt switchboard components revealed the cause of the fire to be illegal and substandard electrical wiring connecting an air conditioner. The costs to restore power not only included replacement of the switchboard, but also the mains cable, service fuse and earthing system components. More than $2,000 was spent by the owner to restore electrical supply to the residence. This was yet another reminder for consumers to never undertake electrical work themselves.
Nearly every day I come across illegal and/or unsafe electrical wiring. In most cases the current property owners are unaware of the condition and potential risk the illegal wiring presents. It is unfortunate that even when the wiring does not comply with standards or is highly dangerous, the equipment connected works. With the equipment in working order, it often comes as a shock to owners that the installation is illegal and/or dangerous. It would be easier if illegal wiring did not work at all, but unfortunately this is not the case.
Sometimes the owners have had an unqualified friend or family member undertake electrical work in an effort to save on the cost of a qualified and insured electrical tradesman. What is not often considered is the financial impact should the illegal wiring cause a fire.
When I discover illegal electrical wiring, I make sure the owner is informed. In all cases, this will impact the planned schedule of electrical work and will increase the cost of the job to rectify the illegal condition. In severe cases, I will provide the owner two options,
a. Rectify the condition
b. Isolate/remove the illegal wiring
Ignoring illegal wiring is not an option. Last week I come across one of the worst cases of illegal wiring, the owner had paid more than $1,000 to have low voltage down lights installed some years back. He believed the wiring was installed in a compliant manner by a registered electrician. The cost to rectify the illegal wiring was $1,500
The pitfalls of a DIY Culture
Go to any large hardware store on a weekend and you will see thousands of consumers deciding to DIY. In a country where the cost of labor is high, it is inevitable that many people will choose to do many jobs in and around the home themselves. I don’t have a problem with this at all; I myself will often shop at the local Bunnings store to pick up tools and or materials for a weekend project around the home. What I do have a problem with is consumers going to hardware stores to purchase electrical wiring and equipment with the intent to install this equipment themselves. Whilst it is not illegal for hardware stores to sell electrical wiring and equipment, they (in my opinion) should never provide guidance or instruction to consumers on how to go about installing the electrical wiring and or equipment. In my opinion all hardware stores selling electrical equipment to consumers owe a duty of care to consumers to make clear the fact that all electrical wiring and equipment must be installed by a Registered Electrical Contractor no matter how large or small the job is. This should be communicated to consumers in written form and also importantly communicated verbally to consumers who purchase (or about to purchase) electrical wiring and / or equipment.
More: You may not be insured if DIY electrical causes property damage including fire