Explainer: how to choose an electrician for your home

Black Friday has passed and you have received your boxes of replacement lights and want it all installed and working before Christmas. So the question is, how do you do this? A little red book of trusted tradesmen handed down; an internet search; or a brave family member with a Stanley tool box?

Swapping like-for-like fittings may appear an easy task, but in reality it can be a slippery slope. Flaky plaster, new fixing holes that merge with older ones; cable entry holes on a fitting on the wrong side to the cable coming out of the wall; fixing a ceiling light that is designed for a single cable into a small cup, where you discover to your horror that you have three ceiling cables supplying the old light and none fit the cup.

The 560 pages of the UK Wiring Regulations that qualified electricians have to navigate and understand is separate to the practical skills that they have to master. They have to grasp what a  design is intended to achieve – yes, even simply replacing some lights involves design; then see it through construction; to testing, then certification.

Even a simple light fitting change, with a qualified electrician doing the job, properly requires an assessment with a calibrated meter to know that the circuit is compliant, safe and worthy for continued use; the Consumer Unit and the protective devices are sound and even that the earthing cables running to your gas and water pipes are compliant. Oh yes, even these bonding cables are at the top of the list that electricians are obliged to check, before any lights are changed.

With the advent of LED lamps, colour changing, DALI 2, variants of drivers, dimmer systems and wireless scenarios that may include sockets, the necessity of electricians to keep up to date with technology is paramount and may become a mountain to climb for the home enthusiast.

But this is only half the story. Understanding this exciting kit is one thing but the other, though less eye-catching, thing is that electricians have to understand buildings and to accrue craftsmanship.

There is a world of difference from installing in a Georgian or Victorian house; from a  1930’s build to a 1960’s flat and – dare I mention – new builds ? The sound made by a knuckle knocking a wall will tell an experienced sparky the quality of the fabric; understanding the variables in ceiling joists will help to determine recessed lighting positions, much better than the blind crosses on a plan. Knowledge of a 60’s flat with conduits will present challenges all round.  And with the advancement of micro-electronics and controls, an understanding of socket arrangements will become even more important for the installing electrician,.

So where do we find an electrician to make a start? Firstly, any tradesman worth their salt would have been booked weeks ago, so a good measuring stick is how long you have to wait for a booking.

There are organisations that regulate electricians to work in homes and beyond, from the NICEIC, Napit, Elecsa and others. Also, there are procedures for registering packages of work to your Council, known as Building Regulations Part P, which a registered electrician can do, though neither of these indicate the dual gloves of contemporary knowledge and experience for compliancy. The subject of qualifications is for a future edition.

And so, in hearing a recommendation whether from that red book or from an NICEIC website or similar, where a postcode search will present a list, don’t be afraid to quiz the individual with questions:

How much experience do you have on this age of house?

How much experience with DALI, DMX, Wi-fi switching or the like (if that is your preference – or at least have a conversation about options and trends).

Will you also check my gas, water and earthing arrangements? What certificate will you produce?

And finally, your enrolment number of the registered scheme (and then check them out on-line to see if their registration is current and any references.

Be brave, but . . . Buyer Beware !



This article is one on the series of Good Lighting pieces for The Light Review.

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