Electricity: FAQ’s for residential customers

Here we answer just some of the most frequently asked questions concerning electricity, and how it relates to you and your home.

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Electricity. It’s hard to know how we ever managed without it. Actually we didn’t – it was there all along. No-one invented it, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries we learned how to generate it and harness it to power our homes, our workplaces, our lives.


Over the past 100-plus years, we’ve become more reliant on electrical power. It commonly boils our kettles, heats our ovens, runs our vacuum cleaners. Our computers, TVs and mobile phones couldn’t function without it. Increasingly our cars and vans run on it. We’ve moved a long way from the simple incandescent light bulb!


With that proliferation has come a host of gadgets to help us manage electricity efficiently and safely. But what are they, and what do they do? And the terminology associated with electricity: what does it all mean?


Here we answer just some of the most frequently asked questions concerning electricity, and how it relates to you and your home.



What’s the difference between watts, amps and volts?


Wattage is the amount of power an electrical device consumes (this is important to understand – the watts you use determine the size of your electricity bill).Named after James Watt, read more for an in-depth explanation of the science. Amps are a way of measuring the amount of electricity running through a circuit or along a wire (large appliances like air conditioners, washing machines and ovens will need a bigger electrical flow rate – amperage – than smaller ones). Voltage can be thought of as a measurement of the pressure of electricity flowing through a system.



How often should I get my electrics checked?


At Excel Electrical we recommend at least once every ten years, as electrical circuitry and electrically powered devices do deteriorate over time. But if you notice anything untoward at any stage – a burning smell, the lights flickering, or anything else – do not hesitate. Pick up the phone and call a qualified electrician, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! It’s also well worth having the electrics checked if you’re moving into a new home – the previous owners may have been less than diligent!



How do surge protectors work?


The main job of a surge protector system is (obviously) to protect electronic devices from surges. Brief increases in voltage (see above) can damage your equipment and devices, but a surge protector diverts the excess voltage into a socket’s neutral or earth wire instead, keeping your devices safe.



Is it safe to use a multi-plug strip to run multiple devices from one socket?


This is a vexed question. As a point of principle at Excel Electrical we don’t like them, and you may struggle to find a qualified electrician who does. Read more to understand how they work. Muti plug extension leads may be legal, but multi-plug strips are easy to misuse, overloaded power outlets are one of the leading causes of house fires. In an ideal world your home would have enough power outlets to run one appliance each – one device per socket – but in the real world a useful rule of thumb is that the devices running from a multi-plug strip should have a combined ‘draw-down’ of 13 amps or less, as most domestic power outlets have a 13-amp capacity. We strongly advise that you do not run high-power devices such as kettles, washing machines, or electric heaters from a multi-plug strip for this reason.



How do I know what size fuse to use?


Most UK plugs have either a 3-amp or a 13-amp rated fuse – it’s rare that you find anything in between. If you need to install or replace a fuse yourself you can determine the appropriate fuse capacity with a simple calculation: watts ÷ volts = amps. The wattage and voltage information should be displayed on the appliance ID plate, on the base of the appliance, or on the back. After you have calculated the amperage, it is simply a matter of adding around 10 per cent to the value and choosing the next fuse up from that number. For anything over 3 amps, you’ll need to use a 13-amp fuse.



How do smart meters work?


A smart meter works by measuring the electrical current flow and voltage at regular intervals, and using this to calculate the power used in a defined period – say, half an hour. Your smart meter will record how much electricity you use and securely share this information directly with your energy supplier, so you won’t have to take any meter readings manually. As well as measuring energy, meters are constantly monitoring their own performance and environment, keeping your home safe and efficient.



What is the safest way to use electricity outside?


The cardinal rule is to avoid water. Electricity and water don’t mix, so if it’s pouring with rain or there’s dew on the ground, don’t use electrical equipment outdoors until it is dry. (The obvious exception is an electrically-powered appliance that dispenses water – a pressure washer, for instance – but there should be an impermeable barrier between the water it dispenses and the power it uses to do so.)  So that you remain safe.


You should also use a residual current device (RCD) with all outdoor electrical equipment. If you don’t have one built into your fusebox, you should use a plug-in RCD. This also helps to protect you. See our other blog content for advice on RCD tripping.


Make sure you switch off and unplug outdoor electrical items before cleaning, adjusting or checking them. Store your equipment in a dry, safe place and check that it hasn’t been damaged or affected by water before using it.


When using equipment outdoors, be aware of where the power cable is at all times.



Are smart plugs and bulbs safe?


Smart plugs pass the same standard safety guidelines as any other device you plug into the wall. As with any electrical appliance, you should be safe as long as you don’t overload the outlet. Smart lightbulbs don’t draw any more or less power than conventional bulbs. Bear in mind that the ‘smart’ part allows your plugs and bulbs to be activated or deactivated remotely (the good bit) – but that requires internet connectivity. In other words, they can be hacked and used as access points for your home network. Make sure your internet security measures can protect your smart devices against hacking attempts.


We hope this answers at least some of your electricity-related questions. If you have more, or you’re concerned about you electricity usage and safety, talk to one of our experienced, qualified engineers. To book an appointment or request a visit, call us today on 01508 488007 or email enquiries@excelelectrical.co.uk.


Excel Electrical – the power is in your hands.




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