Cowal householder highlights collateral risks of government insulation schemes

A Cowal householder has usefully underlined safety risks faced when dealing with approved installers of insulation under government subsidy schemes. The warning is probably more widely applicable to other home improvement incentive schemes.

The issue is not the competence of the installer in the work for which they are officially approved – but their competence in matters that are a knock-on from the work they do like, in this case, electrics, critical to home safety.

The householder in question, Jim Bamber, had internal insulation fitted to the exterior walls of his home, under a government scheme to encourage greater home insulation as part of energy and cost saving and as part of the effort to slow climate change.

The insulation was fitted by a company outwith Cowal.

Mr Bamber was happy with the insulation installation but while this is focus of the job, such work means the renewal of interior walls and associated joinery. He thought the plasterwork of the company staff was good, saw the joinery as a touch slapdash but was concerned with the approach to the safety of the electrical installation in his property during the operation.

Over the period the work was being done, live sockets were left dangling at the end of their electrical cables, exposing live connections and putting them under unplanned strain with the weight of the socket.

This situation went on for six days – and six nights. This is an important detail because it underlines the fact that Mr Bamber could not be sure that a fire might not be ignited fro any one of these sources during the night, when no one was around to deal with it in time.

At the end of the job, when the electrician arrived to fit the pattesses [the box that contains the space behind electrical fittings and isolates risks from live connections] his approach to fitting them came as a bit of a shock.

The normal procedure is, of course, to take out the fuses, disconnect the socket, feed the electrical cables through the hole at the back of the pattress box, reconnect them to the socket and screw the socket to the box.

What the electrician did was, literally, a hack job.

Rather than disconnect the socket, he took a section out of the boxes and then just slotted them back over the cables. He did this by using a pair of waterpump pliers to tear out an inch and a half section from the bottom of the box.

This clearly weakens the structure of the box. It also reduces the capacity of the box to limit the fire risk of exposed live connections with greater accumulation of dust and fibre within the box itself, enabled by the greater access provided by the sacrificed section.

Mr Bamber also believes that, in certain circumstances, this installation might make it possible, in pulling a resistant plug out of the socket, to pull the entire box out of the wall.

In the event, Mr Bamber insisted that the sockets and their pattresses were refitted correctly and notes that the electrician did this with good grace.

However, his concern is for the safety of the electrical installations that those, taking advantage of similar government home insulation incentives but less aware than he is of electrical safety, who might not realise the potential risks of this sort of short-cutting.

He is recommending that anyone who has had interior insulation retro-fitted to an existing home under any of these schemes – and by any installer, should have their power sockets and light switches checked by a competent electrician before the job is signed off.

In actual fact, this should be an automatic requirement of the contracts awarded by the government to approved insulation installers.

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