DIY'ers will be puzzled by British electrical standards

DIY'ers will be puzzled by British electrical standards

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Blogger Tom Carroll tries to get his head round the contradictoriness of British electrical regulations. Do-it-yourself at your peril!

Electricity is supplied at 240 V and half the amps here. This means that heavy-draw appliances like vacuum cleaners will be sporting a wire that is so thin it looks like it should be hooked up to a telephone. That at least makes sense; abandon hope if you're trying to understand the logic behind house wiring.

It is illegal in the entire UK to have a light switch or electrical outlet inside of a bathroom (with the exception of a special low-amp plug for electric razors). The switch must actually be near the bathroom door but outside of the bathroom.

The only exception to this that you're allowed to have a cotton pull string attached to a ceiling switch inside the bathroom, so that there's no chance of creating a short while standing in some water.

From this, you might conclude that electrical standards are really strict, but you'd be wrong. Outside of commercial buildings, conduit is never used – simple vinyl-clad cable runs through walls all over the country, supplying power to outlets and wall switches.

Woman holding drill

So apparently it's OK to die by drilling into a wall and through a live wire, but not to shake off this mortal coil in the can; I guess they just don't want people hogging the bathroom.

And don't get me started about the breaker box; no, just don't go there.


Tom Carroll is from Chicago and has been living in the UK on and off since late 2000. He lives on his farm  between London and Cambridge, with his wife, son, two cats and a garden full of chickens. Tom is a software architect/developer, expat, family man, cultural observer and a ‘curser of garden weeds’.  Read more from Tom in his blog The Transplanted Yankee.

Photo credit: Electric shock sign by Diego Cupolo (

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