How Do I Plan the Electrical Wiring for My Home?
Unsure of where to start and what to consider when embarking on a rewiring project or new electrical layout? Read on…
Or, if you’re embarking on a rewiring project for an otherwise finished home, how much upheaval will there be and what changes and additions should you factor in? Here, three professionals guide you through the process.
Professional advice from: Angus Eitel of fiftypointeight Architecture + Interiors; Eva Byrne of houseology; Benjamin Pratt of B Electrical London
Our experts were all clear that if you’re having a new extension, loft conversion or complete renovation, plans for lighting, sockets and other electrical considerations should not be left until building work has begun.
Rewiring an already finished home is very different, but the advice here will help you get a handle on what you’ll need to consider.
“We tend to start planning electrical layouts as soon as we’ve received Planning Permission – in other words, once we’ve agreed a layout,” architect Angus Eitel says.
Occasionally, the process may need to start even earlier. He gives the example of a project in the South Downs National Park, which has a dark skies policy. “This required us to give consideration to lighting, windows and roof windows at planning stage,” he says.
Unsure whether your whole house needs rewiring? “If your installations are more than 20 years old, or it looks as if there’s been a lot of DIY work over the years, it’s best to start again,” electrician Benjamin Pratt says. “There are potentially many disasters buried in the walls and under the floors.”
Will the house look like a bombsite afterwards? “There are techniques electricians can use that will keep mess to a minimum,” Benjamin says, “but you might need to get in a decorator afterwards.”
“An architect has the ability to envisage the completed house in the round,” Eva says, “including the role of the electrical layout in helping you to make best use of each space. An architect’s drawings convey these layouts to the builder precisely and clearly.”
“[As an architectural practice], we are able to advise on lighting circuits – which are important for creating flexibility in larger, open-plan spaces,” Angus says. “Our specifications will also ensure the electrician’s prices are accurate at tender stage.”
If it’s not an architectural project, but a full rewire, a good electrician should be able to guide you through the things you’ll need to include or add. It could also be worth booking a consultation with an interior designer to go through what changes will help to enhance your home and the way you live in it.
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Getting your head around where you’ll need sockets and light sources, not to mention all the electrically powered things you may not have considered, can be mind-bending. It’s the reason an architect or designer can be invaluable for this element of planning. But it’s good to have a list of your specific needs for when you meet.
If you’re having your entire house rewired, architect Eva Byrne suggests this tip to make some headway. “Start at the front door and imagine how you’re going to use each space as you move through the house. The main items to consider include light switches, lighting, sockets, modems and TV points.”
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“At a minimum, you’ll want both general ceiling lighting and local task lighting,” Eva explains.
“Recessed downlighters are the most popular form of ceiling lighting nowadays, but they’re not my preferred option for all rooms,” she says. “Track lighting is a great alternative, with a huge variety of spotlights available according to your taste and style. Ceiling lights should always be on a dimmer switch, allowing you to change the mood in the room with a turn of the wrist.”
Task lighting is just as important. This provides a comfortable light source for things such as reading, cooking or sewing. “5 amp sockets are invaluable for this,” Eva says, “as they [can be wired to] allow your floor and table lamps to be switched on together from a single switch at the door.”
Think about where you’ll place furniture as well as how you’ll use the room when planning your lighting and sockets layout. And don’t forget to allow for the shadows that lights can create. “Recessed downlighters are major culprits,” Eva says, “and shadows can cause particular problems in bathrooms and kitchens. Overhead fittings in bathrooms can cast shadows on your face.”
She advises overcoming this by using a horizontal fitting or placing wall lights on either side of the bathroom mirror. In the kitchen, under-cabinet lighting will illuminate the work surface evenly.
Angus adds that most light fittings now are LED. “The colour temperature of the fittings is important, but you don’t necessarily want it to be the same in all rooms,” he says. “Kitchens tend to be cool white and living rooms warm white.”
Factor in anywhere you might also use LED strips. “They can be useful as a way of hiding light sources, in particular around built-in furniture, in kitchens and around skylights,” Angus says.
To a large extent, once you’re committed to electrical decisions – that a pendant light will go over a table in a fixed position, for instance – these are not generally simple to change. This can make decision-making fraught – especially if you like to move furniture about. But there are some insider tricks to keep up your sleeve. Angus suggests some futureproofing measures to take:
- Ensure cabling to pendant lights is left long – say an extra 1 to 2m of cable hidden in the ceiling. This would allow you to relocate that pendant by cutting a hole in the ceiling, moving the fitting, then simply repairing the original hole – not a significant cost.
- Allow for extra fittings in the ceiling – in other words, make wiring provision for six lights, say, and only install four (and retain a marked-up drawing), allowing the additional lights to be installed easily at a later date.
- If you really want to futureproof, you could install a controls system, such as KNX, which allows a ‘plug and play’ approach to all electrical fittings, using a single cable system. We often use 5 amp circuits in living areas to provide flexibility for positioning floor or table lamps, while still retaining the ability to switch them all on when you walk into a room.
- Don’t forget to think about where the Christmas tree will go once a year. This will avoid the need for a trailing extension lead.
“I need to know what the client wants everything to look like when it’s finished,” Benjamin says. While he can work from drawings, he says it’s preferable also to meet up on-site and chat through the work required before he quotes for the project.
This also allows advance troubleshooting, especially if you’re not involving an architect or designer. “A client may want sockets where the regulations don’t allow, or fittings that might not work in certain positions,” he says.
Good communication throughout is also vital. “What slows down a project most often? People making new decisions and not informing everyone of the changes,” Benjamin says. “I can overcome most other obstacles that might come up on a project, but I can’t overcome not knowing something.”
“The most common mistake people make when planning an electrical layout is to underestimate the number of sockets needed,” Eva says. “It’s worth putting in double, rather than single, sockets in every instance and always more than you think you’ll need.
“Another mistake is to misjudge the lighting layout in terms of allowing for the varying moods you’ll want at different times of the day and year,” she continues. “People often overestimate the quantity of recessed ceiling lighters needed, creating a ‘runway’ effect.”
Benjamin tells a cautionary tale. “A client recently had a new kitchen. In it, she had two WiFi-connected ovens, a WiFi fridge and a WiFi washing machine. At the end she said, ‘Oh, but I have poor internet in this room.’ If I’d known, I could have fixed the problem with new cables to improve her WiFi coverage. But at that point, it was too late.
“It’s common that people have their routers at the front of the house,” he says, “and by the time the signal’s travelled through a few walls and reached the back of the house, it’s much weaker.”
Angus suggests some more electrical requirements often overlooked by homeowners:
- A hardwired smoke alarm system covering each floor of the property and a heat detector in the kitchen.
- A new consumer unit (fuse box) if required – almost certain if you add an extension.
- Heating system controls.
- External lighting.
- Intruder alarm.
- Not necessarily obvious kitchen stuff (extractor hood; boiling-water tap; waste disposal; warming drawer; induction hob).
- Technology, such as hardwired data outlets for TVs and speakers back to the router or hub, which avoids trailing wires.
Don’t forget about outdoor electrics when you’re getting work done – sockets as well as lighting. “Outdoor lighting in your garden and patio areas will make them more inviting to use,” Eva says, “and integrate them into your home all year round.” Make sure you take wildlife into account when planning your outdoor lighting. See How to Design Garden Lighting That’s Good for You and Wildlife for inspiration.
What advice could you add about planning the electrics for a home? Share your tips in the Comments.