To Re-wire or not to Re-wire?

When I posted about my research into light, I was researching in the expectation that lights would get installed as and when I re-decorated the rooms. At the same time I started consulting electricians with my list of requirements, which was quite extensive…. I was initially just wanting to move the overhead light and add some more sockets into the home office so I could progress from planning the home office to actually doing something in the room! But the job has grown and I have opted for the full re-wire! Read on for things to consider when planning electrical work in your home.

The re-wiring decision

When confronted with my full list of electric requirements, all the electricians who quoted advised to just go ahead and get the place re-wired. So I’ve taken the plunge, which has taken over my life a little! I have spent a huge amount of time looking at lights online, visiting all the local (and not so local) lighting shops, and trying to research where I can see lights in the flesh, so to speak. Then having decided on lights it’s been full-on into light purchase and assembly, plus packing up as much of the house as possible for the re-wire to go ahead! It is chaos here, and the fun part of renovating my home (decorating!) seems further away than ever. But a lot of us have to face into this decision, so here’s my guide to determining the best approach to electrical work in your home, and the questions to ask.

The re-wire in progress: channels for the new switches

Step One: Draw up your requirements

My electrical requirements spreadsheet of truth

In order to have the right conversations about how best to tackle your electrics, it’s best to have a clear, full list of everything you might want. Of course I managed this via a spreadsheet! Mine has a row for each room in the house and columns for:

  • Current sockets
  • Required sockets
  • Current lighting
  • Required lighting
  • Other requirements. It’s surprising what you might need that uses electricity! Things to consider are:
    • Burglar alarm
    • Smoke and heat alarms – you can get these wired into the mains, rather than install your own battery operated versions where you then forget to replace the battery
    • Doorbell and/or intercom system
    • Security lighting
    • Central heating temperature sensor
    • Sound system
    • Bathroom shaver/toothbrush charger points
    • Network cabling – if you want this in your home, it’s easier to get the cables run whilst all the floors are up for a re-wire!
    • TV aerials – as above, if you are having your home re-wired, consider whether you want to install additional TV aerial points
    • Items to remove. It may be there are old fixtures and fittings you want to strip out, so don’t forget about those!

The advantage of a spreadsheet is it really makes you think, room by room, how you want to use your home. You can also give a copy to the electrician so they can quote against it and you’re both clear on what’s being done.

The eagle eyed will notice I’ve also got plumbing requirements on the spreadsheet, but that’s a story for another day.

Step Two: Find some electricians

This is not always as easy as it sounds! It is pretty essential to get quotes so you can compare though, as they will vary. Being new to the area I asked friends for recommendations, and also asked on Nextdoor.com, a handy website to link up with other residents in your area.

Step Three: Ask the right questions!

Key questions to consider are:

  1. How would you propose tackling this list? Room by room, all in one go, or something else? It may be easier to go floor by floor or circuit by circuit for instance
  2. Is everything on the list do-able?
  3. Is there anything I haven’t considered you would recommend (I hadn’t considered wiring in heat and smoke alarms until it was suggested to me, to be fair)
  4. How long do you think the job will take?
  5. How many people would you put on it?
  6. Does the quote include fitting standard white pendant light fittings or fitting customer provided fittings? If you’re redecorating you may want the electrician to fit a standard bulb and flex holder, then come back and fit the decorative light when you’re ready
  7. Do you include patching up in your quote?
  8. What sockets/switches do you quote for as standard?
The selected sockets – after a rapid re-negotiation with the electrician!

The final point is pretty important. Most electricians will have a hardware supplier and use a particular brand as standard, which will vary across electricians. You should look at samples of the switches and sockets. You don’t want the electricians to turn up on day one and immediately realise you don’t like what they are proposing to put into your home. Ask me how I know this! If you want something different, ask what alternatives can be quoted for, or if you can supply your own, if that’s how you want to go. Obviously cost will differ across alternatives.

As well as the questions you ask, consider how you feel about the answers and the people quoting. You want to go with someone you get on with! Some of the electricians who quoted were so negative as they went round my house I realised I just didn’t want to bring that into my home, so they went straight into the reject bin! The cheapest quote isn’t necessarily the best, it’s the right combination of all the answers that works for you.

Step Four: Ask yourself some questions

Uncovering the bedroom floor as part of the re-wire

How you choose to go ahead will decide to some extent on your circumstances. Consider:

  1. Affordability. If you need a lot of work done, doing it all at once is probably the cheapest way, but you may not have the funds
  2. How much disruption can you cope with in one go? As I type, my home is either packed in boxes, covered in dust sheets, or covered in dust. I’ve had no lighting downstairs for 10 days. And to be honest this is going pretty well! But it is not for the faint hearted.
  3. How important is it to you to have matching sockets/switches throughout your home?
  4. Do you want to take on the work of re-patching? I’ve opted to DIY that, as I’ll face into it when I decorate each room. In my experience re-patching by an electrician isn’t always ideal.
  5. How much of your requirements are nice to have vs essential? What will you be prepared to compromise on? If the electrician wants to move some power points because it’s easier to get to, are you OK with that for example?
  6. Have you included enough power points? See below.
  7. Are you able to decide on the position of every single socket and switch in one go? It’s surprisingly stressful!
  8. Do you want dimmer switches, and/or multi way switches? Personally I’m not bothered by dimmer switches. However I do really like being able to turn lights on and off from different points, especially throughout the hallway.
  9. Don’t forget about the loft, under-stairs cupboards, and outside. I have always added loft lighting in a house so I can find possessions when I need them. It’s not expensive to add in whilst work is being done up there and makes a lot of difference!
  10. Are you prepared to find out some new, possibly not good, things about your house? It’s a sad fact that things come to light in a re-wire. I was rather surprised to discovered half of my landing floor is actually chipboard, for instance. And the state of the wall and ceiling plaster is not as good as I’d hoped, but probably about what I’d expected…

A note on power points. Seriously, you cannot have too many! Remember however you have a room set up now, you may well change the use in future, and if you’ve skimped you won’t have a power point where you want it. I don’t know what the furniture layout will be in my rooms yet, so I’m just opting to put sockets in pretty much every corner of every room, to future-proof as much as possible. Also think about whether you’ll need points in your hallway and landing. As well as lamps, phone, router and other items you might have in the hallway, you might also need access to run your lawn mower outside, or a vacuum cleaner inside.

The tangle of extension cables and wiring will soon be a thing of the past!

Step five: take a deep breath and Get cracking!

Once you’ve decided how you’re tackling the work, all you can do is make the best decision you have with the information you have. Then book the work and go for it!

The work here is in full flow. I’ve opted to get the right lights fitted as part of the re-wire, so the electricians don’t need to come back. This means it looks like the house has a personality disorder at the moment, with  completely mis-matching decor and lighting. It also means I will have to be VERY careful when I decorate. But I just wanted my new lights, to be honest. Will be featuring them in another post. There will also be a future post on choosing light bulbs. Who knew there were so many options now? LED lights have taken off in a big way, but they come in totally different shades of white. Believe me, this matters!

The chaos of a re-wire…

And as for the home office which kicked it all off? Well, this light is now a thing of the past:

The dated corner light

You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what it turned into!

Anyone else planning electrical work soon? Do you have any top tips to add? Or have you gone through the pain of choosing light bulbs? Share your story!