Geoff Wilkinson looks at Building Regulations relating to electrical installations in wet areas
As approved inspectors, we are often approached by architects whose clients want to use electrical equipment in bathrooms. This is a bad idea in principle. Water carries electricity efficiently so the consequences of an electric shock on wet skin are far more severe, as the body’s resistance is reduced.
Electrical safety is covered by Part P of the Building Regulations. It states that all fixed electrical installations in dwellings must legally comply with BS 7671:2008 Requirements for Electrical Installations.
Bathroom safety zones
The Regulations divide a bathroom into different zones. Each of the zones has specific requirements regarding the electrical equipment that can be installed and used in it. When the size of bathroom extends beyond Zone 2, portable equipment is allowed. However, it should be positioned so its flex length prevents it being used in Zone 2. In theory this means 3m, but with extension leads a user could easily override this. Therefore it is never a good idea to install a socket in such cases. Great care is required to determine the correct zoning in the case of the increasingly popular standalone bath tubs.
When choosing the style of light above a bath, enclosed ceiling lights are recommended, rather than ones that hang down. If you should opt for unenclosed light fittings, they must be out of reach of anyone who is still wet from being in the shower or bath. A typical everyday light switch is also dangerous if wet hands come into contact with it. A ceiling-mounted pull cord is the safest option. Extractor fans, electric showers and so on can be installed in wet zones provided they have been fixed and permanently wired. The ideal way to control them is by a pull cord or switch outside of the room.
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Kitchens are not subject to the same requirements. In the absence of any advice in the appliance manufacturer’s installation instructions, an electrical fitting such as a socket outlet, switch, or control unit should still be positioned to enable safe operation and to avoid heat and steam from cooking activities.
NHBC guidance states that a standard electrical fitting (which is not splash-resistant), should not be located next to a sink or drainer where it could be affected by splashing. An acceptable minimum distance is 300mm, measured horizontally from an electrical fitting to the edge of a high level grill, freestanding cooker, individual hob, sink or drainer.
Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants www.thebuildinginspector.org