The Importance of Maintaining Your Electrical System

Why do I need to have the electrical system of my caravan, motorhome or folding camper inspected and tested?

Would you stay or allow others to stay in a caravan, motorhome or folding camper knowing there was a gas leak? No, of course, you wouldn’t!

Would you stay or allow others to stay in a caravan, motorhome or folding camper knowing there was an electrical leak?  No, of course, you wouldn’t! But how can you be sure there’s not a leak? The standard safety checks carried out during the annual habitation service of a caravan, motorhome or folding camper (referred to hereafter as a ‘leisure vehicle’), serves to identify and remedy problems primarily with the gas system; thereby ensuring the safe use of the vehicle, free from the danger of a gas leak.  However, the standard annual habitation service does not include a test to determine whether the electrical systems are ‘leaking’.  Whilst gas pressure tests are routine during a leisure vehicle service, electrical pressure tests are not.  Because LPG gas is odourless, it is mixed with a ‘stenching agent’ to give it a characteristic nauseous smell.  It is the presence of that smell that gives us some early indication that there’s a gas leak.  No such agent is, or can be added, to electricity to inform us that there’s an electrical leak.  The first indication of a problem could be a circuit breaker that keeps on tripping or, if we’re unlucky, a fire caused by an appliance malfunctioning or the cable supplying it overheating and catching fire.  Gas leaks cause fires, but so do electrical leaks.

We don’t typically have our home electrics checked and tested regularly, so why should we have our leisure vehicle’s checked and tested?

Every year in the UK millions of nights are spent in leisure vehicles jammed-pack with electrical and gas appliances, together with our most prized possessions – ourselves and our families.  All this in an area no bigger than the average living room and constructed of materials at best offering little fire protection and at worst containing materials that are flammable.  In the case of caravans and folding campers, most of us even sleep with the leisure vehicle’s electrical consumer unit located directly beneath our beds (which are themselves made from pretty combustible materials!).

Aren’t newly manufactured leisure vehicles checked for their electrical safety before they leave the factory?

Deterioration of the electrical wiring, accessories and appliances (including damage and misuse), can result in appliances not performing properly and, in more serious cases, a harmful reduction in the safety of the electrical installation with potentially catastrophic results.  Recognising this, all new leisure vehicles are sold complete with an electrical safety certificate known as an Electrical Installation Certificate (EIC).  This is the manufacturer’s guarantee that the habitation electrics (including both the 230-Volt and 12-Volt wiring systems and equipment) are in peak condition and safe to use.  In this context, ‘safe to use’ means safe from the risk of electric shock, fire and burns, at the time of testing and only without any appliances or loads connected.  The leisure vehicle’s manufacturer recognises that with all material things subject to ageing and wear and tear, the electrical wiring and associated equipment will deteriorate and potentially become less safe.  They are, therefore, required by law to recommend that the electrical installation (sockets, switches, lights, etc.) be regularly checked for safety (usually no more than every three years).  This safety-check is not compulsory but is advisory.  It is, however, strongly recommended that a safety check is carried out on the fixed electrical wiring installation at regular intervals (not exceeding the interval period given on the installation certificate).  It is, therefore, worth taking a look at the recommendation on your certificate and to consider whether the electrical installation in your home-from-home is due a safety-check.

But what about second-hand, used or ‘pre-loved’ vehicles from a dealership?

Well, they also require the same safety-check before being sold to a new owner.  And, as with a new leisure vehicle, the used vehicle will be given a recommended re-test date for the fixed electrical installation.

I have my leisure vehicle serviced every year at an approved workshop.  Surely all of the safety-critical electrical installations are covered in the annual service?

The current annual service schedule carried out by engineers operating under the Approved Workshop Scheme (AWS) does not ‘leak-test’ the electrical installation, or check the selection and integrity of miniature circuit breakers (MCBs), fixed equipment’s fuses and general condition, or the integrity of the system’s wiring or basic protection.  Electrical tests conducted during the annual service are typically limited to checking the operation of the Residual Current Device (RCD) and a pass/fail ‘test’ (carried out with a plug-in socket tester) at accessible 13A 3-pin sockets.  RCDs are fitted to electrical installations as ‘additional protection’ and will only operate under certain conditions to prevent the user of the vehicle suffering from an electrical shock as a result of coming into contact with some conductive part of the vehicle which has become electrically ‘live’ through some fault.  They will not prevent or protect the installation in the event of a short-circuit or from the overloading of the circuits, both of which can lead to serious injury or death from electrocution and burns or from the effects of electrical fires causing a fire within the vehicle itself, often without any warning.

OK, so the safety checks are important, but what happens after the period recommended in the installation certificate has passed, or if I know or suspect that there is a fault or concern about my vehicle’s installation?

Arrange to have your installation checked for electrical safety and the issue of an Electrical Inspection Condition Report (EICR), more commonly known as a ‘Periodic Inspection and Test’.  You can contact us about arranging an inspection and test here.

What exactly does the Periodic Inspection and Test cover?

The periodic inspection of the electrical system involves the removal of the installation’s accessories (e.g. sockets, fused connection units, switches, etc.) so that all the connections can be thoroughly examined and, where necessary, tightened or re-connected.  During the inspection phase of the check, all of the electrical components of the installation are inspected for damage and integrity to ensure that they are in a good, clean and satisfactory condition for continued safe use.  The testing phase of the process involves subjecting the wiring and accessories to several rigorous electrical tests to prove them satisfactory for continued use.

If there is a problem with the installation, will the engineer put it right there and then?

The inspection and testing of the electrical system are intended to provide a report on the condition of the installation.  Problems discovered during the inspection and test can be remedied if they are simple to put right there and then, or recommendations will be made to what work needs to be carried out to improve the safety of the entire electrical installation.  Following the inspection and test, you will be issued by the testing engineer with an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR).  This is a report on the condition of your wiring and accessories, including any essential safety modifications that are deemed necessary, together with any other recommendations for improving the safety of the installation.  Please remember that an electrical safety check on your wiring is not compulsory, but is advisory.  It is also strongly recommended by manufacturers and by all of the safety standards agencies.  Advice on whether your leisure vehicle is due a Periodic Inspection and Test is free from us here at KCE Ltd.

So the EICR covers the fixed installation, but what about the things plugged into the electrical system, including the cooker, fridge, water heater, space heater, microwave, battery charger etc., not to mention the myriad of portable appliances we use in our home that we pack into our ‘second-homes’ which we simply ‘couldn’t live without’!?

Although the fixed electrical appliances in your vehicle are tested during manufacture for their electrical safety (by the individual equipment’s manufacturer), their ongoing electrical safety cannot be assumed or relied upon.  More worryingly, unlike the fixed installation’s electrical integrity, no such test is recommended or required for the appliances we regularly use in our vehicles (including the fixed, non-removable appliances such as the water/space heater and refrigerator, etc.).  This is where ‘portable appliance testing’ (‘PAT’ testing) is, in our view, essential.

What is Portable Appliance or PAT Testing?

PAT testing carries out the similar schedule of inspection and test on the equipment plugged into your vehicle as the inspection and test schedule of the EICR process.  This ensures that equipment such as kettles, toasters, hair dryers, etc. are safe to use and free from electrical defect.

What can I do to ensure that my leisure vehicle’s electrical systems and the equipment we plug into it are electrically safe?

If your caravan, motorhome or folding camper is three or more years’ old, it WILL in all likelihood need to be inspected and tested together with PAT testing of the installation’s fixed appliances (refrigerator, charger, microwave, cooker, water heater, space heater, etc). Also, if you take mains-voltage equipment (i.e. those connected to the electrical supply with a 3-pin plug) like hair-dryers, kettles, toasters, etc. away in your vehicle, they too would benefit from being electrically (PAT) tested.

Don’t wait for an electricity leak to harm you, your loved ones or your home-from-home, contact us at KCE Ltd to book your periodic test and inspection and the PAT testing of all your portable and fixed mains-voltage appliances.