Basic steps to keep your family safe in the home

An electrician checks the fuse box
An electrician checks the fuse box

Is your home as danger-proof as it could – and should – be? Julia Gray looks at the basic steps you must take to ensure you and your family stay safe.

Keeping you and your family safe in the home is obviously something you don’t plan to take chances on, but it’s not always easy to know if you’re dicing with danger.

We often stick to the wiring we’ve inherited when we move into a new home because having a property rewired is a major upheaval, and can be very expensive. Unless the sockets, light switches and flexes are obviously outdated, it’s also hard to tell if the wiring needs to be redone.

A good place to start checking is the fuse box – if it has rewirable fuses, for example, it’s in need of an update because modern fuse boxes don’t use fuse wire (however, fuse boxes are sometimes replaced without the rest of the wiring being updated, so you can’t rely on this as an indicator).

Other indicators of old wiring you can look out for include sockets with burn marks, single rather than double sockets, sockets mounted on skirting boards, and surface-mounted cables.

The only way to be really sure if the wiring is safe though, is to get a qualified electrician to test it. For this, and if your home does subsequently need rewiring, make sure you use an electrician registered with one of the Government’s competent-person schemes, such as NICEIC (www.niceic.com), as they can self-certify that their work complies with the law.

If they don’t belong to such a scheme, you can get their work checked by your local council’s building control department or an approved inspector, who provides the same service but doesn’t work for the council. The key thing is to get a completion certificate so you can prove that the electrical installation is safe and legal, something often needed when you sell or rent out your home.

Gas appliances are another potential danger in the home.

By law, they must be installed by a Gas Safe Register engineer (www.gassaferegister.co.uk). It’s also important to get them serviced annually by a Gas Safe Register engineer to ensure they’re safe and working as efficiently as possible.

Carbon monoxide poisoning from gas appliances can, of course, be fatal and is hard to detect, which is why you need a carbon monoxide alarm in each room where there’s a gas appliance. But simply fitting one isn’t enough – you must press the test button on it regularly to ensure that it’s working, and change the batteries if necessary – although some alarms have integral batteries that can’t be replaced.

Smoke alarms should also be tested regularly, but there’s nothing more annoying than one that goes off every time you burn a piece of toast.

Taking out the battery is a potentially dangerous habit to get in to, so an alarm with a silencer button is invaluable and saves you flapping around dementedly with a tea towel.

Some alarms are also ‘toast proof’, meaning they’re less likely to be set off by cooking fumes.

Since June 1992, all new homes have had to be fitted with interlinking mains-operated smoke alarms, which means if there’s a fire, all the alarms will go off at the same time – even if you’re sleeping a long way from the fire, you’ll be alerted instantly.

This process wasn’t a requirement in older properties, so if your home doesn’t have one, you can either have the hassle and expense of an electrician wiring them in, or you can find a wirelessly interlinking system.

The FireAngel Wireless Interlink Smoke Alarm (£29.98, B&Q, currently three for the price of two) is quick and easy to install and has a 10-year internal power pack, so you won’t need to change the batteries or worry about them not working.

Products like this make keeping your home safe really easy and while they’re not especially cheap, you can’t put a price on safety.