How To Kill Friends And Electrocute People: Wiring Without An Electrical Licence

electrical standards

So you’d like to be an electrician? Here’s half your required reading…

Australia’s conservative electrical licencing laws mean there’s really not much a homeowner can DIY, beyond changing light globes or rewiring a ceramic fuse (if your switchboard hasn’t been upgraded since the the 1960s). Some people decry this as ‘the nanny state gone mad’, but I have to point out the law isn’t as silly as some of the wiring I’ve encountered.

I’m uniquely positioned to explain, as I did a four-year auto-electrical certificate straight out of school. It meant I had an excellent understanding of electricity and the confidence of youth to wire up almost anything. Surely, getting an electrical license couldn’t be that hard?

However, TAFE wouldn’t lift a finger to help me get an electrician’s licence. My experience was useless. Instead, I was advised to sign up for four more years of apprenticeship; that was the only way.

melted & burnt circuit breaker

Vintage ceramic fuses with cheap push-in retrofit circuit breakers. Another dangerous liability.

The Big Problem With Electrical DIY? You Could Kill Someone Else

Performing illegal electrical work might seem like a personal freedom, but legal liability puts you on the hook if someone else is injured.

Cutting corners with electricity can be genuinely deadly.

deadly light switch

Yes, that’s a syringe with wires rammed into it. Yes, it’s being used as a switch, and it’s likely to catch fire. Genius, isn’t it?

Standards Make The World Work

As an electrician, my work and its logical arrangement will be the same as any other electrician’s. I can make assumptions about what’s been done and confidently decide what to touch and how to modify something safely.

It’s when people abandon standards that problems arise. Those assumptions that keep me safe when I cut a cable and make a connection can become ‘arse-umptions’ that set fire to houses, blow up appliances, burn fuses, maim or even kill people.

dangerous live connections

Exposed live connections. This DIY junction is not what you need to find in the roof space.

Let’s Explore a Cut Corner

Imagine you inherit your Grandpa’s house. He’s a clever bloke who taught you many things, and long ago, he wired up some extra lights in the shed.

Starting with a supply from a power point, he ran twin core and earth (TC&E) cable to a pair of switches, then up to the lights, which separately illuminate the driveway and adjacent corner inside the shed. The circuit needs at least three wires — each light needs an active wire, but they can share a neutral wire.

Modern trade practice would use a 1.5mm² TC&E (rules require earthed lights now, but years ago, a red and black twin would have sufficed).

Either way, the key point is there should be an additional single red cable for a second switched active.

illegal wiring

Typical problems you find when a home handyman swaps a bathroom light for a fan combo.

The thing is, Grandpa was frugal. He only had some leftover TC&E power cable, so — colours be damned — he hooked up one light to the red, one light to the green, and used the black as the shared neutral wire. It made sense to him at the time, but it’s an absolute cardinal sin.

Scenario 1: His Cockup, My Arse

Picture the scene: a tree smashes Grandpa’s old outside light clean off the timber fascia. There’s wires hanging out so I — the electrician — get the call to come and replace it with a nice new floodlight. If I was suspicious, I could test the earth continuity at the light. But time pressures mean nobody wants to open the house switchboard to perform a full earth loop impedance test. After all, we’re only here to change a light fitting, not open a can of worms.

I make the arse-uption that the green wire here is the protective earth wire. In my mind, it’s a given that nobody would ever violate that standard.

Supplied by the red active wire and the black neutral, the light works like it used to. Happy days.

That night, you go into the shed to fetch a ladder. Turning the light on inside the shed means the green wire has now energised the external metal case of the floodlight, which is supposed to be protectively earthed.

So when you climb the ladder to adjust the angle, touching it gives you a shock that throws you to the ground.

You’ve got a broken neck, and I’ve broken the law — I didn’t perform basic electrical tests, and now my arse is in the sling.

Scenario 2: This Time It’s Your Own Fault

Hooking up a power point in the shed is only a three-wire job, right? You can buy one at Hammerbarn, with the colours printed on them. So you turn the main switch off, cut the cable that’s heading along the wall and poke wires into your new outlet.

It’s not rocket science… because you assume the colours are standard.

Laughably, however, the power point is connected in parallel with the inside light. So the new bench grinder Aunty Donna got you for Christmas is actually only working because the inside light is switched on.

You didn’t do any testing, so you don’t know the protective earth circuit isn’t connected either.

Mum comes for a stickybeak; she wants a picture of you with your grinder to send to her sister, and she wants more light. She flicks on the only other switch she can find, the outside light switch. Now that green wire makes the grinder live to touch, and Mum has inadvertently electrocuted you.

They say DIYers die. That’s precisely because electricians are trained to test their work, before they sign it off as safe.

Electricians: Licensed Just To Rip You Off?

I’ve encountered plenty of the ‘tin-foil hat’ DIY types that frequent the off-grid forums. They watch a lot of EweTube and bray like donkeys, but you can’t even begin to explain to them how little they know, because they know so little.

It doesn’t help when local electrical companies cut-and-paste junk from US sources, or Australian websites publish what is outright misinformation. I question the sanity of any electrical contractor that explicitly states DIY electrical is illegal, and then produces a step-by-step guide explaining (poorly) how to do it.

Yes, It’s A Clique, But Rules Are Here For A Reason.

It takes four years to get an electrical licence, and that’s only to sign you off as a safe worker. What you learn in that time just scratches the surface. It takes years more to build expertise — the kind of expertise a broom attendant (i.e., a first-year sparky) or a general handyman just doesn’t have.

Freshly minted or well qualified, a phone is the most important tool a tradesperson has. The phone numbers for a handful of industry veterans offers access to a hundred years experience, and a licence number offers access to the technical regulator.

But if you’re looking for some genuinely good training in solar power specifically, start with this series. I promise 13 hours with Glen Morris will make you smarter.

Australia and New Zealand share standards… Mostly

I’m going to have a quick shot at our friends across the Dutch because in New Zealand, it is legal for homeowners to do their own basic electrical work.

I do have to acknowledge there is a pragmatic argument for making Australia the West Island of NZ; and allowing people who have a good idea of what they’re doing to perform basic work. It can save society a lot of time and productivity, provided no ambulances are needed.

Some people know what they don’t know and ask for help on the DIY forums. Others just straight up need to be electrocuted by their own rustic, hand made, bare wired lunacy.

In fact, some Australian jurisdictions allow farmers to do their own electrical work if it meets AS3000 standards. (Getting qualified tradies to far-flung farms is difficult, but complying with the standards can be even more difficult.)

Plug And Play Is OK

I recommend anyone even considering electrical tinkering to take a day-long TAFE course to learn how to ‘tag and test’ appliances, including replacing plugs and making extension cords. These courses offer great awareness training around electrical safety and legal liability.

Australian rules are more conservative than the uneasy allowances of the UK and NZ. Here, Joe Public simply isn’t allowed to work on fixed wiring, so plugs are an easy demarcation.

A caravan or boat, for example, might be plugged in, but that extension cord doesn’t extend any exceptions. Rather, there are more rules — entirely separate ANZ standards for mobile structures, marinas, solar arrays, inverters, batteries, stand-alone power, fairgrounds and caravan parks.

Testing, Testing And More Testing

I can assure you, everyone makes mistakes. But the biggest lesson any electrician learns is to trust nothing, and test everything.

You have to test your instruments and test the wiring before you handle it, and you have to test the finished product before certifying it.

Most of all, you can’t trust the people who were there before you.

The scenarios I outlined above are hypothetical but not far-fetched. And there are thousands of other ways in which things can go seriously wrong, but the most important one I can convey is this;

 

If you ever get a tingle from your taps, call an electrician IMMEDIATELY. Sit tight and don’t touch any metal appliance, or your metal switchboard, they could be LIVE.

 

Electricians chuckle, but saying if you ring up the local network operator and utter the words “loose neutral” they’ll have a truck screech to a halt in front of your house before you’ve hung the phone up. Tingles off the taps are not a joke.

About Anthony Bennett

Anthony joined the SolarQuotes team in 2022. He’s a licensed electrician, builder, roofer and solar installer who for 14 years did jobs all over SA - residential, commercial, on-grid and off-grid. A true enthusiast with a skillset the typical solar installer might not have, his blogs are typically deep dives that draw on his decades of experience in the industry to educate and entertain. Read Anthony's full bio.

Comments

  1. Anthony, I’m all in favour of standards (I’ve worked in IT for 50+ years), however I do find it a little strange that I can’t install a USB powered door bell because the wire has to pass through the door frame/wall. I need a licenced electrician for that.

    How can it be that I can plug in my Cat6e cable to my router and my computer, but not if I have to drill a hole in the wall? Drilling the hole is more likely to be dangerous ( hitting electrical/water/gas ) than pushing the cable through the wall.

    I’m not getting at you, just pointing out some very strange regs.

    PS. Growing up in the UK, we were taught how to wire a plug as school kids, as electrical appliances were sold without plugs ( not sure about now). Then again the plugs were much easier to wire up than Australian ones 🙂

    • My understanding is that if the doorbell wiring is all 5V DC (eg from the bell unit to the push button) then a non licenced person *can* install this wiring.
      From AS3000, that comes into the category of Extra Low Voltage ( <50V ripple free)
      Anything above that limit, is defined as Low Voltage which includes 240V / 415V AC supplies and all work on that has to be done by a licenced sparky.
      Anthony please correct me if I am wrong! 😀

    • marcus maclean says

      When it was still legal in the UK I rewired two houses. (Both had largely lead-sheathed cable with very crumbly insulation inside). On completion, I had an independent earthing check by a qualified electrician who then ‘signed off’ on my work.
      Technically I expect that this is not legal here in Australia, but I have made a few minor alterations (checked of course!). It seems to me this is a safe way around the rules, but you do need a friendly electrician.

      ps. UK sockets/plugs are generally much better (but bulkier). An overheated plug in the UK is a rarity, but sadly not here.

  2. Definitely agree to have a qualified electrician to do any electrical work.
    However my personal experiences of shoddy poor work on my newly built home back in 2007. Was a wakeup to the fact you can’t really take any thing for granted.
    The brown outs I experienced started with my water pump failure. After paying $65 to have it tested only to be told nothing was wrong. Later the brown out became blackouts and when the lines people came out the chap insisted I see the issue.
    The live wire sparky didn’t even screw down the bolt on one of the 2 wires! It was burnt and blackened. There were other issues and were due to having loose screws that tighten the wires in the sockets. Go figure! we never met these qualified sparkies as they were organised by the home building company.

    • Gilbert Griffith says

      I’ve helped rewire a cinema in Melbourne, pulling out old metal conduits and starting from scratch., aged 14.

      London, age 19, worked on cinema and sound studio power systems, including DC battery emergency lighting.

      Wired my 52 sq m. extension to my house, checked by sparky and signed off, in 2005.

      Worked on kV power supplies in Amateur Radio.

      Repaired appliances including microwave ovens.

      Found the cause of our shower taps tingling when the kitchen oven or kettle switched on, broken neutral between our private pole and supply. They came and changed it from 2 phase to single phase supply, very quickly.

      Had a fault with our solar inverter switching off and restarting intermittently. I monitored the supply voltage and discovered it fluctuated from normal 230 up to 261 volts. Only happened on sunny days when inverter was sending 13 Amps to the grid. Other clues were voltage drops when oven or kettle were switched on. The energy supplier sent two men to measure everything with extra ground stakes etc, but they found nothing. A week later I went outside and smelled burnt bakelite coming from our private pole. I inspected it and found the 4 screws and mounting plates which joined the aluminium supply to our cable were loose and arcing and had burned away from the bakelite mounting. Two trucks and a cherry picker turned up 20 minutes after my phone call and replaced the junction box. The high resistance of the bad joint had caused voltage losses in both directions.
      I am retired now, but work on call as a first-in technician for Broadcast Australia.

      • Anthony Bennett says

        Fascinating Gilbert,

        As I tell anyone who’ll listen, tingly taps a very dangerous and hence nobody moves faster than a supply authority truck when you ring them up and utter the words “loose neutral”

        • Neutral faults are always dangerous in three phase 400 volt system star connected any lose connection may result to singal phase load to 400 volts between and switch on to two phases load

  3. As you point out, people can’t be trusted, not even qualified tradespeople.
    Have mentioned in other blogs, but my qualified electrician solar installer stripped a grub screw in a block connector so the connection was never going to be tight and shorted out; left it that way no intention of returning to fix, fixed a pv module down to the rack, with a live cable jammed in between them. Lucky was only 12v cable and not not HV DC or AC.

    • I guess this is why we look to Solarquotes and the reviews. I hope you have left a review so others know who not to go with.

      • Thanks Warwick. Haven’t yet, as the story isn’t finished yet and am negotiating what an appropriate response is from the retailer. So far it appears fair but not finalised.
        However, the lesson learned, and it is covered in another blog too, is to obtain info on who will personally actually do the install, and check their quals and experience. I would now prefer in-house rather than subcontracted. Was latter in my case, but issues rectified by in-house electrician with experience.

  4. Somehow I prefer Eu standards.
    – No need to work for peanuts to have licence, enough to pass exams
    – No wires on fuel as here, inflammable cover required
    – Obviously no nailing wires (remember thermal isolation story?)
    – Standard sockets and plugs up to 25A
    – Main does not protect loads which has to protect itself

    So, in this wise and overlicenced country, in my newly build home, licenced electrician nailed wires to timber structure holding my roof. Somehow if I cover it with inflammable conduit, it will make it illegal here. The same licenced electrician connected oven labelled to fuse at least 21A to 20A circuit and didn’t see anything wrong with it.
    I would do it A LOT BETTER myself.

  5. In general agree with you, but think we overdo things in Oz..
    For instance, how do you explain, that with the more open regs in NZ, they actually have a LOWER rate of death from electrical shocks??..

    ‘In Australia, the reduction is from 1.87 to 0.52 (0.079 per year) (death per million), while:
    for New Zealand the reduction is from 1.39 to 0.22 (0.069 per year)..’??

    So having a more open, and educational perspective, may actually reduce deaths!?..

  6. I was an electrical teacher for TAFE there for a while, and I learned a lot.
    There was no head teacher, just a business manager, and I was required to teach innumerate, dyslexic and colourblind people to be safe around lethal energy you cannot taste, see, touch, hear or comprehend if you are innumerate and don’t work well with abstract concepts.
    Three phase power factor correction with resonance issues?
    Turns out if you let them have enough goes at online tests they might look competent if the pass mark is fifty percent. Me turning up in a coroners court because I deemed them competent?

    • Mick cameron says

      I left TAFE, after i failed a student who could not read, write or perform basic maths in 1st year.
      As he was pushed through the system as he would cry discrimination when he failed something, with union support, which is how he got to be an apprentice. I am pretty sure his father had something to do with it.
      Anyway I failed him on 3 modules, and told his employer that he should not be an apprentice electrician. Anyone who can’t read, write or do basic maths shouldn’t be a sparky. The employer approached the TAFE director, who told me to pass him, to which i refused. He got another teacher to pass him and I quit.

      5 years later I was a supervisor on a mine site, and I was the one who interviewed sparkies before they came on-site, and I challenge tested everyone.
      To my horror he was there, but I had him removed from site when he failed the basic ohms law test I set for everyone.

      As teachers we need to fail those, who we believe cannot, or should not, be doing this trade. Afterall an electrical licence, is a licence that can kill and I dont want that on my conscience……

      • I work at a large chain of Hardware stores [ not Named ] the amount of customers coming asking what I need to wire a power point or light , They ask having no idea as how to do it . I tell them get your electrician to come in , some get cranky at me for this advice , Mick Cameron your experience is dead set frightening

      • Mick Cameron, shame you had to quit but you had to. One of the older teachers said you had to ask yourself, “would I trust him on the other end of a cable?” simple as that. And wow, he turned up on site! Nice that the site respected your judgement.

  7. Andy the Tech says

    Our system is too restrictive imho. As a qualified electronics tech I can work on everything within the casing of the device but I sure cant connect it to the house wiring….. I’ll give you a hint, the complexity of whats in the casing is orders of magnitude more than the house wiring is. The 240v or 415v in the casing is no kinder to stupidity than the same in the wires outside the case.

    Similarly the qualified electrical engineer that designed the device, not just fix/implement as I do, he also cant connect it… I agree that not everyone should be allowed to play with wiring but there are those of us that should because we fully grasp the concepts.

    I guess that a story that goes along the lines of “Intrepid electronics tech wires device to mains….and its done in such a way that you cant tell if it was him/her or a sparky that did it” isn’t likely to collect many clicks…..

    • Andy, this is exactly my view as my background is electronics. On top of what you have mentioned, there is one more thing – we were trained how to handle electricity without disconnecting it!. As far, as I know, all sparkies ate trained to not to do anything while it is live. That’s a step back, maybe those fixing overhead traction are exception from it. From that perspective, I believe electronics tech is way better qualified as sparky skills are only subset from electronics. They have problems with calculating sum of vectors as an example.
      I am 55 now, I did work in electronics from late 80s till around y2k and I am still alive, despite handling countless of devices while these were live. Whenever I tell a sparky I did work with live 25kV, I hear laugh and what would you do with it? Well, I would measure it at least so it must be present.
      Aside this, what is most deadly supply around? I believe HID power supply which can work from kilovolts down to 80 and provide far more current than needed to kill a human. Who deals with it? 12V trained “mechanic” 😛

      • Anthony Bennett says

        Hi Darek,

        You make some good points. As an auto electrician all the fault finding you do is live, and as you’d well understand a cracked solder joint or almost broken cable would be impossible to find otherwise.

        Doing automotive work meant I had read wiring diagrams (if you could get them) or map switches & really understand there’s a lot of different ways to wire a headlight. I just had to be a good methodical detective, something your average house basher electrician can really struggle with.

        However that’s where wiring standards come in, because houses don’t come with wiring diagrams at all, so everyone has to use the common instruction book, the absurdly overpriced AS3000.

        As much as I knew electrically how to wire a house, without the appropriate training, my automotive assumptions would have made for dangerous house wiring.

        As transport becomes electrified and cars have 800VDC traction batteries, we’re going to need a lot more training for mechanics, but with less servicing to be done there’s some chance they’ll need to be trained as electricians anyway.

    • Erik Christiansen says

      Andy, I have no problem with the fact that my diploma of Electrical Engineering doesn’t allow me to work on fixed wiring above ELV, as my latest copy of AS3000 is from 1986, and I sidestepped to electronics and programming 30 years ago. A bunch of half-remembered theory is not such a big problem in theory, but the difference between theory and practice is much greater in practice than it is in theory.

      On my off-grid owner-build, I could do the 24 Vdc LED lighting wiring, and the electrician the rest. On the solar install, I’m assembling three 15.5 kWh LiFePO₄ battery banks, each with a BMS, but I let the solar installer crimp lugs onto the high current cables – not just because I don’t have a hydraulic crimper, but high current and iffy joints make fires. (I haven’t done crimps before, so the quick and safer alternative makes sense.)

      As the assembled battery bank is over 900 AH, and fault currents don’t bear thinking about, I’ve sourced HRC fuses with 100 kA arc rupture capacity. That’s overkill, but a fire can toasty-kill, and flash burns are a nightmare. Left to my own devices, I’d find fusing both +ve and -ve extravagant, but them’s the regs, and even these monster fuses are only $6.50 each, so why take chances?

      When I OB-ed the first house, I supervised the electrician’s apprentice, and taught him how to do a three-way light switch. But why would an engineer drag cables, when he can be doing woodwork instead? Making custom balustrading in solid Blackwood beats house wiring any day.

      But I did design the LED light dimmers, and grinned like an imp when the first PCBs, back from China, worked straight up, once populated. Let’s stick with the safe stuff, and keep the fire insurance in mind too.

      • Anthony Bennett says

        Thanks Erik,

        An electrical engineering degree means you know enough to realise that arc flash burns are horrendous, even if it’s “only” 48 volts.

        As I said, the DIY crowd are often convinced it’s a “protectionist racket” but they’re hard to educate because their base knowledge is so poor.

        • Anthony,

          I was still with you until I saw this response. There are dozens of educated, experienced, knowledgeable people right here making incredibly valid counterpoints to your article. You’ve not responded to a single one of those valid points, and instead you’re ignoring all of them, and being insulting and condescending to the audience of this site.

          Very disappointing to see this from such an otherwise well respected publication as solarquotes. If this is the way this site is going to treat its audience from now on I think I and many others will look for other sources of news and information.

          • Maybe something to do with Scenario one heading? I’ve taken it that Anthony doesn’t consider that the readership might not understand Ozzie slang.

          • Anthony Bennett says

            Hi Lachlan,

            As other commenters here mention, people go to Hammerbarn with no idea what they’re doing and get angry that they can’t get advice on how. That’s not OK. I’ve pointed out on previous occasions that just getting into the roof can kill unsuspecting people, and in WA it’s illegal to do so unless the power is turned off.

            I did mention we might pragmatically be better off as the West island of New Zealand? I said elsewhere as an auto electrician all the fault finding you do is live, because a cracked solder joint or almost broken cable would be impossible to find otherwise.

            Doing automotive work meant I had to map switches & really understand there’s a lot of different ways to wire a headlight. I just had to be a good methodical detective, something your average house basher electrician can really struggle with.

            However that’s where wiring standards come in, everyone has to use the common instruction book, the absurdly overpriced AS3000.

            As much as I knew electrically how to wire a house, my automotive assumptions would have made for dangerous house wiring. As already mentioned here in the comments, rules elsewhere are different so educated, experienced, knowledgeable, qualified UK sparkies could hook up a ring circuit, which will kill an unsuspecting local electrician.

            It might seem like hyperbole, but my job is to play keys & write songs that make conduit sound entertaining. I’m not trying to be condescending, but equally being branded as the “protectionist racket” by those who seem unwilling to listen gets a bit wearing.

            As transport is electrified & cars have 800VDC traction batteries, we’re going to need trained mechanics, but with less car servicing to be done, they’ll need to be trained as electricians anyway.

            In any case we need more resources for TAFE don’t we?

  8. Your points make sense in principal, but you contradict your own argument by citing multiple examples of qualified electricians performing poor or outright illegal electrical work. If you can’t be guaranteed that qualified electricians will do a decent job on your property then I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to do the work yourself.

    I’m fine with requiring a small training course be completed first to understand the basics, but requiring a full electrician’s license to do any electrical work is ridiculous and appears to be aimed more at protecting tradies than consumers.

    The restrictions are not even limited to electrical cabling either. You’re not allowed to run ethernet cabling in your own house without an electrician in this nanny state. That’s even more ridiculous when considering the ethernet cabling you completed during your cert IV TAFE qualification doesn’t apply!

  9. Agree that standards are valuable – but then we overdo it here in Oz. I have lived and worked in South Africa, New Zealand, USA and now Oz. I am a retired chartered professional engineer, Designed, built and maintained specialised equipment up to 11kV and 150kW…….no license requirement there, yet I cannot work on the wiring in my shed/house/caravan ! Bonkers.
    My pet peef – the Aus/NZ domestic mains plug – worst design ever ! Pins bend, brake……rubbish that does not belong in a technologically advanced system.
    Nuff said

    • As a couple of people have pointed out – in countries like the UK and South Africa school kids are taught how to wire plugs. It would make sense to do the same here.

      I also have seen work done by qualified electricians which does not meet standards.

      I also agree with the comments about the poor design of Australian plugs. What also baffles me is that power points in drywalls in Australia don’t need to be covered at the back – all you need is a fist through the wall from the other side ….

      • Ian Sampson says

        Hi Geoff,

        Totally disagree with you in regards to who should wire a plug. I witnessed a friend nearly die from two incorrectly wired leads that were plugged together. one had the active/neutral reversed the other had the neutral/earth reversed. When he touched his guitar amp he copped a full 240v and passed out. Turns out the leads were wired by a friend in a church who had no trade skills at all. I won’t use a foreign lead without doing a check on it.

        You criticise an electricians standard but are ok about kids wiring a plug.

        Sad to hear so many people bag out electricians (I am a retired Electrical Contractor). We had three years TAFE and 4 year apprenticeship to learn our trade which is very broad in scope. All Electricians I worked with were highly skilled. I worked 50 years in the trade.

        Wiring a house is not just throwing wires around, it is balancing loads, wire selection, voltage drop calculations, complying with the latest regulations and much much more.

        Disappointed that our trade is not being respected on this site, I have been proud to be an electrician and proud of my workmanship.

        • Perhaps if your friend’s friend was taught how to wire a plug properly in school then your friend wouldn’t have been electrocuted?

          Nobody is arguing that people who don’t know what they’re doing should be wiring plugs. That’s a strawman argument. Wiring a plug is a lot different to wiring an entire house, yet both require full TAFE and trade experience qualifications to perform.

        • Gilbert Griffith says

          Geoff said children were taught to wire plugs. Your example sounds like the person wasn’t taught anything at all.
          Not a good argument.
          I was taught by watching and asking electricians, then by working with radios and tv technician, then communication electronics at night school, then amateur radio courses and licence.
          Basic electricity was taught in school science class, I don’t know if it is now.
          But how many kids really listen?

          • Ian Sampson says

            Hi Gilbert, The fact that this person wired the leads at all must have meant that he believed he new how to do it. Sadly he nearly cost someone a life.
            Sure there are only three wires how could you get it wrong, but a mistake could cost someone a life, and it happens.
            My experience on building sites was when we did the tag and test every month there was numerous failures, by tradies/workmen who wired there own tools and leads. Problems with things like single insulation hanging out the plug, wire not going over the grip, copper strands not under the screw, excess copper beyond the screw, incorrect wiring. We quickly realised these tests were needed regularly to protect everybody on site.
            My many years in the trade have shown me that a lot of handymen, are not so handy when it comes to electrical wiring. I could write a book on what I have found in my 50 years.
            I will give just two examples. 1 I came to a house and discovered figure 8 flex (speaker wire) coming down the lounge room wall with drawing pins holding it to the wall feeding a powerpoint with no earth. (owner installed)
            2 Came to a house to fix a hotwater, it was rumbling in the laundry, discovered the owner had taken the pressure relief value out and put a bug in cause it was leaking to much water. Problem was it was now a super pressurised container with no pressure relief, it was now a bomb waiting to explode.
            This is why I don’t get how people are so keen to think they can replace an electrician with lesser skilled person. I don’t try to be a plumber I pay them to do what they are trained to do.
            That is my rant over

          • Anthony Bennett says

            Well put Ian,

            A boiling liquid to vapour explosion can see a hot water service demolish half a house, like Victorian era factories were destroyed by steam boilers occasionally.

    • Colin Suttie says

      The other issue with the Aussie plug / socket outlet is it’s upside down. If a UK plug isn’t fully inserted & you drop something metal on it, you hit the earth pin first (yes this was a consideration in the design of the plug). Here, because the plug is upside down for no reason at all, you hit active and neutral first.

  10. Ian Thompson says

    Controversial…

    I understand NZ home owners are authorised to do certain fixed wiring, that would be considered illegal here in Aust.

    The difference is, the the NZ Government encourages and provides details showing how any job should be done properly, to Code. Rather that hide the details like we do in Aus.

    I’ve read that the fatality rates from electrocution are in fact less for home owners doing their own wiring, than that of qualified electricians.

    Go figure. I suspect the reasons are that a responsible homeowner is likely to be extra careful to do things right – and are provided the ‘tools’ to do so.

    In fact, I’ve been appalled at the shoddy workmanship I seen around our current, and previous houses. If I was doing it myself, the results would be VASTLY superior.
    But, I’m not allowed too…!

  11. Arriving in Australia 2 decades ago I was aghast at the restrictive laws that appeared then as well as now that appear primarily protect the trades. It requires effort to get the license, but once a sparky has it they can do any quality of work be it good, bad, or totally shonky as some have posted, and nobody cares unless a formal complaint is lodged; then it is considered against absolute minimum standards not best or even good practices. All the licensing authorities care about once a license is granted is their annual renewal fee. Want a license to do your own? I checked and including having to do a test about details that seem unjustified, it costs more than getting a sparky for one or two householder type jobs, is non-renewable and expires in a year! Back to the premise it is as much about protecting the trades as anything vaguely related to electrical safety. And it is not just sparkies it is all of the licensed trades.

    • I completed my full electrical trade in the mid 1970s, and simultaneously/subsequently completed electrical engineering. In the 1970s I tried to convince authorities to make ELCBs (aka safety switches, residual current devices etc) compulsory. I was bashing my head against a brick wall, always being told they’re prohibitively expensive. Rubbish- even then, they were NOT! How many lives would that have saved until they were finally made a requirement even if only on new jobs, twenty plus years later.

      (I then eventually worked for the rest of my working life in an entirely different field, but still remember plenty to “get by”.)

      The things I’ve seen that licensed sparkies have done just in houses I’ve owned and houses belonging to friends would horrify you, including (but definitely NOT limited to) things like metal light fittings, low enough for a tall person like me to bump your head on, with no earth and no possible way of getting one there. That’s just one of numerous problems I’ve seen with work done by shonky tradies (probably 1st year apprentices?).

      I honestly think that keeping wiring rules, regs and techniques all “secret men’s business” is counter productive, and costs more lives than it saves.
      And then you see that getting a sparkie to replace a simple switch will cost you waaay more than visiting your doctor. Crazy!

    • I couldn’t agree more with the point that all Australian Standards that are called up in law, should be freely available to the public. In NZ i understand that they are all available for public access.
      Here in AUS the legacy of a dodgy deal done as part of 80s privatization means that (until recently) we had a private monopoly publisher extorting money from all who needed access to Standards.
      Regarding your second point … to be fair, any significant works (eg new switchboard, or the initial wiring up of a new building) has to be checked by a licenced Electrical Inspector who has to complete much more rigorous qualification and exams than the base level licenced electrician.

      • “Here in AUS the legacy of a dodgy deal done as part of 80s privatization means that (until recently) we had a private monopoly publisher extorting money from all who needed access to Standards.”

        Is it possible to get access to the standards now? Where could I find them?

        • Anthony Bennett says

          Have a look over the ditch Dale, New Zealand has better access to the same standards generally speaking.

  12. so you call out a company that says you should upgrade your main switchboard for $5,000 – on a house that is only 17 yrs old…

    where’s the moral standards with tradies these days??

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Stefano,

      If you have a look at any of the electricians forums they’ll soon warn you that in many areas there are some pretty unethical blokes in blue vans and I have seen the invoices given to pensioners which are frankly disgusting.

      A switchboard upgrade on a 17 year old house shouldn’t cost more than $2000, and at that price I’d include provision for an EV charger, some basic smarts to control your new solar and hot water service.

  13. Bill Herfel says

    I was tempted to write an extended rejoinder to this post. However, other respondents have made many of the points I was going to make. First a little background relevant to the summary I am going to provide:

    1. As a philosopher of science, I have extensive training in spotting poor arguments. (Perhaps blog posters out to go through a thorough training in critical reasoning.)

    2. I have over thirty years experience in tertiary education.

    3. My father is a retired electrician. I have around 15 years experience helping him around the house with various jobs, including electrical work. He was one of the best in the business.

    4. I spent four months as a summer helper doing electrical work on a huge industrial site. It was an IBEW (Local 24) job in Baltimore.

    5. I learned how to properly wire a lamp and extension lead (110V) when I was 13 years old.

    Ok, I get it. Electricity can be dangerous. Electrical work should be regulated. However the last post by this author was about the sorry state that vocational training (focussing on the electrical industry) is in in Australia. Taking this post with that one, it is a wonder that more houses do not burn down due to faulty wiring!

    Others have expressed the opinion that we overdo regulation here in Australia. I agree with that. I know that an inexperienced idiot could kill someone by not following the electrical codes. But someone with common sense, a bit of training, and yes, a good YouTube video can perform simple wiring tasks safely. And, as others have pointed out some licensed electricians cut corners.

    I doubt if such statistics exist, but I would love to know the ratio of electrical accidents caused by professionals vs DIYers. It would be interesting to know whether diligence outweighs inexperience. If I chose to do electrical work in my home, I would be extremely careful. I am going to do the research. I know when I am out of my depth. I am going to be sleeping in the house at night.

  14. Bill Herfel says

    I’m back. I already exceeded the character limit in my brief remarks.

    Anyhow, if I eff-up the wiring it is going to me or my family that gets killed. That would provide me with impetus to be responsible. YMMV

    I think one of the biggest problems is that tertiary training in this country has become an extortion racket. The article I am commenting on provides evidence of this. The author was offered absolutely no credit toward an electrician’s qualification based on his knowledge of auto electrics. Sure, they are two areas, but some of the basics are the same. I would think the “theory” components (if there is such a thing) would have significant overlap. I would be happy to be corrected if I am wrong.

    I think the regulations do protect homeowners. However, they are also there to protect contractors and workers’ jobs. I am unsure the balance is right. I think that the presence of electrical supplies available to the general public in Bunnings is evidence that the powers that be assume the rules are going to be broken.

    I am not generally opposed to the “nanny state”. I buckle my seatbelt and wear a cycling helmet. I am sure I would be less diligent if there were not laws for these things.

    In closing, I do want to state that I generally enjoy Anthony Bennett’s posts. He is a good writer and a knowledgeable person. I do apologise for my snide remark about critical thinking. I was being ironic. But I was once a card-carrying member of the AAP. I see no principled reason why there should be a rule against me wiring a powerpoint in the privacy of my own home and not one against Anthony expressing his opinion in a public forum.

  15. Look, normally I love the writing on this site, but this one is a bit much.

    I really do understand that having invested 4+ years in their incredibly expensive training, sparkies want to protect their investment. But writing scary articles designed to frighten people is not the way to do it.

    You shoot yourself in your own foot. You talk about how the UK and NZ don’t have the strict regulations we do, and how no regulations lead to all these imagined disasters, except, the evidence says exactly the opposite. They have fewer electrocutions, electrical fires etc than we do. And always have done.

    We have a desperate shortage of trained electricians in this country, and people are being asked to pay amounts for small electrical jobs like changing a light fitting or wall switch that amount to legal extortion.

    Let’s do something about that. Why not have a system that allows home owners to do minor electrical jobs themselves, and free up electricians to do the important stuff where all their skill actually matters. Maybe we need a 1-week basic training course for home-owners on how to wire a switch or a power point. Do the course and you can do the work yourself on your own house.

    Makes sense to me.

    • Bill Herfel says

      I do not know if this sports metaphor works in Australia, but I feel like I am “piling on”. (Piling on is jumping on a pile of gridiron players after play has been whistled dead.)

      However, I think this is a significant problem.

      I kind of agree with you. So long as the course is fee free. If it took a week (say three hours a day after working hours) I would sign up.

      I made the point that education has become an extortion racket in Oz. When I decided to pack in my academic career, I decided to get a job selling wine in a cellar door in the Hunter Valley. Anyone who wants to serve or sell alcohol needs an RSA Certificate. It is a one-day course. You learn such valuable information as that you can tell someone has had too much alcohol if they slur their words, stumble or get violent. Hmmm…

      Fair enough. A teenager in their first bar job might find it useful to know that they can be held liable if someone drives home drunk after they have spent the night being served alcohol by them and they have a car smash. And that the penalties for serving underage people in a pub can get them a $10,000 fine. But it is mostly commons sense.

      I sat the course in 2007. It costed $150 and six hours of my time. I passed. Everybody passed. It was six hours I would never get back, but I felt it was fair enough. However, the certificate expired in five years. Then the NSW gov’t decided it would be better if we carried a plastic card. For some reason, everyone had to spend another $150 and sit the course again. I would have been happy to sit a one-hour refresher course.

      The second time around the content was identical, but the course was online. There was nothing stopping someone from getting a friend to sit the course for them. I know someone who sat the white ticket course for their labourer husband.

      Such vocational education is a rort. It is not about safety or education. I suspect most of these issues are controlled by monetary interests.

      • Anthony Bennett says

        Thanks Bill,

        I think the tag and test course would be good for high school to be honest.

        When I did a builders licence it was more about business planning, liability and compliance. They wanted small business people who would not go broke. The actual skills were accessed by a combination of trade references and an hour long interview.

        • Bill Herfel says

          Hi Anthony.

          I am glad you did not take my comments the wrong way. The situation does give me the sh*ts.

          I agree. Anyone who gets an HSC ought to be able to change the oil in their cars, wire a powerpoint, assemble flat-pack furniture and unclog a drain. I do not think that there are apps for those tasks. Of course, there are a few people who can afford to pay someone $150/hr to perform such jobs, but most would be better off with DIY.

          When I was in middle school, woodworking, metal shop, cooking and sewing were all mandatory. Electronics was optional. Those courses did not teach too much, but better than what we have here and now. It would be nice if school leavers emerged with some practical skills.

          Our young people are finishing school cripples. I am not even sure that they even know how to use apostrophes.

          Sorry for turning this into a rant.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Lachlan,

      As I said there’s some virtue to the idea we should be the West Island of New Zealand, however training maintains standards and introduces regulatory consequences for those who don’t follow the rules. Electrcians can lose licences. They could be better enforced and it would cost more.

      I take it you realise that in other jurisdictions, any DIY work has to be declared at time of sale and certified when the property is sold. So inflation means that it costs more when you need the professional assessment and possible remediation, and there’s always a risk you’ll buy a house with bad wiring from a deceased estate. It’s hard to clarify everything in a 1500 word post though sorry.

  16. Anthony, with respect this article feels like a re-hash of the regular ‘DIY electrical is evil’ rant intended to reinforce the need for protectionist arrangements for trades in Australia. I wonder if we will soon see an article explaining how beneficial it is that Standards Australia charge exhorbitant fees for access to the standards, just so that DIYers can’t even read the wiring rules.

    Our regulations ARE too restrictive. They ARE classic nanny state. The rules in NZ and the UK are a better balance between efficiency and safety. There are over 190 countries in the world, all with different regulations. Please don’t pretend ours are the best, and should not be questioned. Arguments like that tend to come from people with a narrow perspective that have never travelled to another country. How about a balanced critique?

    There are lazy/ignorant/stupid DIY ‘electricians’ and there are lazy/ignorant/stupid qualified electricians (as evidenced by some of the stories shared above). I would be more confident in the work done by a diligent DIYer than some of the trash work I have seen done by qualified tradies.

    Reading some of the stories, it seems AU electricians expect the existing wiring to conform to the wiring rules. They should not expect that to be the case. Perhaps they have been conditioned to expect this from working in the nanny state so long. Consider in Vietnam for instance, the colours used for active and neutral are not even standardised, so electricians know darn well not to assume anything. Reminds me of people driving cars looking at their phones assuming the air bag will save them.

    And finally, like others pointed out, basic electrical work is NOT rocket science. It should not require 4 years of slaving away as an apprentice to get a ticket to change a faulty power point. This is just another layer in the protectionist racket.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Scott,

      I think that TAFE’s hostility to recognition of prior learning is despicable, the training could be much better delivered, but they need resources for both.

      Unsurprising though that the “protectionist” rhetoric would come from someone who’s not done the training. Training maintains standards and introduces regulatory consequences for those who don’t follow the rules. They could be better enforced and it would cost more.

      I take it you realise that in other jurisdictions, any DIY work has to be declared and certified when the property is sold. So inflation means that it costs more when you need the professional assessment and possible remediation, and there’s always a risk you’ll buy a house with bad wiring from a deceased estate.

      Cheers

  17. Bill Stafford says

    Lots of people think they know more than the experts and should be exempt from the rules. Some of them may be right and some may exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  18. I would love to be able to be licensed to do work on my own home, but not a 4 year apprenticeship to do.so. If we were able to get a noncommercial license that allows us to change or install points, lights, and cable in our own homes and not charge for a service I reckon that would go a long way to bridging the gap between the competent DIYer and the price point for more complex electrical work.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I’ve had 3 electricians over to quote for a job, and none of them have replied with even a quote.

      Just had the fourth one over today – perhaps they’ll actually be interested in the jobs (estimated at a couple of days work).

  19. Great article by Anthony Bennet, Should be compulsory reading for everyone.

    • Why? It’s an incredibly biased, unbalanced article pushing old fear-based dogma that has zero evidence behind it. In fact, all the available evidence from the MANY other countries that allow some work to be done by homeowners says that if anything there are fewer injuries to people and less damage to property in those countries.

      I’d like to see Anthony revisit this topic and try and present a more balanced viewpoint. However judging by his aggressive, demeaning comments I can’t see that happening.

      • Anthony Bennett says

        Hi Lachlan,

        I’d be happy to read the available evidence if you can dig it up for us. Until then I just have to reiterate that I was an electrical expert who knew quite enough wire up a house. Then after 5 years of TAFE buggery, testing procedures & secret handshakes I found I’d learnt more, and it made my work safe for others to follow. I’m not out to be mean or aggressive, I’m just trying to point out the “protectionist racket” is about trying to protect everyone.

        Cheers

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Thanks John, I’m glad you appreciate it. Cheers.

  20. I wonder why the author decided to make such strong assertions based on anecdotes rather than spending 5 seconds looking for actual data?

    https://www.erac.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Electrical-fatality-benchmarking-2015-2016.pdf

    Seems pretty clear that NZ is safer (or at least isn’t significantly less safe) than Australia.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Fascinating James,

      When you compare 24million vs 4.69million population to the 16:2 deaths then I guess New Zealand is safer than Australia. Then again if you kill 50% more New Zealanders for the given year 2016, then they’re right on par. In 2001 it was 37:2 and 2006 it was 20:10, which shows the strength of using statistics when the sample size is so small.

      What I find more interesting in your article is that 17 deaths were caused by 16 incidents involving customers’ installations, appliances or equipment.

      Of the people who were electrocuted, 67% (12 of 18) were either non-electrical workers, or the general public.

      Arguably the people who are trained to work with electricity, and spend a much higher proportion of their time doing so, are safer than everyone else.

      Cheers for the reference.

  21. You know you’re dealing with ulterior motives when the author is presented with clear evidence that his argument is rubbish, yet he still tries to twist that evidence to suit his flawed assertions.

    The information Anthony has highlighted has nothing to do with whether or not the customers did their own electrical work. It’s not specified.

    Anthony refuses to Acknowledge that his article could not be any more biased without any supporting evidence.

    It’s a sad day for SolarQuotes. Their entire reason for being is to present unbiased, evidence based information to their audience. They ask everyone to trust them in that regard. Yet Anthony’s article is the complete opposite of this. If this is the type of information SolarQuotes is going to present to its audience then I think they’ll find they quickly lose that audience.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Liam,

      You’re entitled to your opinion and we’re entitled not to publish it too, but we try not to censor any opposing view so I’ll let the readers decide for themselves. As a licenced electrician I’m obliged to follow the law and explain why. I’ve tried to point out that New Zealand and the UK might not be unreasonable, but that’s simply not how it is here.

      You’re welcome to change the law if you can get a critical mass of people to petition the government. You might also be able to have standards changed if you volunteer your time to sit on the boards that examine and revise the ANZ standards. You don’t have to be a qualified electrician to have input there but your opinion will probably carry more weight if you are trained.

      I’m willing to bet if you committed the 4+ years to being indoctrinated by the evil empire of big electrical, you probably wouldn’t want to campaign for more DIY, or you’d at least learn enough to realise it’s a not the most brilliant idea.

      We’d all be better off doing what we know best I think, and trading money for expertise when needed.

  22. My biggest gripe with becoming a certified electrician was the mandatory full time apprenticeship. It’s punitive and pretty much prohibits anyone who has held a non minimum wage job from doing it. Career change? Sure, but you’ll have to pay all of your expenses, mortgage etc off your peanut wage. Try going from IT earning 2k per week to earning like 350 as an apprentice. Sucky doesn’t begin to cover it.

    There has to be an alternative pathway. It’s also clear that the current one certainly does not ensure safe work by “licences” electricians either, so making it more palatable to those who want to do it would make sense.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Thanks John,

      I wholeheartedly agree. The only reason I was able to do an electrical licence was an employer who was willing to pay for the experience of a licence builder and a wife who had a good job for support.

      It retrospect I may have had batter luck with recognition of prior learning if I had pursued the kind of pathway used by electricians & engineers qualified overseas.

      The incredibly annoying part is that I was continually told that RPL “wasn’t worth it” with the implication it was expensive. However it turns out RPL is half price! If you fail the RPL process you have to go through the whole unit, but on balance, the only people for whom it’s not worth doing are the TAFE staff. They aren’t properly resourced and can’t justify the hours spent one on one to do RPL. Not that they actually tell you that.

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