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Planning Retirement Online

50plus handyman         April 2006

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The handyman column 
By Roger Runswick

How to upgrade the lighting in your home

50plus Handyman director Roger Runswick looks at lighting and fitting additional power sockets


Expectations with regard to lighting have changed tremendously is recent years. Gone are the days of dim rooms and dark corners. We expect bright lights and well-illuminated rooms.

So how do you upgrade the lighting?
Firstly, if you have any concern about power bills (and given recent price rises many do), then remember that it’s all too easy to install lighting that is expensive to run: 2000 watts of kitchen lighting is not that uncommon, the same as running a fan heater on high.


  • If your house is pre 1970, check the existing cabling. You may need to get a professional electrician to advise generally, but there are some investigations you can make yourself.

  • There are still a lot of older houses with no ‘earth’ cable on the lighting circuit. To find out whether you have an ‘earth’ cable do the following:

1. Turn off the power. 2. Unscrew a ceiling rose. 3. Look for a green or green/yellow sleeved wire (or in older properties bare copper). If there isn’t one, and only black and reds are displayed, then you cannot fit a light that is made of metal, as these generally need earthing. If you are desperate for a metal fitting, then an earth cable will be needed to run to the lighting point; relatively easy in bedrooms of houses but not so simple downstairs or in flats.


  • It may not be necessary to change the ceiling rose, to make way for halogen lighting, though they are very popular at the moment. They are attractive and are good at providing illumination for specific areas but they are not good at providing general purpose or background lighting. Think in terms of using halogen lights in addition to the ‘normal’ lighting, particularly in work areas such as kitchens.

  • If you are doing the work yourself, remember many ‘feature’ lights come with a simple connector for one cable and the typical ceiling rose is used as a junction box for 3 or more cables. If in doubt, call an electrician to do the fitting. It’s usually about an hour’s work.

  • Energy-saving bulbs can both reduce costs and help with the environment. They do not always produce the best light and can be downright ugly, but do use them where it is practical to do so and they are not too conspicuous.

Power Sockets

The number of electrical gadgets in homes continues to increase and to power them many of us find we need additional power sockets. Older houses are particularly susceptible to the ‘not enough sockets’ syndrome, and modern properties built to strict budgetary limits can also need additional points installing. Before undertaking the fitting of an additional socket a few points need considering:

  • If you have a single socket that needs making into a double (or a double to a triple)a simple replacement ‘converter’ can be fitted.

  • Does the work need approval under Part P of the building regulations? The answer is yes only if the socket is in a kitchen (unless you are just fitting a converter). Most other areas don’t need specific approval, so you could do the work yourself if you are so inclined and can do so safely (remember sockets are not allowed in bathrooms).

  • Where is the existing point that the new socket can be connected to and is it on a ring main? If there is a point nearby or on the other side of the wall and it has two cables going to it, the job is made a lot easier. Otherwise, it will drive up the cost of the work. Two cables usually means a ring main, so this can either be extended or a spur run from it. If the nearest point is a long way off, or it’s not on the ring main, then other and typically more expensive cabling will be required. Having floorboards helps (modern houses typically have large sheets of flooring which need to be cut into). If the floor is downstairs and concrete, then the cable may need ‘channelling’ into the wall.

  • If you don’t want to go through the upheaval, will a simple plug-in extension suffice? The answer is yes in a surprising number of cases, but do remember trailing leads can be a hazard, particularly for the more elderly.

Such is the volume of electrical items left in ‘standby’ mode in our homes, that international standards are being planned to reduce the power such equipment takes. A University of Strathclyde study estimated that around 13% of power requirements for homes is used simply to keep items such as televisions and computers on standby. Whilst this is mostly a concern for appliance manufacturers, the average household could save ?40 a year just by turning more equipment off when it’s not in use. And that helps ecologically too.

Roger Runswick is a director of 50plus Handyman and a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He can be contacted at .

Previous articles in this series:


Fixing drips and changing your taps

Can I still change my light switch?

Fitting an outside light

Pre-winter maintenance

Thinking of installing a shower?

Decorating – are you getting your money’s worth?

Estimate or quotation?

Replacing a door?

How to upgrade the lighting in your home


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