Monday 19 May 2014

On the Wires

Not so long ago the identification colours of fixed wiring in the UK changed to supposedly harmonise with the EU. Red and black became brown and blue respectively, much to the angst of practising electricians everywhere, not least because a whole new generation will never appreciate the advice: “Red to red, black to black... ‘blue’ to bits”. For three-phase wiring the phase colours which were red, yellow and blue are now brown, black and grey and the neutral which was black is now blue. Are you with me so far?

Amazingly there is yet to be a documented incidence of death directly attributable to colour blindness and this even in the face of accurate colour vision no longer being a requirement for apprentice electricians – political correctness gone kaboom. Much of that is due to a natural British caution, a distinct lack of which I have witnessed most of the world over. We have had wiring regulations for over 130 years and even if our electricians are not well-versed in their specifics our systems of circuit protection can be replicated by rote and are generally practised. At the heart of this protection is the recognition of the earth itself as a conductor.

I mention this fact merely to suggest that to a British electrician the lack of deliberate connection to earth is a show-stopper, whereas to a Bulgarian artisan earthing appears to be an exotic and unnecessary option. This probably explains why Andrew has been getting random small shocks from unexpected sources in his new Bulgarian home – the Old School. And this is why I’m here – quicker, we thought to get a British electrician to fly out and have a go, than to learn sufficient Bulgarian to accurately explain the cause of death.

Bulgaria has been in the EU for seven years now and I doubt that harmonisation with CENELEC is uppermost in their priorities, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide selection of the familiar and not so familiar on display in the local wholesaler’s shop. Via a combination of pointing, holding up fingers and a three-way translation between English, Bulgarian and Greek we assembled most of what we needed. Their wiring, by the way, is brown, blue and black; no confusion there.

So, the project started. I was expecting to be chasing cables into walls, sinking in boxes and bringing a small part of the building up to a UK standard of electrical safety and conformity but the sheer scale of the building makes this an enormous task without extra hands and equipment, so we opted for function before form. And as the installation is effectively temporary, all of the cabling is simply nailed to the walls. Once that decision was made it was but a small slide to cutting corners. Why waste pennies on expensive junction boxes when twisted and taped joints will do the job?

Hey, don’t knock it! Before I got here there was a solitary light in operation, dangling precariously from the ceiling of room 13; now he has ten lights on two-way switching* throughout the entrance and grand stairway. Three days ago there were three sockets and a mass of trailing leads; now he has a dozen, situated where they are needed. And while up until today everything was connected directly to the incoming supply cable without a circuit breaker in sight, he now has a fully protected consumer unit with half a dozen active circuits.

Breath easy - it's all safe now...

*Ahem, the 'two-way switching'business: In Bulgaria you nod for ‘no’ and shake your head for ‘yes’. This is my excuse for the fact that lacking a functioning continuity tester I wired up the two-way switches from top to bottom as you would throughout the known world whereas the Bulgarian switches are wired left to right. (For sparkies, the ‘common’ is where L1 would normally be.) Hey, my bad, it will be work of minutes to sort them out. One day. Soon. As for the colour coding, it’s all green and yellow now! 

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