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by Wayne Mackay
08 November 2021
Associate Feature: The future home

Associate Feature: The future home

The Scottish Government’s plan for net zero emissions by 2045 is five years ahead of the UK’s target. To achieve it will involve fundamental changes to our homes and how we live, with the various low carbon and evolving technologies creating a complex web of interconnected challenges and risks. Yet  in our increasingly  electric world, electrical safety is still not given the attention it needs in our path to net zero.

Electrical Safety First campaigns on behalf of consumers, working with policy makers and stakeholders, to improve electrical safety regulation and reduce electrical risk. We are recognised by Government and industry as the leading campaigning charity and technical authority on home electrical safety. In the future home, our mission - to ensure that everyone in the UK can use electricity safely – has enhanced significance.

Today, electricity causes almost 75% of fires in Scotland’s homes. As the use of low carbon, energy efficient and smart technologies expands, the deployment of new, previously unintegrated technologies introduces additional, inherent, safety risks.

Scotland’s Heat in Buildings Strategy requires, from 2025, those buildings not currently using gas to install low carbon heating. Existing gas-heated homes must begin transitioning by 2030. However, there are few mentions of safety in the strategy.  It needs, for example, to consider the impact of increased loads on existing domestic electrical installations.

New homes can – and must - plan for the electrification of heat but retrofitting is a bigger challenge. Older homes are more likely to contain outdated electrical systems, and roughly a fifth of Scotland’s dwellings were built before 1919.

Electrical Safety First is calling for a national study to determine how prepared Scotland’s domestic electrical systems are for future demand – information which could be gathered through the Scottish Housing Condition Survey - to support a safe transition. The extension of mandatory electrical checks (already implemented in Scotland’s private and social rented sectors) to all tenures, would also help ensure homes are ready for the low carbon transition and reduce present and future fire risk.

As electric vehicles (EVs) become mainstream, there will be increased demand for charge-points. Our research shows that a lack of easy access  to on-street, or public infrastructure – particularly problematic for those in high density, multi-storey accommodation - results in people ignoring the risk of electric shock or fire, by resorting to unsafe EV charging practices. In Scotland, around 60% of people live in flats, tenements, and terraced housing, where parking options can be limited. We found 74% of those who charged their EV via a household domestic socket blamed a lack of easy access to public charging points.

Government policy proposals indicate that the demand for home charging means the future home will, where possible, incorporate an EV charging point. And in future, EVs will not only draw energy from the grid but also supply it when demand is high. Consequently, it is essential charging points are installed and maintained by a registered, competent person. Growing the base of highly trained, specialised & certified installers now, is critical to reaching net zero while ensuring safety. So we are campaigning for a clear and consistent policy framework, to provide industry with long-term certainty of demand and encourage investment in training – which will ultimately benefit consumer safety.

In recent years, new consumer electrical products have rapidly increased - along with a rising tide of counterfeit and substandard items, particularly via third-party sellers using online marketplaces. So better protection for online shoppers is vital, as consumers do not currently have the same legal protection as they would when buying from a high street retailer.

It is also essential that domestic consumer products – particularly those from new and emerging technologies, without specific regulatory standards - are safe. Consequently, in order to safely implement the recent right to repair legislation, we believe a network of competent repairers, approved by manufacturers, is required to benefit both the consumer and the environment. And as recent media headlines have shown, product registration and recall response rates need significant improvement.

Transitioning to net zero is of critical importance. We need to ensure it’s not at the cost of consumer safety.

This article is sponsored by the Electrical Saftey Council.

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