Shoddy electrical standards cause accidents and fires

There’s hardly a month that goes past when FENZ is not announcing that someone’s house, school or other premises has been burned down by a faulty electrical power board. This never needed to have happened, because when these devices first started to become widely available in NZ, back in my childhood, they were almost invariably built very strongly to the same standards as the existing multi socket outlets – twin power sockets fitted into walls. I still have in my possession a Carlton four way plugbox with a metal case and numerous Goldair switched plugboxes which have given in some cases decades of trouble free operation.

This situation has come about because some Government official has decided decades of electrical safety knowledge built up by preceding generations should all be thrown out the window in relation to these devices and certain others. It’s the same shoddy weakening of electrical safety standards that lets a major European appliance manufacturer sell a convector heater with a 2 pin plug, metal chassis, live elements just centimetres from this chassis and it has the audacity to be labelled “Double insulated” – hello? Since when was an air gap acceptable as an insulating layer?

The problem with the plugbox issue is that everyone needs a few of these devices around their home because we all have so many small electrical devices these days. Even in my small house I have more than 10 in daily use, often cascaded. Being well aware of the risk, I endeavour to use only high quality plugboxes and turn them all off at the wall at night or when going out. However there is another solution and that is to buy four way socket outlets and make your own plugbox. This is worthwhile because electrical socket outlets are required to be manufactured to a much higher standard, being able to maintain multiple insertions and withdrawals of plugs and with switches capable of large numbers of cycles without wearing out.

These types of sockets are made by manufacturers like PDL, HPM and Deta and can be purchased from Mitre10, Bunnings and electrical specialists. However, assembling one is not for the faint hearted as it involves electrical wiring skills, which is legal in NZ only for equipment you use yourself, without an electrical qualification. Generally I can buy a four way outlet and its mounting blog for about $45 at Bunnings. I also need a 2 metre IEC cord or extension lead to provide the flexible cord and mains plug. Finally a baseboard is needed to attach it to and to close off the live terminals on the back for safe use. The overall cost is much higher than an off the shelf plugbox that many outlets sell, but is of a much higher quality and strength and therefore is a lot less likely to create issues in the future. However the usual caution against running heaters or high power appliances through these or through an extension cord is still relevant.

My intention is to replace all my plugboxes eventually this way which will take some time to achieve and turning off at the wall will remain as a preference regardless of what type of plugbox I have.