The Malta Independent 13 August 2022, Saturday

Electricity and water – Part 1

Sunday, 26 June 2022, 09:57 Last update: about 3 months ago

When the British military services were in Malta, they used a yearly schedule of maintenance for the machinery and the electricity systems they used. This planned maintenance was used not only at military bases but also at the married quarter residences they occupied. Viewed from this aspect, the British were very disciplined, detailed and meticulous in their maintenance routines. Anthony Zarb Dimech writes

Being knowledgeable about the basics of electricity and plumbing does not make anyone a licensed electrician or qualified plumber but it can help a person become aware of important matters related to planning an electrical system, fault-finding and being aware of safety devices and measures. This two-part feature journeys into some of the basic elements to watch out for in one's home.

It was in the 1950s that the electricity system in Malta was revamped by the British firm Crompton-Parkinson. Prior to this, the system functioned on a single-diesel generator which needed constant maintenance and repair as well as upgrading as it was susceptible to breakdowns. This change not only improved electricity provision to households but also to meet industrial needs.

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A culture of planning and prevention

Work on electricity circuits requires good planning, good discrimination, diversity, localisation of faults and quick and easy repair.

This culture of "prevention is better than cure" maintenance does not seem to have been taken on board locally, mainly due to the costs in implementing it and it is more often the case that when a piece of machinery or electricity system breaks down that repairs take place. Also, after sales service is another area that is found to be wanting locally.

In the UK, certification of the electrical system in households is taken very seriously at three levels of certification specifying which work needs to be done immediately, which can wait and not so serious.

In Malta, we have legislated in favour of Energy Performance Certification (EPC) but no legislation exists to certify the electrical safety of households. When it comes to lifts, there is a legislation in place that requires domestic lifts to be inspected by an engineer every year and every six months for commercial lifts. This requirement seems to have stemmed from the time consumed by civil defence personnel in helping people out of blocked lifts.

When it comes to electricity, the "Bible" for rules on electricity or the common book to be followed is the IEE Regulations which also includes the British Standard. The IEE Wiring Regulations Explained and Illustrated, Second Edition discusses the recommendations of the IEE Regulations for the Electrical Equipment of Buildings for the safe selection or erection of wiring installations. The book emphasises earthing, bonding, protection and circuit design of electrical wirings. 

 

The Earth Electrode (EE) - Protective Conductor/Earth

Safety should be the first keyword to observe in any electrical circuit. The word salvavita in Malta is synonymous with the circuit breaker. The Maltese have used the brand name Salvavita to refer to the circuit breaker in as much as Kiwi shoe polish is referred to as "Black".

When one speaks of electricity, the first thing that should be considered is safety. The first and most important safety item in the electricity system is the Earth Electrode (EE) which can be a life-saver, if properly maintained. Unfortunately, it is also the most forgotten item since many are those who do not water it every now and then to keep it in a moist environment. The wire of the EE at 16 mm should be the thickest to resist all current in the event of a short circuit. The resistance of the wire has to be 50 Ohms. The EE is found near the circuit breaker with a hole on the floor.

The importance of the EE as a safety measure can be viewed in relation to electrical items that have their heating element exposed to water, such as washing machines. This makes the element exposed to corrosion and that is why the right measure of powder must be taken seriously. Some households use hygiene or vinegar to clean the element. The element is made of aluminium tubing with a wire inside the tubing. If corrosion creeps in, the wire is corroded to the extent that it touches against the aluminium and a short circuit will be caused. Another important measure is to close the water tap of the washing machine, especially during the night.

The EE wire, which is yellow-green in colour, is a protective conductor and that is another reason why its wiring is the thickest in the system at 16mm. In the past a metal water pipe was used as a breaker.

It is noted that courses for obtaining an electrician licence are becoming more focused on the local situation and with a greater emphasis on safety.

 

Residual Current Device (RCD) and Multiple Circuit Breaker (MCB)

The RCD protects the person and secondly the equipment when it trips off. The MCB is to protect the installation against an overcurrent.

Enemalta allows a voltage of 230v with a variance of + or - 10%. Also Enemalta gives each house one phase (40 AMPs) usage. An important element in electricity use is diversity. Diversity means that at any one point in time the full load of 40 AMPs is not being switched on. Diversity does not apply to commercial and industrial settings such as workshops using machinery at full load. In the past, Enemalta allowed 63 AMP for each household. The idea now is to introduce 3-phase in households.

It is therefore important to plan one's electrical installation and check how many AMPs are being used by each item. The AMPs is found by dividing the wattage of each appliance by the voltage which is 230v. Planning one's kitchen to check if there is enough current is important before buying appliances. Some equipment requires a 3-phase system especially if one uses cookers that consume more that 3,000 watts.

In Malta, an Over and Under is required by law. This requirement came into force about three years ago. No claim can be made with Enemalta if there is no Over and Under installed and no insurance firm will cover your home and contents. An added protection is the Surge Protector for sudden surges of power caused by a thunderbolt.

 

Fuses

Most appliances come with a fuse of 13 AMP. Most consumers do not change the fuse of their appliance to the right AMP. If, say a washing machine has a power of 2,000 watts, the correct fuse in the plug should be 2,000 divided by 230 equals to 8 AMP. If the fuse is not changed to 8 AMP, then any fault can lead to the burning of the wire and damaging the machine as the level of the weakest point in the circuit has not been reduced to 8 AMP.

 

Two-Pin Plugs

Two-pin plugs are not earthed and they are double-insulated. The consumer using the appliance has no access to metal in that product, such as a keyboard. But if say, a computer screen has metal incorporated in it, it cannot be used on a two-pin plug. But where there is iron or other conducive metal, it is required by law that the plug be earthed and that is the reason why an adapter is provided by firms selling such items.

In extinguishing a fire caused by electricity it is important to use powder fire extinguishers.

 

Bathrooms

In the past no socket was allowed in bathrooms. Due to the nature and style of buildings, even a washing machine is now being placed in the bathroom. Regulations have been relaxed to allow more flexibility in this room and the system is now one where the bathroom is divided into zones with each zone having its respective rules with regard to electrical appliances. Today, we have bathrooms with mirrors above the wash-hand basin used as TV monitors. Rules are changing with regard to bathrooms to serve the consumer but still, certain rules have to be observed.

Before buying an electrical appliance that comes in contact with water it is important to check its IP Number. IP68, which is the highest grading, allows the item to be immersed up to one metre in water while IPX protects against water and dust. IP65 covers only water splashes, such as rain.

It is hoped that in the same manner as cars are tested for their roadworthiness in Malta, electrical circuits in households will be checked in a similar manner.

 

Glossary

Watts = Amount of electricity used by an appliance

AMPs = current (40 AMPs are allowed to each household)

Volts = current strength (230v in Malta with -/+ 10v)

OHMs = resistance of the wire

 

 

 

Caption

01        IEE Regulations

02        (1 Kw/h = 1 unit). Consumption in Malta is calculated from midnight

03        MCB, Over and Under and Surge Protector


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