Everyone knows that electricity and water can make a potentially lethal combination at the best of times and only a fool would ignore the obvious need for safety when doing any work involving electrical pumps, lights or filters around the pond. However, in the wake of new regulations over the last few years – notably Part P of the Building Regulations and the Outdoor Weatherproof Safety standards (IP56) – for many pond keepers confusion has grown over what you can safely – and legally – do for yourself. With some surprisingly stiff penalties for non-compliance and the possibility of major complications when you want to sell your house, it is clearly worth making sure you stay on the right side of the law – not to mention safeguarding your own health and well being!
The new regulations – which apply to all forms of electrical work undertaken around the home – were specifically brought in to improve safety standards and prevent cowboy contractors from leaving installations in a dangerous state. Under Part P, anyone unqualified is prohibited from doing electrical work outdoors, although as is often typical of such legalese, DIYers can still make the installation, provided that they have first informed the appropriate Building Control Authority – usually the local council – and have it inspected before use. It seems pretty clear that the regulations only apply to fixed – i.e. permanently wired – equipment and not to anything which simply plugs into a standard power socket, which would lead you to believe that most home pumps, lights and filters are exempt. However, some councils have produced advisory leaflets which appear to suggest that the regulations apply to these too – which is confusing to say the least. It is probably best to check with the local authority and take professional advice if there is any doubt as to how safe or lawful what you are planning to do really is.
One of the safest ways to add electrical systems to the garden pond – and one which everyone seems satisfied complies with the legislation – is to use prefabricated modular kits which include armoured cabling, appropriate connectors and plug straight into an existing socket. Suitable ones can be bought from most garden centres and pond suppliers; look out for the CE-mark to make absolutely sure that they have been properly approved.
A circuit breaker, ideally a 30-milliamp Residual Current Device (RCD), is a must to protect any exterior electrical supply; these devices monitor the current flowing and will cut the power in less than 40 milliseconds if a fault is detected – fast enough to prevent a shock. Obviously all outdoor cables, connectors and other components need to be fully weather-proof and of a kind intended for the purpose, sheathed cable protection being another essential – with appropriate warning tape added if is buried. As well as being common-sense requirements to keep you and your family safe, these precautions also meet the demands of the IP56 regulations.
As well as taking care with the initial installation, it is just as important to remember basic safety when doing any maintenance. In your haste to unclog your pump or refit the UV bulb, don’t forget to unplug the power first!
The tide of growing environmental awareness has seen the development of a large range of solar powered gadgets for ponds – and clearly if you avoid using mains electricity, you neatly side-step both its dangers and its regulations. Although most solar pumps and fountains only work during daylight, depending on the size and type of your pond, this may be enough for your needs. If so, it is certainly worth considering using this type of equipment, for its simplicity of installation as much as for its undeniably “green” credentials.
When it comes to electrical safety in and around the pond, it is hard to be too careful and obviously if you are at all unsure about how to proceed – or whether what you want to do comes under the regulations – it’s time to talk to the experts. With proper care and attention, however, any pond can enjoy the benefits of electrical equipment safely.