What not to DIY with plumbing and electrical!

Isobel King Jun 28, 2012

With DIY electrical and plumbing work, it’s more about what you can’t do than what you can.  The law is black and white when it comes to working on the electrical and plumbing systems in your home.

If it’s much beyond changing a light bulb or a tap washer, you will probably need to get the relevant licensed tradesperson onto it, if in doubt call a tradie.

The following information is a general overview of just some of the laws and regulations you must be aware of before attempting any work on the electrical and plumbing systems in and around your home.

Don’t be fooled by the array of electrical and plumbing goodies in the hardware shops. You don’t need to be licenced to buy them, but you most certainly need to be licenced to install most of them.

While renovating forums bristle with indignant rants from DIYers who say they could competently lay cables and install pipework themselves, the risks of doing so are great.

The first thing to accept is that there is a real danger of a major accident or death.

light globes bulbs bulb globe
light globes bulbs bulb globe

Even qualified, experienced electricians have nasty accidents, amateurs can’t begin to understand the complexities of household electrical systems.

Even if you get the job done, there’s no guarantee that it’s been done right. You could be in for a nasty surprise down the track.

On top of that, the fines for illegal work are dizzying and your insurance company certainly won’t cough up if there’s evidence of illegal electrical or plumbing work.

old wiring dusty rat chewed damage dangerous
old wiring dusty rat chewed damage dangerous

That said, a good relationship with your plumber or sparkie can often enable a handy DIY’er with some of the grunt work.

There are plenty of stories of plumbers and electricians who have happily allowed the experienced layperson to dig trenches, help remove redundant pipes and do the messy cutting into walls, but only under strict supervision from the licensed pro.

Most states require you get a compliance certificate from your tradie for plumbing, gas fitting or electrical work carried out, which guarantees, among other things, that the work complies with the appropriate Australian Standard and that you’re covered for defective work.

If your wiring resembles this tangle, seek professional help. <strong>Tip: 1</strong> Never ever do electrical work yourself, it is illegal and potentially deadly. <strong>Tip: 2</strong> If electrical work is done by amateurs, they may survive the job, but people who use the sub-standard end result may not be so lucky, there is always the risk of electrocution and fire.
If your wiring resembles this tangle, seek professional help. Tip: 1 Never ever do electrical work yourself, it is illegal and potentially deadly. Tip: 2 If electrical work is done by amateurs, they may survive the job, but people who use the sub-standard end result may not be so lucky, there is always the risk of electrocution and fire.

You also want to double check that the type of work to be carried out is permitted under their specific licence.

Water tanks
Water tanks

General rules

Check and double check for power and water when you are doing any of the following:

  • any type of demolition work.
  • cutting, drilling and nailing into walls, floors and ceilings.
  • digging in the garden. Call the “Dial before you dig” number 1100 or visit www.1100.com.au
  • conversion of under-roof spaces to storage lofts etc.
  • installing insulation products in your roof etc.
  • carrying tall items outside like ladders – look up for powerlines.


Many people incorrectly believe wearing rubber-soled shoes will protect them from an electric shock in an unsafe electrical situation.

Too many people have used extension cords to power something outside the house that are not specifically designed for outdoor use.


DIY electrical work can not be retrospectively certified. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100% compliant and checked by a qualified tradie.

Even if there are no problems once the work has been completed, issues may become apparent later and as a result of other faults or an emergency situation.

House fires can be a result of poor electrical work. Unqualified people won’t know the appropriate wiring and fittings that must be used under all the different circumstances within a home.

plumbing pipe s bend
plumbing pipe s bend

The simple overheating of wiring can cause fires.

What the law says

While rules and regulations vary slightly from state to state, the broad parameters are basically the same.

The detail can sometimes be frustratingly clear as mud, especially if you’re trawling through regulatory websites to get a specific answer to a question.

And calling to get clarification from the consumer hotline can simply land you back at the website.

NSW Fair Trading insists: An electrical licence is required before any electrical wiring work can be undertaken in NSW, regardless of the cost of the work and regardless of whether the work is residential, commercial or industrial.

Under their definition electrical work encompasses the manufacturing, constructing, installing, testing, maintaining, repairing, altering, removing or replacing of any electrical equipment.

That pretty much leaves you with replacing lightbulbs.

Queensland has penalties of up to $100,000 or two years imprisonment if illegal work results in serious injury or death. The maximum penalty for multiple deaths is $200,000 or three years imprisonment.

The SA government website states electricians are responsible for work commencing at the point of supply, up to and including:

  • the electrical wiring on the consumer’s property from the main switchboard to the building
  • wiring within the building to the electrical appliance
  • fixed electrical appliances.

Under Queensland Electrical Safety Act 2002, forbidden tasks include:

  • installing a new power point.
  • replacing a light switch.
  • replacing a batten holder with a new light fitting.
  • repairing an appliance such as a heater.
  • altering the location of an existing power point.
  • replacing a light fitting with a ceiling fan.
  • constructing an extension lead.
  • replacing a plug on the end of a lead.

Acceptable tasks for the home owner are:

  • replacing a drive belt in a washing machine.
  • cutting openings for, but not connecting, air-conditioning units.
  • fitting, but not connecting, an electric wall oven in a kitchen cabinet.

You may also be able to:

  • rewire old-style fuses.
  • install garden lighting and pond pumps.
  • install battery-operated smoke detectors.

On top of the penalties for injury or death, The Queensland government website also has the chilling warning  that “DIY electrical work is regarded as unlicensed electrical work, which is illegal and has penalties of up to $40,000 for individuals..

The QLD government website notes that only safety switches save lives. Circuit breakers and surge protectors protect appliances not people.

You should also familiarise yourself with the fuse box. It’s a costly exercise to call out an electrician when all you needed was a flick of a switch.

The bottom line is that many DIYers will choose to hang the risk and perform work that is illegal in order to save a few dollars.

Renovation forums certainly confirm this. They also reveal the DIY disasters that have occurred as a result.

Finding a reliable, reasonably priced tradie could be the best saving you can make.

For more information on:

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