Lighting Circuits Without an Earth

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Perished VIR.JPG


Many lighting circuits (usually installed pre 1966) are still in use that have no earthing. (Note that the earth wire, is referred to in the wiring regulations (BS7671) as the Circuit Protective Conductor or CPC - so any notes you see in articles etc about "lighting circuits without a CPC" are discussing the same topic).

Rewiring these circuits is the preferable solution, but for some people the cost of installation and redecorating can be prohibitive.

Spotting them

The ways these historic cicuits are spotted are:

  1. When changing a fitting or switch, only 2 core cable is fitted
  2. Historic round bakelite switches
  3. Only two core cable connected in consumer unit
  4. Twisted pair rubber wire at light fitting

Even the presence of modern T&E cable at a switch or light fitting does not guarantee the whole circuit has an earth, since it may have been used to extend the circuit in the past.


Generally Metal faced switches switches must not be used on an unearthed lighting circuit. The exception to this are cases where the Metal light fittings are labelled with the DoubleInsulated.jpg Class II symbol.

Old lighting circuits may have other safety issues beyond just the lack of an earth conductor (and the lack of an earth conductor would suggest the circuit is at least 50 years old). See the old electrical installations article for more detail.

Reducing risk

If a rewire is not an option then the following steps should be taken for safety reasons:

  1. Metal (Class I insulated) light fittings and metal accessories should be replaced with (Class II) fittings, which are either plastic, or metal and marked with the DoubleInsulated.jpg Class II symbol.
  2. Insulation Resistance Test. The circuit should be tested between the line conductor (live and neutral connected together) and the earth terminal of the consumer unit. The resistance should be at least 1 Megohm. If the resistance is less that 1 Megohm the circuit must have additional RCD protection. The test should also be repeated between the live & neutral conductors and any exposed conductive part of the circuit (eg the screws for a lightswitch with a metal backbox). Again if the readings are less than 1 Megohm then additional RCD protection is necessary.
  3. RCD protection. It is advisable to have 30mA RCD protection on lighting circuits that have no cpc, and essential if the resistance readings are lower than 1 Megohm.
  4. Any 2A or 5A sockets connected to the lighting circuit that may be used for portable equipment should be disconnected. Dedicated clock connectors can be left in place.
  5. A warning notice similar to the one below should be fixed on or adjacent to the CU or fusebox:

Potential problems

Extending the circuit

Not having an earth wire on a lighting circuit makes it impossible to extend the circuit for extra lighting points in a way that meets current wiring regulations. Extension can in principle be done safely if all switches, pattresses and lights are plastic, and remain plastic, but

  1. regulations have demanded an earthed lighting circuit since 1966
  2. possible later replacement with metal fittings can make them unsafe

One viable workaround to add lighting points, is to feed them via another circuit that does have an earth wire. This can be another more recent lighting circuit, or can be a socket circuit via a fused connection unit (with a 3A or preferably a 5A fuse).

Consumer unit upgrades

Best practice Guide

Many electricians may also refuse to swap a fusebox for a CU unless the old lighting circuit is also rewired.

Unsuitable wire

Most unearthed lighting circuits are wired with historic cable (often old imperial twin PVC) that can handle the required load of the lighting circuit. But there are also circuits in use with unsuitable cable, such as bell wire and speaker wire. If such wire is found it should be disconnected from the supply immediately.

See Also