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Safety, Functionality and Aesthetics - continuing
Denis McMahon
292 Posts
Question
Question
 
In my formative years electrical, I was brung up that an isolator for a cooker etc must be nearby, say within 2m and obvious as for useage (or clearly marked) as a readily available "rapid use switch" in case of say chip pan fires etc.
. . .
Modern folk and their kitchens, it seems some folk have an aversion to them.

Call me old fashioned but my order of preference is 1/ Safety, 2/ Functionalability and 3/ Asthetics.

Any views on this Folks?

Ebee's original post under the heading, "Cookers, Isolators and the Like" inspired me with an idea about aesthetics. Rather than extend this long but interesting topic, I decided to continue the idea as a new topic.

During a period when I was working for a consulting firm, I had an argument with an architect. In some dressing rooms adjacent to a theatre-style set-up, I had specified some power points over the dressing tables, to serve hair-dryers, etc. He objected to this position on the grounds that they were unsightly, and wanted them low down, out of sight, below the tables. I argued that this was inconvenient for access.

The architect won, of course; he that pays the piper calls the tune. This incident and similar ones have led to ongoing discussions.

"Wiring accessory manufacturers go to great lengths to make their products aesthetically attractive, and sometimes win Design Centre awards. Why are they commonly regarded as unsightly? In any case, we are happy for light switches to be placed at convenient height, so why should power sockets be placed low down where they can become obstructed by furniture?"
     "It is not a case of the sockets themselves being unsightly. It is the flexes that trail down from them."
     "We do place sockets a metre above the floor in old people's homes. We don't like to think of elderly people falling because they need to stoop low."
     "Yes but in any dwelling there are likely to be elderly people in residence from time to time. And in care homes, plugging and unplugging is usually done by staff; residents are not encouraged to do this."

So it is down to a trailing flexible lead being not aesthetically attractive, and I do agree that this is a point. Consider now the colour of the lead and compare black with white.

Walls tend to be light in colour so a black lead stands out more conspicuously than a white one, and we can make a case that a trailing black lead is more unattractive. So white is better than black.

A lead may also need to be laid on a floor for a certain distance. It makes sense to keep it tucked against the wall, but this is not always possible. Flooring materials, (carpets, floorboards, etc.) tend to be dark in colour. So a white lead is more conspicuous than a black one. There is a safety issue here; a lead on the floor can be a trip hazard so should be conspicuous. So again, white is better than black.



DIY stores stock flexible leads usually in white. Bronze may be available for certain appliances with which it tones in well, but I rarely see it for sale in black. That's fine for me.

So why, oh why, are most electrical appliances sold with black leads? It seems to be the universal standard for audio-visual equipment. Even our vacuum cleaner, which trails a long lead as an occupational hazard, has a black lead. Only a very few appliances have a white lead - like our fridge, which has its white lead tucked innocuously between the wall and the appliance and rarely moved.

It seems therefore that the wide usage of black leads has influenced the placing of power sockets low down, with the attendant safety concerns. Has there been lack of joined-up thinking here?

Any view or further discussions on this?
29 Replies
Simon Barker
737 Posts
If safety is most important, then appliance leads should be blue, orange or something else that sticks out like a sore thumb.  Extension leads intended for use outdoors often come in those colours.

It makes no sense for a vacuum cleaner cord to be something that is camouflaged, given what a trip hazard it is.
Chris Pearson
1763 Posts
Against that carpet and skirting boards, the aesthetics of the flexes is the least of your problems. 😉
mapj1
2467 Posts
Carpet ? I'd assumed it was red painted cracked concrete like I have in my garage... Pretty wiring though.
Anyone recall the clear plastic twisted twin flexes of standard lamps and so on before all this insulated and sheathed stuff came in ? they blended better, and could be fixed to the door frame or whatever by a single carpet tack between the 2 wires, with care.
Chris Pearson
1763 Posts
OK, I shall stop being facetious provided that Mike promises too.

For me, safety is paramount. Durability comes a close second. So at home, I fit best quality wiring accessories. I don't like the modern trend for rounded corners and it is a pity about MK's sloping plates, but that doesn't put me off. I am perfectly happy with white sockets which are visible on the walls, but I must admit that something smarter in the drawing room is preferable. The works are the same, so safety is not compromised. I wouldn't want visible cables any more than I would want visible pipes in reception rooms, etc. but surface mounted sockets, etc. and cables in mini-trunking are just fine in my workshop. (Galvanized conduit in the garage and outbuildings is a luxury!)

Next comes function, which includes accessibility. I think that we can all get used to lower light switches. The problem with low sockets is not so much that old folk fall over, but when they get down on their hands and knees, they cannot always get up again. I really don't have a problem with power bricks or seeing the flex between the socket and the back of my telly.

As an aside, I don't have a problem with CH radiators (or convectors) which probably function better when not enclosed.

Aesthetics is last on my list, but it seems to be at the top of my daughter's. 🙄 So she has expensive MK accessories in the kitchen which took many weeks to arrive. Never again! I'd have had white ones with the same works at a tenth of the price. For sockets at front of house, she has little breadboards: i.e. wooden (CNC routed) plaques with the cheapest possible innards, but at what a price! So to my mind, the worst of all worlds. One might think that the worst of all worlds would be cheap and cheerful, but even Screwfix's cheapest, which step-son-in-law chooses, are better than the breadboards and at the very least serve his desire for economy.

Well, I'm fortunate. I can afford top quality, but some folk cannot, so I guess we all have to cut our cloth to suit our means.
Denis McMahon
292 Posts
Simon Barker:
If safety is most important, then appliance leads should be blue, orange or something else that sticks out like a sore thumb.  Extension leads intended for use outdoors often come in those colours.

It makes no sense for a vacuum cleaner cord to be something that is camouflaged, given what a trip hazard it is.

Thanks, Simon. Our electric lawn mower has a bright orange lead - sensible. I think such a colour would be less acceptable indoors; some would consider it outrageous. Given a straight choice, most users would prefer white - or even black! We have a way of taking for granted things that are thrust at us many, many times.

Denis McMahon
292 Posts
mapj1:
Carpet ? I'd assumed it was red painted cracked concrete like I have in my garage... Pretty wiring though.
Anyone recall the clear plastic twisted twin flexes of standard lamps and so on before all this insulated and sheathed stuff came in ? they blended better, and could be fixed to the door frame or whatever by a single carpet tack between the 2 wires, with care.

Now wouldn't my garage floor look great painted red! If only I had the time!

Seriously, though, yes I do remember that clear plastic stuff; I still have some stashed away and brought out to power Christmas lights during the festive season. I think one of the objections to it was safety; the conductors were effectively not colour coded.

AJJewsbury
1881 Posts
I think one of the objections to it was safety; the conductors were effectively not colour coded.
I think the main objection was the lack of a sheath - so you had basic insulation only - so no protection from shock should the basic insulation fail for whatever reason. With a sheath it can be deemed to provide shock protection under the heading of double or reinforced insulation. Polarity isn't significant if you're feeding just a BC lampholder - so no need for colour coding - even on the switched lampholders it didn't matter as the switching was DP.

Even when polarity is significant there alternatives to colour coding - the Americans are still fond of figure-8 flex (even flat 3-core versions) - and can tell L from N either by a rib on the plastic or by tinning the N conductor and leaving the L plain.

   - Andy.
ebee
830 Posts
I`ll bet there`s plenty of those old metalic irons about with twisted cotton covered 2 core flex with a BC lampholder connection for ironing shirts using the lighting circuit and some have the luxury of a BC Y splitter so you don`t need to iron in the dark.

I saw quite a few as a kid but not many piles of dead bodies
Denis McMahon
292 Posts
Chris Pearson:
OK, I shall stop being facetious provided that Mike promises too.

For me, safety is paramount. Durability comes a close second. So at home, I fit best quality wiring accessories. . . I am perfectly happy with white sockets which are visible on the walls, but I must admit that something smarter in the drawing room is preferable. . .

Next comes function, which includes accessibility. I think that we can all get used to lower light switches. The problem with low sockets is not so much that old folk fall over, but when they get down on their hands and knees, they cannot always get up again. I really don't have a problem with power bricks or seeing the flex between the socket and the back of my telly.

. . .

Aesthetics is last on my list, but it seems to be at the top of my daughter's. 🙄 So she has expensive MK accessories in the kitchen which took many weeks to arrive. . . One might think that the worst of all worlds would be cheap and cheerful, but even Screwfix's cheapest, which step-son-in-law chooses, are better than the breadboards and at the very least serve his desire for economy.

Well, I'm fortunate. I can afford top quality, but some folk cannot, so I guess we all have to cut our cloth to suit our means.

Thank you, Chris, for your carefully considered points.

The fact that sockets of design other than the ubiquitous white, are made and available, indicates that manufacturers recognise the merits of attractive design. It also indicates that, despite your claim that aesthetics are last on your list, you nevertheless place high regard to appearance. My point here is that you and I have a choice, whether it is the style and colour of a new power socket or the choice of a carpet and the colour the skirting board is painted. We can choose according to our likes and dislikes.

The point that the elderly find low sockets inconvenient, because they have difficulty in getting up after stooping, is perfectly valid. However there is less choice here; if you buy the house you accept the power points as installed. It can be shown that even young and able people prefer a high socket to a low socket if given a straight choice. It does seem to me that decisions to install sockets low down are influenced by the unattractiveness of black leads.

The quaint old days when a TV set had two leads, one for the power and one for the aerial, are well in the past. One of our TVs shares a stand with a video tape recorder, a DVD recorder, a digital-analogue converter and a hi-fi sound amplifier. This results in a plethora of interconnecting leads - difficult to keep tidy. The only white leads present are for the multi-way extension which powers this lot, the aerial and the ethernet cable.

I don't think it is a matter of quality. Our vacuum cleaner is a Míele, an upmarket brand with build quality to match. Pity about the black lead. And this is all part of my point. When we buy appliances we have to accept the lead that comes with them; there is no choice of colour. An inexpensive food processor we recently bought does have a white lead.
 

Denis McMahon
292 Posts
AJJewsbury:
I think one of the objections to it was safety; the conductors were effectively not colour coded.
I think the main objection was the lack of a sheath - so you had basic insulation only - so no protection from shock should the basic insulation fail for whatever reason. With a sheath it can be deemed to provide shock protection under the heading of double or reinforced insulation. Polarity isn't significant if you're feeding just a BC lampholder - so no need for colour coding - even on the switched lampholders it didn't matter as the switching was DP.

. . .
   - Andy.

Yes, Andy, the sheath is an important safety point; it provides an extra layer of insulation. As you say, polarity is not important for something like a BC lamp holder. The same can be said about a double-insulated appliance. I have an old shaver with a twin (non-twisted) single insulated lead.

I think leads like this disappeared from production around 1970 when the new flexible lead colour code came into use. Consumers were bombarded with information and advice about how to wire a plug, taking both new and old colours into consideration. Non-technical people were flummoxed when they were confronted with a lead of two identical colours, not represented by either the old or new colour code. So nowadays all leads are sheathed and colour coded brown, blue and green/yellow, regardless of what they serve.

Denis McMahon
292 Posts
ebee:
I`ll bet there`s plenty of those old metalic irons about with twisted cotton covered 2 core flex with a BC lampholder connection for ironing shirts using the lighting circuit and some have the luxury of a BC Y splitter so you don`t need to iron in the dark.

I saw quite a few as a kid but not many piles of dead bodies

Yes, Ebee, we once had an iron like this; it originally belonged to my wife. It worked, but I decided I did not want even one dead body, let alone a pile, so I sent it to WEEE recycling.

Chris Pearson
1763 Posts
Denis McMahon:
The quaint old days when a TV set had two leads, one for the power and one for the aerial, are well in the past. One of our TVs shares a stand with a video tape recorder, a DVD recorder, a digital-analogue converter and a hi-fi sound amplifier. This results in a plethora of interconnecting leads - difficult to keep tidy. The only white leads present are for the multi-way extension which powers this lot, the aerial and the ethernet cable.

Well, I like my CRT tellies and they will go only when they pack up. One of the biggest problems has been the longevity of Freeview boxes - pity about them!

We had a B&O telly installed a few years ago and all the cables were put in a neutral-coloured sock, which tucks in at the bottom of the skirting boards. AFAIK, the current version uses bluetooth for the speakers, so that is 2 fewer cables. It probably also gets its signal by wifi, so that's another lead gone. What cannot be avoided, but what could be out of sight if the socket is carefully placed, is the mains lead.

Which reminds me of a story and if I got it from here, I apologise for the repetition.

A woman took some wall lights back to B&Q.
Customer: these lights don't work.
Sales assistant: have you tried them?
C: yes we put them on the walls, but they still didn't work.
SA: did you get an electrician to connect them?
C: no, aren't they wireless?

The sad thing is that it has a ring of plausibility about it. 

Angram
13 Posts
Mention of "clear, figure of eight, unsheathed flex, of ancient memory:
What was the insulation made of?
Recent clear out revealed a short length of it 60 years old!
It had not aged at all. Just as flexible and clear as new.
Was  it a wonder material?

Angram
Angram
13 Posts
On a security issue here:
How do we logoff? Where is the button?
I does not time out if I leave the machine and it goes dark on its own and I don't power it off completely.
Not a good habit perhaps but it can happen.

Angram
Simon Barker
737 Posts
Angram:
On a security issue here:
How do we logoff? Where is the button?
I does not time out if I leave the machine and it goes dark on its own and I don't power it off completely.
Not a good habit perhaps but it can happen.

Angram

On my desktop computer, the log out function is in the pull down menu, top right of the screen, little down arrow in a sqare box.  Next to the bell.

Owain
16 Posts
Chris Pearson:

SA: did you get an electrician to connect them?
C: no, aren't they wireless?

The sad thing is that it has a ring of plausibility about it. 

Not just plausible, I know someone who has wireless LED picture lights.

mapj1
2467 Posts
wireless in that they have a battery and are turned on and off by radio, perhaps ?
ebee
830 Posts
"wireless" now there`s a term.
When I was a kid my grandfolks ( and often my parents) called em wireless, meaning a mains radio, before the TV era and well into it.
Us kids were smart and called em radio whether mains or battery.
Nowadays we all call em radio but the new tech stuff such as wifi etc we call em wireless.

Circles of fashion?
Well ebee, wireless always has meant "without wires", as before radio the only way was with wires, as in telephone. Wireless communication is radio, wireless charging is not, it is magnetic induction, which is a bit different. Transmission of significant power without wires is a very short distance thing, although Tesla hoped to find a way to do it. Radio signals are often very weak, your radio receives a few billionths of a watt to operate (-60 dBm), although the transmitter may be many kilowatts or even a few megawatts. It's all very strange, isn't it?
Denis McMahon
292 Posts
Hi Denis McMahon

Last week you asked a question in our Wiring and the Regulations (BS 7671) forum.

Don't forget to pop back and help our community members by selecting the 'Best Reply' or to mark your question as 'Answered'!

E-mail I received from IET Online Community Team.

Well I am not sure how to select a "best reply", but I've "liked" one.

Unfortunately nobody really answered my question. Some replies focused on safety being paramount. But my point was that in this case, safety, practicality and aesthetics all pull in the same direction. White is best and black is worst so why is black so common?

Thanks, nevertheless, to all that contributed. You made some interesting points.

As for the question, I guess it remains one of a collection that I'll take to my grave.
Chris Pearson
1763 Posts
Thinking about cable colours, it occurred to me today that perhaps the popularity of black is related to how much it shows any dirt.

The vast majority of moulded plugs in my office at home are black, but the majority of traditional screw on plugs are white. The exception is extension leads, which are various shades of grey throughout.

Most power bricks are black, but Apple's are white.

I don't think that there is any logic to it!
mapj1
2467 Posts
and dissipates heat for things like laptop power supplies...
Denis McMahon
292 Posts
Ah, we are starting to get somewhere now. I was hoping for any sort of reason, good or bad.

So black does not show the dirt so well, and is a better radiator of heat.

Well I suppose these are hints of reasons, even thought they don't really affect safety or aesthetics to a significant degree. Thanks Chris and Map1 for your thoughts.
ebee
830 Posts
"So black does not show the dirt so well, and is a better radiator of heat."

That statement might be a bit Front to Back
Pity that "radiator of heat". Heat radiation from cables is tiny, heat is lost by conduction to surrounding air which is tthen convected away. White cables do often look dirty, black is usually ok unless dragged through mud. 

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