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About electricity



[image] About electricity facts.

  • Electricity is energy.  Through the movement of electrons, electricity has the power to heat, to light, to move things and to make things work.  Electricity travels along a circuit.  When you plug something in and turn it on, you complete the electrical circuit from the power station to your home.
  • Electricity can flow through some materials easily, such as metal and water.  These are called conductors.  Materials such as rubber, plastic, glass and ceramics are called insulators because electricity does not travel easily through them.
  • An electrical current will flow to make a circuit.  If something that conducts electricity gives it an easy path to the ground, it will take it.  People are conductors of electricity as our bodies are mostly water.  If you touch an electric circuit and the ground, or earth, at the same time, electricity will flow through you and this could be fatal.


Power supply and quality

  • New Zealand's electricity supply must be maintained at constant levels.  This means that electricity generators must ensure enough electricity is sent through transmission lines to meet the needs of all consumers.
  • The amount of electricity in the lines must be kept at a constant level of volts.  If this is not controlled or monitored, electrical appliances can be seriously damaged.
  • When too much electricity is provided this is called a surge.  An surge protector can prevent this surge reaching expensive electrical appliances reducing the risk of damage.



Voltage and frequency

  • There is no worldwide standard electricity mains voltage or frequency, so it is important to ensure that electrical appliances from other countries are able to be used safely in New Zealand.
  • Electricity throughout New Zealand is supplied at a nominal voltage of 230 volts and 50 hertz, although most hotels and motels provide 110 volt AC sockets (rated at 20 watts) for electric razors only.
  • Unless an electrical appliance is rated and marked for use at 230 V or has a multi-voltage option that includes a 230 V rating, it will be necessary to use a suitably rated voltage adapter/converter.  Direct connection of an appliance that is not rated for use at 230 V into a NZ socket-outlet, is likely to result in a fire or electric shock hazard.


Electricity meters

  • Your electricity meter records the number of units of electricity you have used.  On your electricity meter one unit equals one kilowatt hour (1 kWh).  The total number of kilowatt hours used is what is recorded by your electricity supplier.
  • Electricity retailers charge consumers based on the number of kilowatt hours used per month.



Electricity is clean, efficient and instantly available to use.  However, it cannot be seen or heard and has no smell.  The risks involved with using electricity are electric shock, burns and fire.

Electric shock

Electric shock can cause muscle spasms, breathing failure, irregular heartbeat, severe burns, unconsciousness and can be fatal.


Burns caused by electricity occur along the path the electric current takes through the body, including the skin, nerves, muscles and tissues.


Fires occur when electrical appliances overheat, or when furniture and fittings come into contact with an electrical heat source such as a heater or stove.  The New Zealand Fire Service estimates that 10% of all fires are caused through electrical accidents.



Warning signs

To prevent electrical accidents, be aware of the warning signs, including:

  • A tingling feeling when you touch an appliance or fitting,
  • Appliances or fittings hotter than normal to touch,
  • Fuses frequently blowing or circuit breakers tripping and needing to be reset,
  • Dim or flickering lights,
  • Unusual smells or noises,
  • Scorch marks on plugs or sockets or any electrical appliance or fitting,
  • Power going off in your home unexpectedly, and
  • Damaged insulation or fittings – such as cables, flexes, cords, and switches showing exposed wiring.


Key safety tips

[image] About electricity tips.

We use electricity every day so it is easy to take for granted.  This is when electrical accidents can occur.  Follow the safety guidelines below to prevent electrical accidents and stay safe.

  • Water is a conductor.  To avoid electric shock, keep all cords and appliances dry and clear of water or damp areas, both inside and outside.
  • Always have dry hands when touching electrical appliances or sockets.
  • Use residual current devices (RCDs) in the damp areas in your home, such as the bathroom, laundry, kitchen, garage, pools and spas, or when working with electrical equipment outside.  An RCD monitors electric currents flowing along a circuit. If it detects a current being diverted to the earth (such as through a person), it cuts the power off instantly – preventing an electric shock being fatal.
  • Make sure all electric cords are in good condition before using them.  Check for any damaged or exposed wires, fraying or cracked or broken power sockets or plug tops.  Replace any damaged leads correctly or have them professionally repaired.
  • Limit the number of appliances plugged into an outlet or extension cord to avoid overloading.  Only use one heater per outlet.
  • Check and replace any outlets where the plug does not fit firmly into the outlet – a loose contact is unsafe.
  • Always supervise appliances when in use.  When not in use, switch them off at the wall and unplug.
  • Buy the latest electrical safety products when renovating and rewiring your home.
  • Use safety devices such as recessed and shuttered sockets, shrouded plugs and RCDs.
  • Always employ a licensed electrical worker for electrical repairs, to ensure the work is done to legal safety standards.  Ask to see their practising licence and make sure you receive a Certificate of Compliance for all electrical work done on installations and fittings.  Ask for an Electrical Safety Certificate for repair work done on appliances.
  • When changing fuses or doing electrical work around the house, or it there is an electrical problem, always disconnect the power by turning the main power switch off first.




Remember, a heater is a fire hazard.  Follow the ‘Heater Meter Rule’ and keep heaters at least one metre away from bedding, clothes, curtains, rugs and furniture.


Last updated 31 August 2015
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