Electricity and gas

Some art deco houses will need rewiring, either to replace unsafe wiring or to increase the number of power outlets.

 

Electricity

The price of domestic electricity halved in the period between 1923 and 1935 and, as a consequence, electricity use increased rapidly. By the mid-1930s electric power was widely available.

Light fittings were generally just a single suspended light in each room.

As electrical appliances were becoming standard items in many homes, power outlets were also installed in all the main living areas and bedrooms. Though gas stoves were often used in areas with reticulated gas, electrical stoves were becoming common in the 1930s.

Water was most likely heated either using electricity (using a storage cylinder) or gas (using a califont above the kitchen sink and/or bath.

Early domestic electric supply loads were not sufficient to allow water heating and cooking to occur simultaneously. A switch allowed householders to use either electric water heating or the electric stove, but not both at the same time.

Fixtures

Light switches and power outlets could be brass, porcelain or a newly available plastic material called bakelite.

Bakelite was hard, chemically inert and had excellent insulating properties. As it was a low cost, easy to mould material, it quickly became used for many household items ranging from telephones to radio cases to kitchen equipment as well as light switches, power outlet covers and door handles. Some earlier bakelite items were decorative, with raised lines in geometric patterns, but bakelite fittings tended to become more plain in the 1940s.

Electrical wiring

A black rubber-sheathed cabling, called tough rubber sheath (or TRS) cabling was used from around the mid 1930s. Unfortunately TRS cabling deteriorated and became dangerous over time. The more durable thermoplastic sheath (or TPS) wiring did not become readily available until the late 1950s/early 1960s.

It is unlikely that any houses built in the 1930s still have any TRS cabling, but if there is any it should be replaced.

Thermoplastic-sheathed (TPS) cable became available in the 1960s. This may have been used to rewire houses, in which case the wiring is likely to be safe and the main issue is likely to be that there are insufficient electrical power outlets for current household requirements.

Original meter and distribution boards were wall-mounted with a timber surround and generally located in the hallway near the front door. They were fitted with surface-mounted ceramic fuses and bakelite fittings and may still be in use.

If the board is original, it is also likely that the fuses are original and the meter will be included on the board.  Owners wanting authentic heritage restorations may want to keep the original meter board, particularly if it has interesting fittings such as decorative hinges. A remote reader can be installed. Otherwise, consider replacing with a new exterior meter board and internal distribution board. (Some power companies offer subsidies to relocate meter boards to outside as it facilitates their meter-reading).

The condition of the board is often a good indicator of the condition of the wiring in the house generally. For example, where there are new meter and distribution boards, it is likely that the house has been in part or fully rewired.

Miniature circuit breakers (MCBs) were introduced in the 1970s and should still be in sound condition.

Rewiring provides the opportunity to install additional lighting and power outlets (see Modification to Services). It is possible to buy new deco-style light switches and power points.

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Gas

Gas produced from coal had been widely available since the beginning of the 20th century. Where reticulated gas was available, it was used for space heating and cooking, but by the 1930s it was being challenged by electricity, which was perceived to be safer and easier to use.

As mentioned above, gas was also used for heating water for the kitchen, bathroom and laundry. Gas califonts heated the water as it was being used.

Built-in electric and gas heaters

Though open fireplaces remained a popular means of space heating, built-in electric and gas heaters also became more common during the 1930s. They may be found in living and dining rooms and, much less often, in other rooms such as bedrooms.
Original built-in heaters should no longer be used as they are likely to be dangerous.