Electricity was used for lighting, water heating, space heating, and to operate an increasing range of appliances especially in the kitchen.
By the 1970s, electricity was used in most houses for water and space heating, cooking, lighting, and to operate an ever-increasing range of appliances such as washing machines, fridge/freezers, and small appliances such as food mixers, toasters and jugs.
As a result, the number of light fittings and power outlets was much higher than in previous eras.
The houses of the 1970s had more light outlets than houses in previous decades, reflecting both consumer demand and the wider range of fittings available as a result of the relaxation of import controls.
Typically, each room had a centrally-located, ceiling-mounted light fitting (Figure 1). Larger rooms may have two ceiling-mounted fittings.
Sloping ceilings generally had suspended light fittings in order to lower the fittings to a height that could provide a satisfactory level of lighting.
Wall-mounted fittings were often installed in the living room, hallway or entry as feature lighting (rather than for practical purposes).
The first downlights also appeared, as did spotlights and track lighting.
Switch plates and socket outlets were manufactured from polycarbonate.
Multiple power outlets were generally installed in every room except the toilet and bathroom.
They were generally mounted at low level, approximately 300 mm above the floor, except in the kitchen and laundry where they were installed approximately 1.2 m above the floor.
The living room could have two or three single power outlets installed on different walls, while other rooms generally had a minimum of two outlets. The number of outlets may be insufficient for the number of appliances households have today.
Shaver outlets were introduced in bathrooms.
Though a range of options was available, more than half of 1970s households used electric heaters and 30% used only electric heating. See heating for more detail on typical heating sources.
It is most likely that tough plastic sheathed (TPS) cabling was used to wire houses during the 1970s, in which case it is most likely to be safe. However, it is prudent to have the condition of the wiring checked as it will be over 30 years old.
Original meter and distribution boards were wall-mounted, commonly located on the outside of the building in a metal meter box and fitted with miniature circuit breakers which were introduced in the 1970s (although there may be examples where ceramic fuses were used).
The condition of the board is often a good indicator of the condition of the wiring in the house generally. Adding new circuits provides the opportunity to upgrade lighting and power outlets.
Rewiring of a house and replacement of the distribution board should be carried out by a licensed electrical worker, who should also certify their work by supplying a Certificate of Compliance. You can check that an electrical worker is licensed on the Electrical Workers Register.
Other common problems
Many 1970s houses will not have enough power outlets for current household requirements.
Polycarbonate switch plates and socket outlets, while dated in appearance, are likely to be sound unless they have been damaged by building occupants.
During the 1970s, reticulated natural gas was available in many major towns in the North Island. The increasing sophistication of gas appliances together with gas availability saw an increased use in gas appliances for heating and cooking.