Do I Really Need To Upgrade My Switchboard (Fusebox)?

When our Service Division electricians attend a home to rectify a fault or install an addition or alteration, we often find the premises switchboard is well overdue for an upgrade. We are regularly  met with comments like, “it’s been like that for years and we’ve never had a problem” or “do I really need to upgrade it?” And even “I’ve been meaning to get that upgraded, I just can’t afford it”. So I’m going to attempt to break it down for you as to why you definitely do need to upgrade your switchboard if it hasn’t been done in the last 5 to 10 years.

A Brief History

Electrical safety advancements have come a long way since it was first delivered to Australian homes in the late 1800’s. Since then Australia has been at the forefront of electrical safety. The first electrical wiring standard was produced in the early 1900’s and ever since then Licensed Electricians Australia wide have been setting the bar with best practice installations.

Revisions, Amendments and Advancements

The thing is though, with every revision of the Australian Standards Wiring rules comes a significant increase in safety for homeowners and the public at large. While your switchboard, and in older cases fusebox, may have been considered safe at the time of its installation, the fact remains that it would more than likely not pass current requirements. To add to that, the switchboard or fusebox will more than likely have had work done to it over the years rendering its condition to be substandard.  

So What Are The Main Advancements?

There are many notable advancements in electrical safety over the years, I will pay particular attention to just a few in this article.

  • Cable construction materials have changed significantly, rubber and cloth insulation was widely used in the beginning half of the last century. This insulation breaks down easily and has been the cause of countless fires and electrocution.
  • Circuit and cable protection was predominantly done via fuses and even worse, fuse wire. While this method of protection is acceptable, it is far from practical. Furthermore it puts the onus on the homeowner to ensure that when a fault occurs that the fuse wire is replaced with the correct size. Often times the incorrect size is used, the incorrect material is used, or it is replaced in a manner that renders the fuse holder an electric shock risk. These have also been the cause of many fires and loss of life incidents over the years. To add to this, the fault that caused the fuse wire to burn out, remains. Circuit Breakers are now the standard for circuit protection and rewire-able fuses should always be replaced with CB’s
  • Safety Switches, which can go by names like RCDs (residual current devices) or earth leakage devices. These devices save lives and have only recently been mandated on  every circuit in the home. Your older switchboard may have one however it will more than likely only be installed on the circuit which controls the power points in your home. This leaves items in your home venerable such as the air conditioners, oven, stove, hot water system and lighting points. RCD’s have now been incorporated with circuit breakers and the current standard is that these RCBO’s (Residual Current Circuit Breaker with Overload) will be installed on every circuit in your home to satisfy the requirements.
  • Switchboard and Meter Panel construction has also advanced tremendously. In years gone by many of these were constructed with materials which over time have become brittle and unserviceable. And in many cases have been constructed using highly toxic materials such as asbestos.  These should always be replaced.

So in summation the wise thing to do is always err on the side of caution. Get your switchboard inspected by a reputable, qualified and licensed electrical contractor and take their advice. The advice will almost always be, upgrade now. It could save your life, the life of a loved one or the life of a member of the public, not to mention the decreased risk of fire to your home.

by Jonathan Clark

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