Upgrading your consumer unit
What is a consumer unit
Consumer units also commonly referred to as fuse boxes and can potentially save your life. However, a faulty consumer unit can also be responsible for loosing your life too. It definitely will pay you to be aware of the ‘current health’ of your consumer unit, and how capable it may be of saving your life should a problem develop.
What a consumer unit should do
Apart from control the electrical function of your home, a consumer unit should also be intelligent enough to detect a dangerous problem. This would be more than just the standard ‘tripping’ but rather in the form of dual protection RCD’s which all new consumer units are now fitted with. I cannot over emphasise how important it is to have RCD protection in your home. RCD’s could one day save you or your family’s life. RCD’s are clever enough to detect faulty appliances before you are even aware and will even activate if someone accidentally touches a live cable in your home. The capabilities of an RCD far exceed any other safety function of a fusebox such as a trip switch activating or a fuse blowing. An RCD activates in less than a split second.
Unfortunately there are still far too many homes without any RCD protection. I advise all my customers to upgrade their consumer units before considering any other electrical work.
Why you shouldn’t have a plastic consumer unit
The change to enclosures made from a non-combustible material is due to the rise in deaths from consumer unit house fires, which London Fire Brigade (LFB) has recorded. In 2013/14 alone there was a record 253 fires involving consumer units. This is a steep increase from 71 fires in 2011/12. LFB reported that the reason for the rise in fires was due to ‘substandard cable connections made by the electrician’, which led to the plastic enclosures overheating and igniting.
In effort to prevent overheating of the connections, the metal clad consumer unit or metal clad cabinet will contain the fire inside the enclosure and minimise any flames should they escape.
If you are completing an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) from 1st January 2016 and the plastic consumer unit is not underneath a staircase or not within the only route of escape and the connections inside the consumer unit are satisfactory, then it doesn’t need to be commented on. However, if plastic consumer units are underneath a wooden staircase or within the only route of escape from the property, then it needs to be noted on the report.
Make sure that you are installing to the new 17th Edition Amendment 3 and that any consumer units which are installed from 1st January 2016 anywhere in a domestic dwelling are manufactured from a non-combustible material (like steel), in order to comply with the current Wiring Regulations.
It’s also important that homeowners are made aware of the change to metal clad consumer units for fire prevention, in the event that they require an EICR or a consumer unit change and are led to believe that plastic consumer units are still acceptable. Homeowners can use our free guide which explains what’s inside your consumer unit, to better understand the importance of safe electrics.
How do I know my consumer unit needs upgrading
Basically speaking, any consumer unit without an RCD needs an upgrade. This doesn’t always mean a whole new consumer unit so it is essential.
If you speak to a registered qualified electrician who can decide what needs to be done.
Consumer units with wooden backs almost always need replacing as these can often date back to the 1950’s – a lot has changed since then!
If your consumer unit looks anything like the image on the left then it is important you upgrade it.
If it looks like the one on the right then please do not even go near it as the fuses contain Asbestos and can be deadly.
How to check if your fusebox has RCD protection
Look for a button with T or test on your consumer unit. This indicates if an RCD is present. Don’t forget to press the button to make sure your RCD is working as it should be. If it does not activate (turn off your power) or you have any concerns about it, then consult a qualified and registered electrician asap.
Consumer units, like fire alarms, need to be tested regularly to ensure they are working as they should be. Remember they are there to protect you from electrical harm.
Below is what a consumer unit with a RCD should look like.
How long will it take to change and will i get a certificate
- It can take anywhere between 3-5 hours to change and the power will need to be off for most of this duration.
- After we fit the new consumer unit we will have to test all circuits that have been modified during the work carried out.
- Whilst testing we may find additional issues that do not conform to current regulation; these will be recorded on the installation certificate.
- Depending on the issue found an additional quote may need to be sent.
- Additionally the new RCD can pick up on faults, which the old board could not. Sometimes it can be a fault with the wiring, which we would have to spend some time testing to try and find it. This may result in us sending a quote for remedial works to rectify fault.
- The RCD can also pick up faults on appliances, lights, switches and sockets which are connected to the electrical installation. Sometimes these are apparent, as in when you go to turn them on they trip out the RCD straight away. In other circumstances the fault may not occur until an appliance has been in use for a while and may then trip the RCD. This can be harder to find, so may require a process of elimination by home owner or tenant to help narrow down.
How much does it cost
On average it will cost between £350-£550 to change, test and issue a certificate.