Signs That You Need to Upgrade Your Switchboard
It is important for the safety of your home/property and family to have the right circuit protection and means of safe disconnection in the event of a fault at your home. Although short circuits or faults in an electrical system are uncommon in normal circumstances, when they do occur they can cause damage to your property, injury or even death in rare circumstances. Unlike a broken pipe with water running everywhere you may not be able to see or even smell an electrical fault until it is too late.
Having a fault is not a problem if you have the correct and properly functioning circuit protection.
Nearly all new builds from the last 10 years will be up to date with the current regulations and so your switchboard and its devices will more than likely be adequate. It is still advisable to get a qualified electrician to test your property every 5 years as heat, UV and DIY projects can affect the integrity of the system.
RCDs should be tested every three months to make sure they operate correctly and are covering the circuits they are labeled to protect. Another note to make is that by carrying out these tests every three months you can check your switchboard to see it is in good condition. A common sense approach should be taken. Our senses are designed to alert us to danger so if there a burning smell, buzzing noise or burn marks call a licensed electrician to come and have a look.
Below is a video created by Energy Safety to show you how and when to perform your periodic RCD tests.
If you have the minimum of two RCDs and they work correctly you will have the basic protection your property requires. However, this doesn’t mean that items, circuit protective devices, and wiring in the switchboard have been installed and added too correctly.
Here are the signs to watch out for:
OLD RE-WIREABLE CERAMIC FUSE CARRIERS ARE INSTALLED
Although fit for purpose not so long ago these kinds of protective devices have a flaw, as they do not work in a lot of circumstances. The reason is the fact they are re-wireable, because of this the wrong fuse wire can be replaced and even in some instances nails, foil and bits of old beer can have been found in the fuse carrier. This is an issue because the fuse wire/bit of metal will not rupture at the prescribed amperage, if at all to protect the cable of that circuit. This will heat the cable and affect its integrity and over time this can lead to a breakdown in the insulation, copper conductor and could result in a fire.
INADEQUATE RCD PROTECTION
As stated previously it a minimum requirement to have two RCDs protecting your property. With new builds and renovations, this will happen as a consequence of the work taking place as standards require. Like the picture above there are many installations that do not currently have the minimum protection. If your property does not comply with the current standard it is highly recommended to employ the services of a licensed electrician as soon as possible. An electrician can just install the number of RCDs required but with them turning off the power and opening up the fuse board it is advisable to install a new switchboard so that all devices are up to standard and good for the next 20 years.
LIMITED SPACE FOR EXPANSION
This at first might not seem like an important sign to watch out for but with AC units becoming more reasonably priced, a lot of property owners are looking to install them. Alternative power generating systems like solar with battery storage are becoming more commonplace as well. For each circuit added an extra space in the switchboard is required. A lot of companies will insist a new board be installed if there is no space available. In this event, the price could become inflated as it was a factor the contractor wasn’t expecting and you the owner wanting the job to be completed in the time frame first agreed.
A burning smell that you cannot identify easily around the switchboard area can signify that there are loose cables, poorly fitted devices, undersized cables or faulty equipment. It is important that this is corrected as soon as possible or isolates the suspected circuit. Damage to safety devices as previously mentioned can affect their safe operation. The example here shows black cables which would have originally been red. Heat damage like this can happen over a period of time and if not caught in time can cause damage to lighting and power outlets as well as fire. Although this might be hard to detect for some if there is an unusual smell there may be something to get checked out.
BUZZING, CHARRED, OR DISCOLOURED OUTLETS AND SWITCHES
These signs indicate that there is a potentially serious problem in your electrical system that needs rectifying straight away. A buzzing sound indicates that there is a loose connection in a joint and the subsequent vibration causes heat and leads to a fire. Charred and discolored outlets are a definitive sign that the cable is over-heating usually caused by a fault on the system and the safety device not operating correctly. Imagine all the places a cable can run in a roof space and wall cavity. The heat in the cable is laying or clipped to wooden beams and passing through insulation. Once a cable heats up these materials help to create an environment for the cable to get hotter and eventually break down. Having the right safety devices in place will eliminate any of these problems.
This guide is not a means to worry anybody, just a way for you to make sure that your property and family have the best and most up to date electrical protection.