A well kept switchboard keeps a household safe.
An out of date switchboard introduces unnecessary electrical risks into your home. We’ve put together a quick history of what protection has been offered by switchboard upgrades over the last century.
- 1882 – Fuses
- 1924 – Circuit Breaker Invented
- 1960 – Safety Switch Invented
- 1991-2020 – Australia’s Increasing Minimum Requirements
- A Modern Switchboard (2019)
Electricity and electrical safety has come a long way since Edison’s introduction of the DC power grid in 1882. As an invisible hazard within the home, from “the grid”s inception it made sense to have a point to quickly and easily disconnect power within a home.
Switchboards protection was nothing more than a few fuses. These fuses were a small calibrated piece of wire designed to burn out when the capacity of a given circuits wiring was exceeded and prevent fire. While ingenious in the late 1880s, replacing fuses involved dealing with live electrical components and required knowledge of a given circuit’s capacity and the installation of a the matching fuse wire. A wrongly matched fuse surpasses any protection offered by a switchboard.
The miniature circuit breaker is invented. If a circuit trips due to overload it is now simply a matter of switching the breaker back on (assuming the issue was no longer present). This is also later adapted into a plug-in style circuit breaker used heavily in “Federal” style switchboards in Australia.
You may be surprised to know the switchboard pictured here is protected by miniature circuit breakers and has thus far alluded a switchboard upgrade – it is not capable of protecting occupants from electrocution.
The first Safety Switch is invented. This is the first device that seeks to protect individuals from electrocution. Modern safety switches look very similar to Miniature Circuit Breakers, the test button however gives them away.
See also; how RCDs (Safety Switches) work.
A legislative effort is made to protect Australians from the electricity inside all handheld appliances. RCD (Safety Switches) are made mandatory in Australia for all circuits that contain Powerpoints.
The law passed on Powerpoints is expanded to lights, which also are also regularly handled by Australians changing light globes. RCD (Safety Switches) are made mandatory in Australia for all lighting circuits.
With the mass production of RCDs over 20 years, prices have dropped dramatically. The legislation for Safety Switches is expanded and made mandatory in Australia for all circuits in a domestic home.
Is it time for a Switchboard Upgrade?
The periodic advances in electrical safety have saved thousands of lives to date and continue to do so. Your switchboard is the central control for all things electrical in your home. You should be able to rely on it when appliances fail or accidents happen within in day to day life. While acting cautiously around electricity is a good idea, electricity is invisible and silent, fatalities and accidents often take place in the same fashion without warning.
Since 1991 Australia has increasingly stepped up minimum requirements in regards to RCD (Safety Switch) which protect Australians from electrocution. No residential switchboard should now have any circuits not protected by an RCD (Safety Switch).
If your switchboard contains circuits that are not protected by an RCD (Safety Switch) your electrician will recommend you upgrade the switchboard.
Note: No work can be carried out on a individual circuit without upgrading that circuit to RCD (Safety Switch) protection. However while legislation exist to demand the installation of RCDs (Safety Switches), where budget is constrained a possible work around exists in the installation of a singular Safety Switch on a singular circuit. This is a good short term fix but is labour intensive proving repetitive and extremely expensive in the long run as subsequent work on other circuits will likely require the same process.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to upgrade a power box?
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Should I upgrade my fuse box?
It is a legal requirement for all house in Australia to have a RCD (Safety Switch) installed. Any home that does not have an RCD (Safety Switch) does not have any protection against electrocution. You can recognise a RCD (Safety Switch) by the presence of a test button.
When should I replace my fuse box?
Keeping your switchboard up to date keeps the occupants of your house safe. Electrical Regulations helped dictate what the minimum safety standards are, and a good electrician will have a conversation with you if there is anything out of order in your switchboard.
Are old fuse boxes dangerous?
Old fuse boxes are commonly only protected only by federal style ceramic fuses. These fuses are no longer legal for modern installations, and are required to be replaced during any improvement works. Occupants should be trained in fuse replacement & selection of correct fuse wire size. Risks include incorrect fuse wire usage resulting in no protection and possible contact with live the exposed switchboard components. In addition, these boards did not include RCDs (Safety Switches) and contain no protection for occupants from electrocution.
How long do electrical panels last?
Electrical panels are built to last, technology however regularly renders them obsolete. Improvements in electrical safety and therefore the electrical regulations is constantly ticking along. As at July 2020 all circuits in a domestic switchboard must be protected by RCDs (Safety Switches) and most commonly each circuit has an independent RCD/Circuit Breaker to ensure you don’t lose power to the entire house because of a single circuit.
How long does it take to replace a fuse box?
Fuse Box replacement varies on size but generally takes approximately 3-6 hours.
We hope you have found this article informative. For any further questions on home safety Eastern Melbourne Electricians are always available on 1800 851 129. We’re happy to simply assess your current safety, make immediate changes, or work with you to develop a plan of action.