Everything You Need to Know About Your Switchboard
All of your electrical power at home is run through one unit – your switchboard. It is the first point your electricity comes through from the mains. As such, it distributes electricity throughout your home and also performs a crucial safety function.
So, do you know what components an electrical switchboard should have? Does your switchboard need upgrading? Considering how important your switchboard is, it might be a good idea to take a closer look at it.
What Does a Switchboard Do?
A switchboard is central to your home’s entire electrical distribution. All electrical currents pass through your electrical switchboard, and all distribution points should have a protective circuit breaker or fuse (which are usually on older switchboards and really should be replaced).
The panel features a set of switches with which you can control the power to various outlets. Because the switchboard is so important to your home functioning properly, it needs to be in good working order to handle the heavy workload.
If you’re not sure where to find your switchboard, they are usually located near the entrance of houses (or buildings) so they’re easy to access for householders and electricians. This also makes for easy installation if a switchboard needs replacing.
It is fairly easy to recognise switchboard enclosures, which will often include meter boxes.
What Can Go Wrong with My Switchboard?
Your electrical switchboard is so crucial to your home’s electrical distribution, pretty much everything to do with your power can go wrong if it’s left to fall into disrepair.
An older, run-down switchboard can get overloaded by the demands of the workload and the cables will get overheated. This means power outages. Without repairs, replacements or a complete upgrade, it will continue to cause blackouts.
Older electrical switchboards that are faulty also pose the risk of electrocution and electrical fires, if left unchecked by a qualified electrician.
Your residual current device (RCD) safety switches should be checked annually, which is best done by a professional electrician. Only a qualified contractor will have the correct tools to check that the RCD safety switch complies with standards.
What Should a Modern Switchboard Have?
A switchboard should be in a safe, dry location and will probably be in a plastic or metal enclosure. Here are some of the key components of a modern switchboard.
- Main switch – The main switch will turn the power on or off. This will isolate the electrical supply for maintenance and repairs. It will also provide protection against overload if the mains cable is drawing too much power.
- Circuit breakers – Circuit breakers provide protection from overloading cables. The circuit breaker tripping will prevent the cable from overheating and possibly starting an electrical fire.
- Safety switches (or residual current devices) – RCDs are designed to protect people from electric shocks. Without these safety switches, the switchboard provides no electric shock protection. All residential circuits are required to have safety switch protection technology installed.
- Residual current breaker with over-current (RCBO) – RCBOs incorporate an RCD and a circuit breaker. These provide the best level of protection against shocks and the prevention of overloading circuits. Existing circuit breakers should be replaced by RCBOs when doing an upgrade.
Electrical switchboards are essentially the motor control centre of any home. Along with being located in a safe, dry spot, there should be generous wiring room for the various circuits. These should be protected by surface mount enclosures for circuit protection.
After all, your electrical switchboard is a distribution board for electricity throughout your home.
When Does a Switchboard Need an Upgrade?
The age of your switchboard is probably the main reason to consider an upgrade. If your home’s electrical system is running on a switchboard that is more than 20 years old, it could be time to have it inspected by an electrician and consider an upgrade.
It is important that your switchboard complies with your state’s regulations. An upgrade might be mandatory if the switchboard is not up to these stringent standards.
If you’re considering using solar power in an older home, you may also be forced to upgrade your switchboard. Older models will not support solar power.
Warning signs to look out for include:
- Flickering lights – If there’s nothing wrong with the light bulb, a flickering light might reveal problems with the power supply.
- Short circuits – If electrical appliances are experiencing short circuiting it might be a sign that the power supply is inadequate.
- Buzzing – If your electricity switchboard is making noises it’s a definite warning. A switchboard should not be making any noise.
- Electric shocks – An electric shock, even a mild one, when you use a socket is a bad sign.
- Tripping appliances – If your electrical appliances trip your system regularly it could be a sign of a failing switchboard.
- Rewireable fuses – Older switchboards might have ceramic rewireable fuses instead of circuit breakers. These are a safety hazard and should be replaced.
- Age – The age of your switchboard could be a concern. Switchboards installed before 2000 were not required by law to have safety switches and surge protection, which all households should have.
Your switchboard might also be mounted on non-compliant materials such as asbestos or chipboard. Don’t attempt to repair any of these problems yourself. Make sure you contact a fully qualified electrician for an inspection of your electrical switchboard.
The Benefits of a New Switchboard
The most obvious benefit of a switchboard that is functioning properly is the safety of you and your family.
If you decide to upgrade your switchboard, new models come with inbuilt safety switches and surge protection which minimise the risk of electrical shock and fires. They are designed to handle the much bigger workload of a modern household.
You’ll also save money in the long run. Having to call an electrician for all the problems that go with a faulty switchboard gets expensive. A switchboard that is in top shape will power your house safely for years to come.
It’s also inconvenient and a waste of time having to cope with an electrical system that is failing. Power blackouts and appliance breakdowns can have an impact on your work and leisure time. An upgrade to your switchboard boosts your electrical system and can make such problems a thing of the past.
Is a Switchboard the Same as a Meter Box?
The short answer is no, meter boxes are not the same thing.
A meter box is where your energy supplier reads your electricity consumption for billing purposes. Your electrical switchboard is a power distribution hub that looks after the electrical circuits using that electricity. A meter box does not have motor control applications in connection to your power.
However, in some cases a meter box might be on your switchboard. If you’re in a subdivision, there will be a common point for all meters so they will be separate to switchboards.
How Much Does a Switchboard Upgrade Cost?
The cost of a switchboard upgrade depends on various factors, but it will usually be a cost-efficient exercise.
There are a number of variables to take into account when considering an upgrade, including:
- The size of your new switchboard compared to your existing one.
- The capacity of your new switchboard compared to your existing one.
- Labour costs, which will vary depending on your location and the difficulty of the job.
- The cost of cabling if your upgrade requires new cables.
- Your home may need rewiring in order to complete the upgrade.
Even though the costs do vary, it’s best to think of it as an investment. A new electrical switchboard certainly makes your property more valuable.
Remember that only fully qualified electrical contractors can complete switchboard repairs or an upgrade. The peace of mind you get from having a safe switchboard supplying your home with steady power will be worth the effort and the cost.
Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.