Consumer units also commonly referred to as fuse boxes 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 (so you’ll hear me talking about it a lot!) RCD’s could one day save you or your families 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 in my area of Birmingham and Coventry to upgrade their consumer units before considering any other electrical work.
Consumer Unit first!
It is always a bind having to recommend to customers considering other home upgrades such as new kitchens and major decorating to hold off until their consumer unit has been upgraded. Many kitchen fitters will not fit a kitchen unless the home has RCD protection. Although it can seemingly delay making your home look nice, no one wants a fire to break out in their home after spending money having it upgraded. Equally, who wants to strip their new wallpaper off because of bad wiring that needs to be repaired or replaced. Unfortunately this has happened many times in my years of being an electrician. Now is the best time to upgrade if your consumer unit is past it’s best.
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 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!
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.
A dangerous consumer unit
Unfortunately apart from detecting problems such as tripping or other electrical concerns (which could be potentially dangerous) it is not easy to know if there is a problem or not with your fuse box. Just before the Easter weekend I upgraded a consumer unit for a customer in Staffordshire. He needed an electrician to look at his consumer unit as he realised it was possibly past it’s best. However what I found when I arrived was so dangerous and this person certainly did the right thing by calling me.
This is what I found on the adjoining wall to the fusebox. The wiring is completely inadequate for a consumer unit and worse still the green coloured earth wire is just sticking up in the air. This is incredibly dangerous and could have caused serious electrical injury, if not death if a problem had occurred. (It was pure luck no problem did occur.)
Worryingly, the wiring had been like this for years. The home owner told me that the wiring was carried out a number of years ago by someone from their energy company. It wasn’t picked up last year either when the gas meter was replaced (which still has it’s security tag intact) which you can see also in the photo.
I upgraded the wiring so it is now adequate for the job it is intended for. Incorrect cable feeding consumer units has been responsible for many serious house fires, so take some time to check your wires.
An old fuse box
As you can see, the black fuse box was very outdated with no RCD protection and very little in the way of fuse protection either. It would have been very unlikely to have provided adequate protection against electrical shock and injury to the household. If your consumer unit looks similar to this, it will probably need upgrading.
Upgraded (and safe) consumer unit
I upgraded the customers consumer unit with full RCD protection with modern breakers suitable for the electrical needs of the property. It is essential that only a qualified and registered electrician carries out a consumer unit upgrade in your home.
Badly installed electrical fittings
Upon looking at the other wiring in the property – and seeing examples of bad practice like the wiring in the photo below. I was disappointed to learn that an electrician from the energy company stated earlier in this post had also carried out this wiring. I was also saddened that such poor practice had not been pointed out to my customer last year. Two opportunities to potentially save a life missed
Need help or advice on the condition of your home consumer unit then call me Sparky Dave