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Electrical safety is very important. Period. You must take the necessary steps to ensure that the electrical installations in your home are safe for you and your loved ones, and there is no other way around it.
Many electrical components in your house require your attention and need to be checked periodically to ensure that they are working as they should.
These checks can be carried out by the homeowners themselves and by professional service providers for an in-depth analysis of the electrical system’s health.
An electrical home inspection consists of a visual inspection followed by a detailed examination where the entire electrical system is thoroughly checked, ensuring all the wires, systems, and components are working efficiently and meet the legal safety standards.
We all know about lights, fixtures, and electrical appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. But there is one more, very important component known as the electrical consumer unit that needs to be checked and upgraded, if necessary.
Read on to find out what an electrical consumer unit is, why it is an important part of the electrical system in your house and why and when you should upgrade it:
An electrical consumer unit is an important component of the electrical system and is essentially the main control and distribution centre for a home’s power supply.
It is used to power all the circuits in your home and consists of various parts that include the mains switch, circuit breakers, and residual current devices (RCD’s).
Consumer units are often referred to as fuse boxes but, even though they both serve the same purpose of distributing electricity in your house through multiple circuits, they are not the same.
Consumer units are the newer and much safer version of the outdated fuse boxes which, in most cases, are no longer compliant with the UK wiring regulations.
While both consumer units and fuse boxes turn the power off in the event of a power overload or power surge, also commonly known as tripping, the way they do it is very different.
With a consumer unit, when tripping occurs, it cuts the power supply using the circuit breaker linked to the overloaded circuit. Since it turns the specific circuit off, it is very easy to identify and fix the faulty circuit, after which the circuit breaker can be turned on and power restored to the house.
On the other hand, instead of using circuit breakers, a fuse box uses fuses, each of which contains a wire. In the event of a power surge, the wire melts causing the circuit to trip and switching off the power.
Because of the way fuse boxes work, it is not easy to identify the faulty circuit and the melted fuse needs to be replaced for the power to be restored.
You may need to have your electrical consumer unit replaced for several reasons. It may be faulty or outdated and may not provide you with protection from power surges as it should.
How can you know if your consumer unit needs to be upgraded? Through professional checks and inspections, of course.
A domestic consumer unit should be checked by a qualified electrician at most every 10 years. If you wish, you may have it done more frequently as well.
If you are buying or renting out your property, it should be checked every 5 years. However, if your tenants move out and new ones are due to move in, you must ensure that it is safe for them to do so and you need to carry out the required inspections before they do.
Also, in the event of you buying or selling a house, you will have to get the electrical installations inspected, including the consumer unit, or the sale will not be completed.
Here are all the reasons why you should upgrade your consumer unit:
If your home has an outdated fuse board or faulty consumer unit, it could put you and your family at risk, which is why it is best to have it upgraded by a professional ASAP.
There are a few danger signs to look out for that could put you, your loved ones, and your property at risk of fires.
Some older consumer units do not have an essential component known as an RCD (residual current device) that breaks the electrical current during a power surge. This may lead to a severe risk of electrical fires and a potential loss of life and property.
In addition to that, some plastic consumer units are still common in the country, even though they are not considered to be as safe as the metal or metal-clad ones.
In the event of an electrical fire, metal units are much safer and do not let the fire spread as quickly as the plastic ones. Therefore, even if these systems are functioning properly, it is a good idea to upgrade to better quality metal units to be safer.
Electrical faults can be a serious safety hazard causing injuries, accidents, and in serious cases, electric fires. According to statistics, around 4000 domestic fires were caused by faulty wiring and equipment last year, which is a shocking number and a real cause for concern.
It is recommended in the wiring regulations BS 7671 that the electrical installations and their components in a domestic property must be regularly inspected and tested every 5 to 10 years, or if you are buying/selling the property.
Sadly, the main reason for these fires is incompetence and the homeowner’s inability to get their electrical installations checked and upgraded. There are many homes around the country with faulty or outdated consumer units that are not compliant with the law.
Upgrading your consumer unit not only keeps you safe from the risks of fires, shocks, and damages but also ensures that you are compliant with the electrical wiring regulation requirements.
Upgrading your electrical consumer unit to a modern and safer one will also increase your home’s energy efficiency.
A properly working consumer unit will keep all power overloads and surges under control and won’t let them affect your energy consumption and electrical appliances.
This simple upgrade will not only help you conserve valuable energy but also save you money on utility bills and malfunctioning appliances caused by an inefficient consumer unit.
In being compliant with the electrical regulations and improving the safety of your home, the biggest benefit you can enjoy is peace of mind.
Knowing that you, your loved ones, and your property are safe from electrical risks should ease your conscience knowing that you played your part in ensuring their safety.
The process of upgrading an electrical consumer unit is typically scheduled for 1 to 2 days and is carried out by a certified residential electrician.
The steps involved in a consumer unit upgrade include:
Before the upgrade is done, the current consumer unit is thoroughly checked by a professional electrician and this is typically done by undertaking a visual inspection followed by an EICR (Electrical installation condition report).
An EICR is more detailed than a visual inspection and it identifies any damages, defects, or deterioration that may turn into a potential hazard, along with recording several observations in line with BS 7671 and providing recommendations for improving the current installation.
After the checks have been completed, you will be notified if your current consumer unit is safe or if an upgrade is required. If it is deemed unsafe the technician will notify you of the issues and recommend ways to rectify them.
If the decision is taken to upgrade the consumer unit, the first step is to temporarily cut off the power supply so that the existing unit can be safely and successfully removed. Each cable is carefully labelled before the removal.
The third step involves the installation of the new consumer unit. Since the modern systems are considerably bigger than most of the old types, they require extensions in the existing cables to accommodate and reach them.
This process of extending the wires is known as cable trunking, where the cables will surround the consumer unit and future-proof it for adjustments and upgrades.
After the new unit has been fixed, the connections are properly checked, which includes checking all the electrical fixtures, sockets, and appliances throughout the house.
Once everything is a-okay, the upgraded consumer unit is turned on and the final electrical test is undertaken. Upon its successful completion, you are issued a certificate of electrical compliance.
This document is very important and must be kept somewhere safe as proof of the work being carried out. It will also be required for any future works and if you plan on selling or renting out the property.
The cost of upgrading an electrical consumer unit to a more modern one varies depending on many factors such as:
The price can range between £450 to £600 depending on the factors listed above and will typically include a new consumer unit and a NICEIC Electrical installation certificate.
This quote does not include the earthing and bonding checks, which are a prerequisite of the replacement. These checks assess the current situation and establish if any issues need to be addressed before the upgrade can be done.
To determine which electrical consumer unit is right for your house, you need to know the types available and understand how they differ from each other.
The different types of electrical consumer units are:
This type of consumer unit is a popular choice for single-storey houses and small flats and has only one main switch through which all the circuits in the house can be switched off.
In the event of a power surge, the main switch automatically turns off along with the faulty circuit.
A dual RCD (residual current device) consumer unit is a popular choice for multi-storey houses. It has two sets of circuits (RCD1 and RCD2) that offer the ability to split the power load between them.
With this dual functionality, it is possible to alternate the circuits so that in the event of one of the RCDs no longer operational, power can still be available to some parts of the house.
High integrity consumer units are an extremely popular choice among many homeowners because they offer the ability to independently separate all the circuits.
This way, even if one electrical appliance, such as the freezer, stops working, the rest of the house will still have power and operate without interruption.
As part of the new 18th edition wiring regulations BS7671, it is now mandatory to incorporate surge protection in all domestic dwellings to prevent the damage of electrical installations and equipment.
What is surge protection? Surge protection is the use of a device, known as a surge protector, that is installed in line with a circuit to protect electronic devices and appliances in your home from surges in electrical power.
It works by channelling the excess voltage into the outlet’s grounding wire, preventing it from flowing through the electronic equipment’s circuits. While doing so, it allows the normal voltage to continue along its path to safely operate the appliance or equipment without causing it any damage.
In modern homes, there is an extensive use of power-sensitive equipment such as computers, laptops, televisions, routers, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, dishwashers, microwaves, CCTV cameras, and fire alarms.
Power surges can damage electrical equipment by ‘frying’ their internal components and causing permanent damage to them.
The reason why you need to incorporate surge protection into your electrical installations is that the inability to protect the above-mentioned appliances from power surges can account for thousands of pounds worth of damages.
In addition to that, there is a serious risk of the equipment catching fire and putting you, your loved ones, and your property at risk.
Now that you know all there is about upgrading electrical consumer units and surge protection, here are a few questions most commonly asked by our clients:
Yes, the consumer unit can be relocated, but that depends on where you would like to move it. There needs to be ample space to accommodate the system, and if it is to be installed outside, the environmental factors need to be taken into consideration as well. Relocating it might incur additional charges.
Upgrading a consumer unit is not a very messy and disruptive process, and most of the mess is contained in a single area. Though the process may get messier and more disruptive if the consumer unit needs to be relocated within the property. You will be notified beforehand if the work entails altering the plastering or fabric of the property.
The process of upgrading the consumer unit might take 1 to 2 days, so you can assume the power to be turned off for the same. However, if you must have an uninterrupted power supply while the work is underway, let the technician know beforehand so that arrangements can be made accordingly.
Before the work commences, make sure you properly shut down and unplug all power-sensitive equipment, such as computers and refrigerators, and make certain that the technicians have plenty of space to work freely and move around in the area. If the consumer unit is in a cupboard, make sure it is easily accessible. Other than that, just leave all the work to the professionals.
We, at Calder Electrical Services, have been undertaking electrical work since 1976 and have plenty of experience in the field.
We offer a wide range of services to meet the demands of our clients that include all aspects of domestic, commercial and industrial installations, inspections, maintenance, and upgrades.
We have experienced and fully qualified electrical engineers on hand to deliver a professional and high-quality service that is fully insured and certified.
Our team of professionals can survey your house and assess the existing installations to advise on the best way to increase their use and safety.
Contact us here or call us on 0800 612 3001 to upgrade your existing consumer units and protect your electrical appliances from power surges!
Or would like us to provide a survey and quote then please contact us and we will be happy to help.Call us on 0800 612 3001