What does a switchboard do?
All the power in your house runs through a switchboard, which receives the power from the street and then distributes the power throughout the rest of your home. As such there are very strict electrical regulations about how it must be set up. All residential switchboards must have a main switch that provides overload protection and both overload and RCD (safety switch) protective devices on all other circuits including power, lighting and electrical appliance circuits (eg. A/C, cooktop, oven and solar).
Here are tips from Kenner Electrics, your reliable Eastern Melbourne Electrician
What components should a safe, modern switchboard have?
The switchboard enclosure is typically a plastic or metal enclosure which houses the protective devices. It is the location where all the electrical circuits originate before the cables are distributed throughout the building.
The main switch isolates the electrical supply to the whole installation so that it can be turned off for servicing or maintenance. It also provides overload protection for the mains cables (on newer switchboards) so that it will trip if the cable is drawing too much power.
Over-current circuit breakers provide protection from overloading the cables. This means that if too much power is being drawn through a circuit the circuit breaker will trip to prevent the cable from overheating and starting a fire. This can happen when too many appliances are turned on at once, a cable is damaged causing a short circuit, or water enters an appliance causing a short circuit.
Safety Switches (RCDs)
Residual Current Devices (RCDs), otherwise known as safety switches, are designed to protect people and animals against electric shocks. Without safety switches, your switchboard provides absolutely no protection against electric shock. Safety switches are the only device that provide protection to humans, and the electrical system in your home is unsafe without them.
RCDs will trip when there is leakage current. This occurs when electricity flows through a person during an electrical fault or other fault scenarios. All residential circuits are required to have safety switch protection, including power, lighting, ovens, cooktops, A/C and hot water units.
RCBOs are a combination device that incorporates a RCD and a circuit breaker. They provide the greatest level of protection against electric shocks and prevention of overloading the circuits. Existing circuits can be upgraded by replacing existing circuit breakers with RCBOs to provide safety switch protection. This has the added benefit of giving you more room in your switchboard so that you can avoid costly switchboard upgrades if you’re thinking of adding extra circuits.
Connection to an Earth Electrode
An earth electrode is a metal stake that is driven into the ground on the outside of your home and it is then wired directly into your switchboard. This provides protective earthing/grounding for your electrical system which is vital to the safe operation of all the electrical equipment in your home.
Older homes that were built before the 1990s utilised a form of protective earthing called an equipotential bond. This involved joining the electrical earthing onto the metal plumbing pipes in the house that then run underground.
The risk with relying solely on equipotential bond earthing is that the protective earthing system can be accidentally completely disconnected by a plumber if the old metal pipes are removed, replaced or modified. Plumbers do not have electrical testing equipment to make sure that they are not interfering with the electrical earthing systems. This means the safety devices in your switchboard may not operate correctly.
Another risk is that it’s possible to get an electric shock from your plumbing fixtures if there is an electrical fault present in your home. Have you ever felt a tingle from your tap or shower? This can be a sign that something is wrong with your earthing system and should definitely be inspected by an electrician.
Accidental disconnection or damage to the equipotential bond has caused electric shocks and fires so the safest option is to upgrade to a modern form of earthing that can’t be accidentally disconnected by other trades!
With a complete switchboard upgrade, Kenner Electrics will ensure you have an up-to-date earthing system which includes an independent earth electrode. The electrode will make sure that the protective devices in the switchboard operate correctly to protect your family and anyone else who might be working on your house!
Interested in what can happen if these 6 essential switchboard components are NOT present in your switchboard? Check out our blog on What’s keeping you safe? The importance of safety switches in your switchboard.
Recommended Additional Protection
Anytime the electricity supply voltage goes above what an appliance is rated to, there is a risk of damage to the appliance. A surge protector provides protection against an over-voltage fault that can damage appliances. Surge protection can be installed in your switchboard to ensure expensive appliances are kept protected if there is a surge on the power lines.
Surges are an over-voltage event which could be caused by lightning, HV injections (where High Voltage Lines come into contact with low voltage power lines that connect to homes and businesses during a storm or an accident) and other events caused by electricity distribution. While Australia has a very reliable and safe electrical distribution system, accidents and faults are more common than you think.
More information about surge protection installation can be found here.
Arc Fault Protection Device
Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDD) offer the latest form of electrical safety equipment that is becoming popular in Australia. An AFDD provides protection against electric arcing which could cause a fire.
While Arc Fault Detection has been common in America for many years due to the power distribution differences in America (they have 110V power which is more susceptible to high current arcing than the 240V power used in Australia and much of the rest of the world), it has taken a while for Australia to see the benefits.
Principally, AFDDs provide protection against a fire starting due to an arc fault. Arc faults can be caused by older wiring with damaged insulation, or broken/damaged conductors and terminals that have higher resistance due to corrosion or wear and tear (like switches, older power points and old fuse holder contacts). Electric arcs are hot enough to melt metal so they can very quickly start a fire in home if they are left undetected.
Other additional features
Other practical features can also be added to your home’s switchboard if you’re planning to upgrade. Talk to us today for a quote!
- Timers for hot water heaters, security and garden lighting
- Kilowatt meters for recording electricity usage
My switchboard was upgraded 5 years ago, it’s fine right?
Australia wiring rules have changed in the last 2 years. In the past it was permissible for only some circuits to have safety switches, so if there was a fault on an unprotected circuit you’d still get a shock. It’s now legally required to have a safety switch on every circuit in a house (for any new or modified circuits). This ensures that if there is a fault in ANY electrical appliance/device, the people in your house will be protected from shocks.
If you’re installing any new electrical outlets or equipment on an unprotected circuit, it will need to have a safety switch installed to meet current safety regulations. In most cases, Kenner Electrics can even upgrade all your existing circuit breakers to safety switches (RCBOs) on the same day to ensure you are completely covered and up to date.
Switchboards are so important to safety in your home. It’s vital that you insist on high quality protective equipment and don’t settle for cheap, inferior products. We regularly come across cheap safety switches installed in houses that have failed after a few years and are no longer providing the protection that they are there to do.
Kenner Electrics only supplies and installs good quality, reliable products that comply with Australian standards from reputable manufacturers such as Hager, Clipsal, NHP and ABB. Our skilled electricians are up to date with the latest electrical safety requirements to give you peace of mind. We will provide you with a Certificate of Electrical Safety for all switchboard upgrade works.
Home Electrical Safety Inspection
Not sure if your switchboard meets current electrical standards? Kenner Electrics offers a free home electrical safety inspection to all our customers when we are completing other works in their home.
We also offer a standalone comprehensive home electrical safety inspection for customers who may have just moved into their home or have lived there for many years and want to have peace of mind knowing their home is up to date and electrically safe.
Our expert electricians will check your switchboard and let you know if any circuits require protection and they’ll also inspect your wiring, smoke alarms, other electrical equipment and provide a report so you have all the information to make informed decisions. Contact us today if you live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and would like us to inspect your home.