Switchboard, meter and fuse boxes: what do they do?
Many people tend to confuse these items thinking they are different names for the same thing.
However, your switchboard, electrical meter and fuse box are all different items whose individual functionality are essential to secure a reliable power supply in your property.
So what are they and why do we need all of them for effective power distribution?…
Let's start with switchboards:
Everything You Need To Know About Switchboards
Your switchboard is arguably the most important part of your property’s electrical system.
Every property has a switchboard. It is what distributes all the power your building needs through electrical circuits that make your power points, lights, switches, fans (basically everything electrical in your home) work at a second’s notice.
But because your switchboard is dealing with potentially large loads of electricity it is also the element of your electrical system that MUST be up to date and checked regularly.
An unsafe switchboard means unsafe electricity in your property which can get very dangerous very quickly.
Switchboards are often ignored when electrical upgrades are required because (let’s be honest here) it is not a cheap undertaking to upgrade your switchboard.
However, if there are faults in your switchboard or if you have recently bought a new heavy duty electrical appliance (such as a modern washing machine, refrigerator, air conditioning , etc.) that your switchboard cannot accommodate or handle you may not have a choice in the matter.
Faults or frequent overloading can lead to potential hazards such as electrical fires, power outages and shocks – with consequences much more costly than getting your switchboard upgraded.
But how does this all work? And how can you tell if your switchboard is due an upgrade?
Let’s go back to basics.
How Does A Switchboard Work?
Almost everything electrical in a house is fed through the switchboard.
The switchboard divides electrical power into 240 volt circuits and distributes them to household electrical appliances.
Each circuit has its own coloured wires that run throughout your home connecting electrical points via plugs or switches.
When you turn on an electrical device, such as a lamp or heater, you are completing the electrical circuit.
The switchboard also houses electrical fuses (also known as circuit breakers) which protect electrical circuits and wiring from damage caused by overloading of electricity.
The switchboard is connected to your electrical service wires (via a meter box) which run underground from your street’s electrical transformer to your switchboard.
Do You Need To Upgrade Your Switchboard?
That depends… here are a few factors which mean you should definitely get your switchboard checked by a professional electrician:
1. If your current switchboard was installed prior to 2000. At that time switchboards were not required by legislation to have safety switches installed. These safety switches are vital for the protection of your property.
2. If your switchboard is mounted on hazardous or non-compliant materials including asbestos panels or chipboard. These materials may be hazardous, especially as they deteriorate and are also potentially flammable.
3. It’s getting old and starting to fall apart. The circuits can become loose creating a potential hazard.
4. If you have recently completed or are planning on embarking on a home renovation or extension. Home upgrades like this can mean that you require more power and may result in the switchboard overloading.
5. If an old circuit breaker or ceramic fuses are still being used as they can crack or stick meaning they do not work as intended. This is more common in switchboards that are over 15 years old.
Electrical upgrades to switchboards can reduce electrical fires and electrical shocks.
They will ensure your power supply complies with current Victorian standards to ensure safety and reduce the risk of hazards.
What Could Go Wrong If My Switchboard Is Outdated?
Old or faulty switchboards can easily become overloaded leading to power outages. This is due to our ever increasing reliance on appliances in the modern home.
New electrical equipment such as large refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, heaters etc. require more energy than old switchboards are capable of distributing.
This can easily cause the circuit to overload and trip, leaving you at risk for hazardous shocks and even electrical fires.
High Risk Of Electric Shock
Electric shock can occur if the electrical installation is not correctly completed which is why it is important to get a professional electrical installer complete electrical installations in your electrical switchboard.
Electrical shock can also occur when electrical wiring is exposed via incorrect installation or deterioration over time.
Always have your electrical faults checked by a professional electrical contractor when you experience electrical shocks whether they are from faulty appliances, switches, power outlets, or wiring.
Switchboards that are rundown, outdated or unreliable electrical wiring may lead to electrical fires.
Older switchboards are wired with electrical cable instead of metal tubing which has become a standard in most modern remote switchboards.
Metal tubing conducts electricity better and is a more secure electrical installation reducing the risk of sparks that can lead to electrical fires.
An electrical fire in a wall cavity could cause serious damage to property and people.
If you think you may be at risk of any of the issues outlined above please seek professional advice immediately. Failure to do so could result in serious injury or death.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Switchboard?
There are a few ways you can prevent damage to your switchboard and reduce the likelihood of faults.
These options mean upgrading certain elements of your switchboard that may buy you longer between switchboard replacements.
Replacing older wiring
Older wiring in your switchboard and throughout your property leaves it vulnerable to more risks as it degrades over time.
Upgrading to electrical wiring that is capable of conducting electricity to meet modern day electrical requirements will prevent damage to all other elements of your electrical system.
Getting regular testing
This will alert you to any small issues before they become big problems.
For example, they may reveal that you have too many appliances running off the same circuit and that you need to get another circuit added or move some appliances to prevent damage.
Adding Modern Circuit Breakers and Safety Switches
Up to date circuit breakers will prevent damage to your electrical systems by stopping damaging overloads from occurring.
A safety switch works to protect all those using the electrical system from potential shocks and other harm. This means that your switchboard will be that bit safer.
Using Safe Appliances
Old or non-compatible electrical appliances could cause an electrical fault.
Appliances more than 20 years old could have deteriorating wiring that may increase the risk of shocks or electrical fire.
Furthermore, if appliances do not meet modern day electrical safety standards or are from a country that uses a higher voltage than we do in Australia they can overload or damage your electrical system.
If you are worried that a certain appliance may be the cause of your electrical issues rather than your switchboard, you can get a qualified electrician to test and tag all your appliances.
This is something that is done frequently in workplaces. It ensures electrical appliances are safe to use and protects electrical workers.
What happens if my electrical appliance blows one of my electrical circuits?
When you buy electrical appliances, they come with manuals that list electrical power requirements.
If an appliance is connected to electrical circuits that are not capable of handling the amount of power required this is where your fuse box or circuit breakers will come into play.
The fuse box/circuit breakers will cut the power immediately to prevent further damage.
What Is A Fuse/Fuse Box?
A fuse box is an electrical distribution board (just like your switchboard).
However, the switchboard distributes electrical power around your home or office while a fuse box protects circuits from electrical overloads.
This is why they are also often referred to as ‘circuit breakers’.
It is important that you do not touch electrical fuses or circuit breakers unless you are qualified and authorised by an electrician.
It is recommended that fuse boxes (circuit breakers) are kept up to date along with safety switches to provide protection to both your electrical system and those using it. They work in conjunction to prevent electrical accidents.
What Is A Meter? (And Is It The Same Thing As A Meter Box?)
Your meter is what connects your property to the power lines in your street. It channels the power from the grid into your property and records how much electricity you are using.
This then connects to the switchboard inside your meter box (no, the meter and meter box aren’t the same thing – silly but true) so the power can be distributed throughout your home.
The meter box is the big box near the entry of your home that encloses all parts of your electrical system including the switchboard, main switch, fuse box and safety switches.
What Could Go Wrong With My Electrical Meter?
In some circumstances, a problem with the electrical meter could be the cause of a power outage.
If the cable connecting it to the street power lines or the property is damaged you will be without power. In this case you will need to employ a professional electrician to fix the issue and restore power.
Furthermore, if you notice an unexplained jump in your power bill this could be a result of a fault in your electrical meter either pulling in too much power or a faulty appliance. An electrician will be able to assess the issue and provide a fix if the problem is with the meter.
How Can Electrical Demand Increase?
The electricity requirements of the average home are on the rise. That is mainly down to the amount of modern electrical equipment we use in our homes on a daily basis.
An older switchboard often can’t deal with these increased requirements meaning your circuit breaker will be tripped more often and there is an increased risk of electrical accidents.
If you are renovating or wiring up a new home, the electrical upgrade may require more electricity flow than your current electrical switchboard can handle, causing it to overload.
Sometimes electrical appliances with a higher electrical power rating are required, especially in commercial settings (such as heavy duty cooking equipment, fridges, air conditioners, entertainment systems, lighting, etc). These electrical devices can require their own electrical circuit to be built or else they may overload your switchboard causing electrical fires, blackouts and trips of the fuse box.
Contact Us Today To Book A Licensed Electrician
At 181 Electrical our professional electricians specialise in maintaining and upgrading electrical switchboards, meters and fuse boxes.
Our number one goal is to provide an efficient service that will ensure reliable electricity supply and reduce the risk of electrical accidents.
Our team will identify whether you need a few components of your electrical system fixed or you need the whole unit replaced and recommend only the work required to keep you, your family, workers or patrons safe.
Is it time for an upgrade? Make sure you get a licensed electrical contractor to do the electrical work.
Contact us electrical safety inspections and all required electrical upgrades including installing your new switchboard!