Consumer Unit Upgrades

Nearly all new domestic electrical work will require RCD protection to comply with the current regulations. Many older consumer units (commonly known as fuse boxes) won't have RCDs, and so will need upgrading (ie replacing) before any work is carried out. RCDs are potentially life saving devices, so having them installed properly and in correct working order is crucial. The best way of complying with the current regulations when having new electrical work done is with a consumer unit upgrade.

Older Types Of Consumer Unit

If your fuse box looks like this, chances are there is no RCD protection to your property, and is an indication of the age of the electrics is your home. By itself, this does not imply the electrics are not safe. However, it would imply that a greatly improved safety factor would be achieved by simply changing to a new, metal, RCD protected consumer unit.

Different Types Of Newer Consumer Units

There are 2 main types of consumer unit available - Dual Split RCD consumer unit, and Individual RCBO consumer unit. Until recently, there has been a significant price difference between these two types of consumer unit, the Individual RCBO consumer unit being quite a lot more expensive to buy. The price difference led many to go with the cheaper option. However, lately the cost difference has become a lot less, so which do you choose?

 

What are the advantages/disadvantages of each?

Dual Split RCD Type
  • Uses 2 RCDs to cover 2 banks of circuits. Which means if any 1 circuit develops an earth fault, the RCD will disconnect all 5 circuits covered by this RCD.

  • The advantage is that it is the cheaper type of consumer unit.

Individual RCBO Type
  • Every individual circuit incorporates its own RCD (an RCBO is an MCB/RCD combo).

  • The advantage is that only the affected circuit will disconnect in the event of an earth fault.

In view of the above comparison, I would in most cases recommend the preferred option of Individual RCBOs, even though a little more expensive.

Surge Protection Devices (SPDs)
 

Something else which has become more prominent in the 18th Edition of the wiring regulations is the subject of surge protection devices. SPDs are mandatory in many types of property. Should you have one fitted in your home? Is it a requirement to have SPDs fitted in your home?

This has been the subject of much debate, as the regulations are not explicit enough to say yes or no, being somewhat open to interpretation. Suffice it to say that many electricians would strongly recommend the installation of an SPD if you are having a new consumer unit, as the cost may well be outweighed by the benefits.

So what are the benefits of having an SPD fitted? An SPD is designed to negate the effects of short duration over-voltages, or spikes. Spikes occur mainly due to lightning strikes in the area. Of course, it is worth noting that no device will protect your electrical equipment from a direct lightning strike to the property. However, a lightning strike in the area can transmit spikes which could result in severe damage to electrical equipment that you have plugged in at the time of the strike. So things like TVs, chargers, microwaves, PCs, laptops may be "fried" and be damaged beyond repair. A correctly specified, and correctly installed SPD offers protection against such damage occurring. The regulations actually state that, for a single dwelling, SPDs should be fitted if the cost of the damage to the equipment is more than the cost of fitting the SPD. This decision is down to the house owner to make.

How much does an SPD cost? If fitted at the same time as a new consumer unit is installed, then the additional cost should be around £100.00.

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