How to Tell if Yours Needs Upgrading

The consumer unit protects your home and family from electric shocks and fire. Is yours still fit for purpose, or is a disaster waiting to happen?

The consumer unit, or fuse box, can save your life in the event of an electrical problem in the home. But like any piece of mechanical equipment, it will wear out and become obsolete over time.

An ageing consumer unit can present hazards instead of protecting from them, and as well as being dangerous, can lead to inconvenience and hassle, with the power constantly tripping off for no obvious reason. Our team of Essex electricians has prepared this guide to help you understand more about what your consumer unit does, as well as how to check if it is time to upgrade it.

What does the consumer unit do?

The consumer unit essentially has two roles. One is to control the electrical distribution throughout your home and the other is to detect any dangerous problem. With a modern consumer unit, this goes beyond simply “tripping” the power supply. Today’s RCD units are so clever that they can detect a faulty appliance before you realise anything is amiss and will activate if someone so much as touches a live cable somewhere in the home.

How can you tell if the consumer unit needs replacing?

Put simply, if the consumer unit does not have an RCD, you need to replace it. If you have one that has a wooden back on it, chances are it is more than 50 years old, so that’s easy – get a new one in there now!

If it doesn’t look as if it came out of the ark, the next thing to check for is a button with T or “test” beside it. If there isn’t one, it means there is no RCD, so you really need to get it replaced.

Testing the RCD

If there is a test button, channel your inner child, and give it a press to see what happens. Now, what should happen is that the power will go out. If it doesn’t, the RCD is faulty, and you need to consult a registered electrician as soon as possible.

Other basic safety checks

Take a look at the wiring around the consumer unit. It is neat, with no bare cable cores exposed? If you have the slightest concerns, don’t touch anything, get an electrician in quickly.

Choosing a new consumer unit

If the above steps indicate that you need a new unit, there are plenty to choose from, and the choice can be enough to put your head into a spin. There is no simple solution as to which is the best one to choose – it largely depends on the size and power usage of your home.

It also depends on the existing wiring and earthing arrangements that exist in your house. This is why you need to sit down with a qualified electrician, who will be able to narrow down the options that will work for your building, whereupon you can choose which one is most appropriate for your needs.