5 Things Your Switchboard Needs to Keep Your Home and Workspace Safe
Updated: Sep 29
Safety, safety, safety! It's important and something every homeowner and business owner are always thinking about. Obviously, it's important that your home or business is safe, but electrical safety probably isn't something that springs to mind right away.
In New South Wales, every household and business MUST keep their premises safe and electrical-hazard-free as per the Wiring Rules, better recognised as the electrical standards that look like this – AS/NZS 3000:2018. The Wiring Rules are the technical rules that help electricians design, construct and verify electrical installations. The Wiring Rules are constantly being updated every few years to ensure safe electrical installations and practices, and your property must meet these standards.
The electrical safety of your property starts and ends with the switchboard. According to the latest Wiring Rules, AS/NZS 3000:2018, if you wish to add any electrical power outlet to your house or make any changes to your switchboard, you are legally required to contact an electrician to upgrade your switchboard.
If you don't know what a switchboard is or what it does, that's okay! To put it simply, a switchboard is the control centre for your home's electricity. A switchboard acts as a central 'hub' for all your electrical wiring and directs electricity from the main supply on the street to where it needs to go around your house, such as power outlets, the hot water system, lights, stoves, and so on.
Before we tell you what your switchboard needs to keep your home and workspace safe. It's important to understand what requires you to upgrade your switchboard.
How do I know if I need to upgrade my switchboard?
If you're looking at acquiring new or bigger appliances, or perhaps you simply need a new power point in your home, then you will need to invest in a switchboard upgrade. If your switchboard is aged or you still have ceramic fuses, then your home does not meet the current Australian Standards. This is a hazard and could potentially be very dangerous.
Some of the reasons you may need to upgrade your switchboard are:
If you have an older switchboard, there is a high likelihood that it will get overloaded because it wasn’t designed to cope with all the new-age appliances
Lower fire and shock risk, as newer switchboards have inbuilt safety switches
Lower risk of your circuit breaker constantly tripping
Lower chance of fuses blowing due to overloading
Older-style switchboards aren't compliant with current regulations and aren't always conducive with new smart meters
Some solar power options require newer switchboards to function
As we mentioned before, your switchboard is the main control centre for your home - if it isn’t working properly, there can be more than one issue all around your home!
What does my switchboard need to keep me safe and meet Australian Standards?
The most important thing when upgrading your switchboard is that you have a licensed and qualified electrician carry out the initial inspection and the upgrade. Not only will this ensure that your switchboard is upgraded correctly, but that it also complies with Australian Standards AS/NZS 3000:2018.
Here are the five things your switchboard needs to keep your home and workplace safe:
1. Circuit Breaker Main Switch
Whether you have three-phase or single-phase wiring to your house, your main switch must be a circuit breaker.
The main objective of a circuit breaker is to have overload protection and short circuit
protection. Essentially the Amp rating of your circuit breaker is in reference to the size of your property's incoming consumer mains (the main electricity line powering up your house or office).
Each cable is rated at a different amount of load it can withstand depending on the cable size. Making sure that your MAIN switch at your switchboard is a circuit breaker ensures that in case of any overload current from all your other circuits combined, the incoming cable will not melt or be damaged given its protection on overload.
If a circuit breaker picks up load coming through its unit, it will automatically turn off providing the protection needed for the cable.
USEFUL HINT: If the main switch ever turns off on its own and you are certain there is no overload or short circuit at the property, the main switch could be faulty.
2. Safety Switches / RCD's / RCBO's
An RCD otherwise known as a Safety switch is the protection device in your switchboard that saves lives and shuts off before any potential electrocution or bodily harm can be done.
They must be installed in your switchboard protecting all your circuits. A safety switch will pick up on any Earth leakage current that runs through any of your switchboard circuits, Ie. If electricity has gotten in contact with something it shouldn’t.
A safety switch is designed to trip at around 0.3 of a second, this is the legal obligation of the device, any longer and the risk of harm could be done.
Safety switches should be tested every 6 months by pushing the T (test button) on the device, ensuring that the internal mechanisms of the unit are always staying operational.
Safety switch checks should also be done regularly by a licensed electrician to measure the trip rate of the unit ensuring it stays under its range of 0.3 of a second.
When upgrading your switchboard it's recommended to install RCBO’s for each of your circuits, these are Safety switches that have circuit breaker functionalities as well, giving you earth leakage protection as well as short circuit and overload protection.
3. Main Earthing System
In the earlier days, homes would use their main earth (ground) as the copper water pipes for the property. This is no longer the case due to updated Australian wiring rules. An earthing system for a property should measure less than 0.5 Ohm and the correct way to have an earthing system installed in a property would be the following:
1.6m full copper earth rod dug into the soil/ ground ensuring at least 1.2m of the rod is under the ground while the rest can be left above ground for connection
6mm Earth cabling from your earth connection in your switchboard clamped onto the copper earth rod using the correct sized earthing clamps and earth tag
Equipotential bond connection on the property copper water pipe in 6mm earth wiring to be continuous from earth connection and clamped using the correct sized earthing clamp for the pipe
Correct Labeling in switchboard describing the location of Main earth Connection
Switchboard enclosure earthed in 6mm earth cabling (if switchboard Is a conductive material)
MEN link between the neutral and the main earth connections in the switchboard in 6mm earth cabling
USEFUL HINT: Ensuring that your property is earthed will prevent any tingles or zaps on metallic fixings throughout, also making sure all electrical protection devices will be working to their potential.
4. Surge Protectors
Surge protectors are undervalued and often looked over, despite being an extremely valuable device that can save you a lot of money and headache.
A surge protector is a device installed in your switchboard that is designed to take the 'hit' when any spike in electricity may randomly occur in your incoming lines. Things that may encourage a spike in electricity usually include thunderstorms and bad weather affecting the energy suppliers power.
A spike in electricity (an insanely high amount of voltage) can be shot down your incoming electrical lines for a split second which can result in electronic devices throughout the house becoming fried sporadically.
The Surge protector will eliminate the spike entering your house protecting all your household appliances and electronics.
USEFUL HINT: Each power taken to a property will need its own surge protector. e.g. Single-phase homes only need one surge protector, whereas three-phase homes will need three.
Surge protection is the best defence for home electronics and appliances against lightning and other electrical spikes.
5. Correct Labelling
Being an electrical company proud of our standards, we’ve seen it all and a pet hate of ours is incorrect or poor labelling on switchboards.
Each circuit in your switchboard should be labelled clearly corresponding to the area it takes care of, such as lights, power, stove, hot water, etc.
All RCD protected circuits must be labelled in a green background describing what that circuit is for – the green represents the circuit being RCD (safety switch) protected.
The one thing you want to avoid as an occupier of the property or as an electrician is coming to do work at the property and turning off the wrong circuit. This may cause inconvenience or run a safety risk.
For instance, if the light circuit was being worked on and the electrician goes to the switchboard to try and turn the circuit for the lights off, to only find each of the circuits labelled as ‘power’, each circuit will then need to be turned off to check which one controls the lights (very frustrating!).
USEFUL HINT: Circuits cannot be mixed. All general power outlets (10A power points) must be on a dedicated circuit only for power. All lights throughout the house must be on a dedicated circuit only for lights. The same goes of course for hot water, air conditioning, stoves, etc.
What to expect from a switchboard upgrade
The integrity of the wiring in a house, especially at the switchboard, is crucial to ensuring your family’s safety. Some switchboards and fuses are very outdated and not safe. In order to provide maximum safety for you, your family and your home, you need to have your switchboard upgraded by a licensed electrician.
Here's what you can expect from a switchboard upgrade:
Before we begin any upgrades, we perform a detailed safety inspection throughout your house to check for any other safety issues or potential electrical hazards
Power to your house will be isolated at your main switchboard so that we can conduct the switchboard upgrade safely
We will remove all of the old circuit protection devices (fuses).
We install new circuit breakers and RCDs
Your circuits will be reconnected into circuit breakers or, circuit breaker/RCD combination breakers. This ensures the safety of people and meets the updated electrical standards (according to AS NZS 3000:2018)
We will inspect the MEN (Main Earthed Neutral) system and ensure that your main earthing conductor (electrode) is still in good condition, as per updated electrical standards. This may also have to be upgraded, to ensure that your home is electrically grounded
The entire installation will require 7 mandatory electrical tests that we will carry out to ensure adequate protection, verifying that there are no faults or underlying issues
We clearly label your switchboard so that you and other electricians know which switches control areas of the house
A standard switchboard upgrade will take anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete
How much will a switchboard inspection cost?
We hate to be vague, but, it depends. There are multiple factors that influence the cost of a switchboard upgrade such as the switchboard size and capacity, age of the property, cost of components, the electrician's rate, and so on. Depending on what is required, you can expect a standard switchboard upgrade to start at around $700.
It's also important to note that if your property is over 40 years old, it may also need to be rewired at the same time. Older properties should be rewired and it's worth asking your electrician to take a look while they're there as the existing wiring may not meet Australian Standards.
At Oztech Sparks Electrical, we carry out an inspection before working on any switchboard to identify any other potential electrical hazards and to provide you with a detailed and accurate on-site quote.
There you have it! Everything you need to know about switchboard upgrades! Thank you for reading this article. We hope that this added value and strengthened your understanding of electrical. If you want to know more information, make sure you reach out to us to have your questions answered or to arrange an Electrical Safety Inspection.
Contact us at email@example.com or call us on 1300 698 324.
Was this article helpful? Let us know, we would love to hear from you. You can also download the e-book for free!