Do I Need to Upgrade My Switchboard in My Sydney Inner West Home?

No matter how much power your home consumes, there is one aspect of the power distribution system that should never be neglected – your switchboard! It is about ensuring that your home remains safe from electrical hazards and fires.

For that, it is necessary to keep your home’s switchboard upgraded and in the best condition at all times.

Switchboard upgrade services are one of the most important tasks an electrician will perform. But how do you know if and when you need an electrical switchboard upgrade?

In this article, we will highlight a few points that you need to keep in mind to determine that.

 

What is an Electrical Switchboard?

Also known as a fuse box, metre box, or breaker box, an electrical switchboard is the hub of the electrical distribution system throughout your home. In other words, it will receive the feed from the local electrical utility, and direct the current across the different internal branch circuits.

Each switchboard has a  maximum voltage rating and a protective circuit breaker or fuse that prevents circuit overloading. In fact, as annoying as it may be, when your safety switch has tripped – it’s protecting you from potential danger.

In Australia, the construction of switchboard assemblies is guided by the AS/NZS 61439 standard. Sticking to these specifications while installing or upgrading your switchboard will not only ensure safety but also prevent any potential penalties for non-compliance.

 

Why Do I Need to Upgrade My Switchboard?

There can be various reasons for a switchboard upgrade.

Quite simply, a switchboard designed 20 years ago may not be capable of handling the current electrical workload of your home. Modern life with modern appliances presents different power requirements that old switchboards were simply not designed for.

In Sydney’s inner west, it’s not uncommon to find switchboards that are decades old!

For example, a house built before 1990 is likely to run on a 100 or 150-amp service. But today, the average home has a 200-amp service and larger homes are shifting to a 300-amp service capacity.

Here are a few important reasons for a switchboard upgrade as per Australia’s energy standards.

  • When a consumer has recently received an electrical defect notice.
  • If there have been any changes in the electrical system in your home or installation of new powerpoints
  • Installation of high-powered electrical appliances like irrigation pumps, air-conditioning units, or heated pools.

 

Beyond these, there are a few other warning signs that you need to watch out for if the switchboard is an old one. It goes without saying that an old switchboard that has not been kept in the best condition is a safety risk. Here are a few points that will tell you that it might be time to upgrade the switchboard.

 

  • If your switchboard is fully packed with a jumble of cables it can be a safety hazard. Inserting additional circuits into the switchboard will also lead to overloading.
  • An old and overloaded switchboard can fail to manage the electricity flow in the branch circuits. This can cause fluctuations in the power flow and flickering lights in your home.
  • An older switchboard is more likely to overload, especially when running modern electrical appliances. Such a board is more likely to trip when running a specific appliance.
  • If the powerpoints are discoloured and feel hot to the touch, a switchboard upgrade may be needed.
  • In case there is a burning smell from the switchboard, it may indicate overloading or a wiring issue. Likewise, sparks coming out of the switchboard indicate a serious problem.
  • If your switchboard is decades old, it may be made of asbestos – this toxic material was widely used in switchboard manufacturing! It is time to upgrade it.

 

Keep in mind, the older standard AS/NZS 3439 will not be referenced for upgrading a switchboard. If you are planning to make any modifications to the older switchboard, they should meet the new AS/NZS 61439 standard. That may require an upgrade to a whole new switchboard.

 

Is an Electrical Switchboard Upgrade Necessary for Installing Solar Power?

To install a PV system, you need a PV-compatible switchboard. Usually, new homes in Sydney have a compatible switchboard. But if your switchboard is older, there may not be space in it for setting up a solar circuit breaker.

In that case, making a switchboard upgrade is the best option to meet the Australian standards for solar installations. Besides, this may be a good opportunity to upgrade the old switchboard.

In some scenarios, a minor upgrade should be good enough to make it solar-ready. Adding an extra housing slot in such a switchboard should be good enough.

 

How Much Does a Switchboard Upgrade Cost?

There is no single answer to this question as the upgrade cost depends on the size and capacity of the switchboard being installed. In some cases, a switchboard upgrade can lead to additional modifications in the electrical distribution system, which will add to the cost.

The cost will also depend on the type of switchboard chosen. A good quality switchboard can easily withstand abuse for 25 years, provided you maintain it right.

The price of the switchboards available in the market will vary, depending on the brand and quality. We suggest you do not compromise on quality and choose a product from a reputed brand. Costs include the switchboard itself and the cost of labour.

The main types of switchboards available are air-insulated, cast resin, and metal-enclosed ones. Air-insulated switchboards are the cheapest option and are easy to install. Cast resin switchboards have better heat and moisture resistance. The metal-enclosed switchboards are the most expensive ones because of their high durability.

Note, upgrading a switchboard is not a DIY job and it requires a licensed electrician to get the job done in the best possible way. Unless you are qualified to handle and modify electrical circuits, tackling the project on your own can be dangerous.

Typically, a switchboard replacement gets completed within 3-5 hours, but it’s best to check these estimates with your electrician. Make sure to ask for a compliance certificate once the electricians have completed the task. This ensures that the work was done in accordance with the codes.

 

Tips for an Electrical Switchboard Upgrade

Here are a few considerations to make sure that the process of switchboard upgrade is conducted safely and efficiently.

  • Allow the licensed electrician to check the existing switchboard. Then, they will analyse the power load of your property and determine the types of breakers or fuses you will need to prevent overloading.
  • Consider if you need any additional features that you might need. These can be a surge protection system, an RCD, or an earth leakage circuit breaker (ELCB).
  • Plan for future needs by anticipating future demands depending on the. The effects of climate change can lead to higher summer temperatures in Sydney in the coming years, resulting in a demand for increased efficiency of air conditioning systems. Having expansion capabilities in your switchboard or choosing a modular design will reduce future costs.
  • Consider choosing energy-efficient options and smart-home technologies to make your electrical system more efficient. While this can raise the costs of the switchboard upgrade, it will lead to long-term energy savings.
  • If you are on a tight budget, proceed with the essential upgrades first. The non-essential upgrades can be done in multiple stages in the future.

 

Conclusion

If your old switchboard is falling apart, it can be a serious fire hazard. Replacing the switchboard with a new one by taking professional help will enhance your home’s electrical safety. Knowing that your switchboard is working at an optimal level is the best way to keep your family safe.

Electrical switchboard technology has evolved significantly in the past few years with a focus on energy efficiency and green technology. Whether you are moving into a new home or upgrading your own home, it is time you take advantage of the advanced features of modern switchboards.