A fusebox, more commonly known these days as a consumer unit is an important part of your domestic electrical circuits. Previously, all wiring emanated from one central location, the fusebox. This ensured that if faults occurred in any circuit, the corresponding fuse would blow, rendering the circuit unusable until the user replaced the fuse. Unfortunately, fuses take a second or two to close down a circuit and this is a long time when dealing with electricity. Modern technology introduced the circuit breaker, which cut a damaged circuit in milliseconds, and had replacement costs comparable to the fusebox. This article will show you how much labour and materials cost, how long the work should take and answer quite a few other questions frequently asked by a householder.
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What does the job entail?
First of all, a qualified Part ‘P’ electrician is the only person who can certify a major electrical installation as safe under the UK Building Regulations. It is not necessary for a competent electrician to install a consumer unit, so long as it is checked and certified by one before first use. Having said that, electricity is not something to play around with so the best advice is to leave all electrical work to a professional.
Replacing a domestic fuse box is not a simple task. The typical schedule of work involved in a consumer unit replacement is as follows:
- Visually inspect all existing electrical components.
- Test existing electrics and find all the faults.
- Report the test findings to the customer using an Electrical Inspection Condition Report together with a quotation for all additional work.
- Repair and update anything found faulty in the inspection.
- Remove and replace fusebox with a new consumer unit.
- Test all circuits, earth bonding, and any new consumer unit wiring.
- If everything is okay, issue a building control compliance certificate.
There is no requirement to change an old fusebox for a new electrical consumer unit if the safety inspection proves it is okay to use, but it is advisable to do so.
Costs and cost factors for fitting a consumer unit
The most obvious factor that can alter the cost of this work is whether there are other upgrades or repairs that need to be done. Earth bonding is a common upgrade that may not have been done on old installations. Bonding is the electrical connection of all exposed metal as a precaution against an electrical shock. If all metallic surfaces in a room are connected then if there is a fault, all surfaces will have the same electrical potential and will be incapable of giving a shock. Other factors are the location of the fusebox within the house and its ease of access, the size of the house (how many domestic electrical circuits are present) and whether there are any outside circuits. External circuits need to be considered with many more safety precautions and are outside the scope of this article.
The cost of replacing a fuse box with a modern consumer unit will depend on the size of the house and how many circuits are involved. Let’s assume we have a typical three-bedroom house with six circuits. The electrician has inspected the property and issued an Electrical Inspection Condition Report. There are a few minor faults that are easily fixed but no additional earth bonding is needed.
The average cost of a typical RCD consumer unit fitted with enough circuit breakers for the number of circuits will be about £400 and will probably take less than 4 hours to complete.
For other size consumer units, the following will give you an idea of the prices.
|Six circuit consumer unit
|Ten circuit consumer unit
|Twelve circuit consumer unit
Remember that electrical work in London and the South East will cost more than any other location in the United Kingdom.
Installing a fuse box: regulations and rules
Electricity is potentially the most dangerous thing we can find in our homes. It causes fires, injury and death. Because of this, a suitably qualified electrician is the only person able to certify an electrical installation is safe to use. All electrical installations in the UK must conform to the latest version of the national standard BS 7671. In order to comply with this, all electricians must pass a qualification called the IET Wiring Regulations 18th Edition. This came into force in July 2018 and superseded all other editions. In addition to this, ‘Part P’ of the Building Regulations specifies how the IET Wiring Regulations are applied to domestic properties. A professional must be knowledgable in all these regulations. You can understand now why installing an 18th Edition fuse board or wiring a consumer unit to the 18th Edition standard is best left to the professionals.
Do you need a permit for electrical installations complying with the Building Regulations Part P? Specified within the Regulations are situations defined as ‘notifiable’. This means that the Building Control Officer must be informed before starting, and the work must be signed off as complying with Part P by a qualified person on completion of the work. After the replacement of a new consumer unit, certification must be in place before it is used.
To summarise. The Part ‘P’ Regulations are very strict when dealing with consumer units. A qualified electrician must issue certificates for the total electrical installation and for ‘Part P’ compliance when the installation is complete, and before handing over to the customer.
HS&E considerations when dealing with consumer units
The most important Health and Safety consideration is that the electrician must know what he or she is doing. If they follow the rules and regulations demanded when dealing with electricity then all will be well. The most obvious safety consideration is to disconnect the electrical supply and ensure it cannot inadvertently be turned back on again before work has finished. Other safety considerations which may at first glance appear petty or ‘over-the-top’ are in fact, very important. They include the use of ladders and working at height training if a consumer unit is high up on a wall and confined spaces training in case the consumer unit is located within a small cupboard or in a basement.
The biggest difference we find when replacing rewirable fuses with circuit breakers is that the breakers are far more sensitive. The electrician, therefore, must spend more time repairing any faults in the remainder of the electrical circuits or bring them within acceptable limits.
Whenever electrical work takes place, you will find that there is a certain amount of waste produced. Electrical components must be disposed of according to special waste regulations. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) was introduced into law in the UK in 2003. It sets collection, recovery and recycling targets for all types of electrical goods and electronic components. Electrical components often contain toxic substances that shouldn’t be released into the environment. Furthermore, the vast majority of these materials can be satisfactorily recycled into other electrical components.
Use a professional electrician or DIY?
We have mentioned this many times within this article, but this important topic justifies its own section.
Electricity can potentially be very dangerous if not handled correctly. The Building Regulations ‘Part P’ says that anyone can install electrical systems as long as they notify the Building Control Officer. The Office will then certify them on completion. Alternatively, a qualified and competent person can certify the work as safe. It is always far better to hire a professional in the first place to do the work correctly. By doing the work yourself, you will probably make mistakes and have to employ a professional to put things right. You will also have to pay an electrician to check your work anyway, so you may as well let them do it properly from the start.
Theoretically, you may know what to do, but practically you have little experience when working with electricity. Furthermore, you probably don’t appreciate all its quirks and dangers. Not only that, to check that everything has been done correctly you will need special professional instruments and tools that are too expensive for the amateur.
The answer to this one is therefore simple. Always use a qualified electrician for any electrical job more complicated than changing a plug or fitting a lightbulb.
Where do we find a competent and qualified electrician?
There are many government-approved schemes that certify qualified electricians. Firstly, why should we bother with a fully qualified professional? The simple answer is that you are putting you and your family’s welfare, and your home in the hands of a person who may not know their trade. A registered electrician should always be the first choice for the following reasons:
- The UK governments (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland) regulate the qualifications and the practitioners.
- Their work has regular assessments to prove they are aware of new innovations and standard in the industry.
- They always work to British Standard BS7671.
- They are competent under ‘Part P’ of the Building Regulations.
- They will have full insurance to protect your property.
- You must use a qualified and registered electrician for certain, specified electrical works.
The website “Electrical Safety First” has a registered electrician search tool. This will help you find a competent professional near where you live in the UK.
The Competent Persons Register also has a tool to help you find a competent electrician.
Alternatively, you can visit the websites of various National Organisations which certify electrical contractors.
- National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC).
- Electrical Contractor’s Association (ECA).
Or to make life really easy, use the tool on our website. You can request quotations from three approved and certified professional electricians.
Q. When should I replace my fusebox?
- Essentially, you don’t have to replace a fusebox unless there is something wrong with it. Having said that, If you have an old fusebox you will usually have old wiring. Old installations were perfectly safe when they were originally installed. But as with everything, things deteriorate with age and electrical installations are no exception. Eventually, the insulation breaks down on old wiring. New consumer units use very sensitive switched circuit breakers so if there is anything wrong, the breakers will trip out over and over again. Electrical contact screws within old fuseboxes become worn and loose and cause a potentially unsafe situation. However, if the wiring is satisfactory and all the earth bonding is in place, you will only make your electrical installation safer by upgrading your fusebox to a modern consumer unit.
Q. How much does it cost to buy a new consumer unit?
- This will depend on the size and sophistication of your consumer unit. This, in turn, will depend on the number and type of circuits in your home. For a typical 3 bedroom house with six circuits, a standard consumer unit complete with circuit breakers will set you back about £100 to £150. Don’t forget you will have to pay for installation, checking and certification as well.
Q. What is an electrician’s day rate?
- According to the Office of National Statistics, the average electrician working in the South East of England will charge about £45 per hour or £350 per day. Salaried electricians, on the other hand, earn on average about £32,000 per year.
Q. What basic qualifications does an electrician need?
- The basic qualifications will determine the electrician’s work capability and pay grade.
- Trainee electricians will have the C&G 2365 Diplomas.
- A fully qualified electrician will have a Level 3 NVQ & AM2 (C&G 2357).
- An approved electrician will have the same qualifications as a qualified electrician. Furthermore, he will have periodic inspections and assessments, and the Inspection and Testing qualification C&G 2391.
- To work in a domestic property an electrician must be qualified to ‘Part P’ of the Building Regulations.
Further qualifications and training will improve the earning ability of an electrician. Anyone working in the industry must have C&G 2382-18, 18th Edition.