Last Updated May 8, 2018 · Written by Rob Schneider
If you're experiencing electrical problems in the home, it may be time to replace the switchboard. Many switchboards are outdated and can't handle today's electrical needs. Replacing a switchboard can be a significant home improvement and make life go more smoothly for your family.
These are some of the signs to look for that will tell you if you have an outdated switchboard:
We use more electricity today than in the past because we often have more appliances that run on electricity and use more electricity. Even appliances that are not in use may use some electricity. If you have a computer, for example, it will use some electricity and TVs are always ready to be turned on.
We have more kitchen appliances, too, including dishwashers, microwaves, kettles, coffee makers and other appliances. They all use electricity and some homes don't have switchboards that can handle the load.
Then there are other appliances, including washing machines, dryers, electric hot water systems and heating and cooling systems. We also have more lighting in a modern home than we did in the past and often have overhead lights combined with table lights and we often have more lighting in the bathroom and kitchen than we did in the past. All of these can add up to an overloaded switchboard. In some cases, new cabling or new wiring may be needed. The only person qualified to assess the problem is an electrician, who can test your switchboard, cabling and existing wiring.
An electrical switchboard is basically the unit that distributes electricity to the home. It takes mains electricity and distributes it to various places around the house. Modern switchboards have safety switches that protect the home. The safety switch is designed to shut down the switchboard in case it is overloaded, but older switchboards may not have safety switches and can pose a fire hazard. A safety switch can turn off electricity in 0.03 seconds after a change in the electrical current is detected. Older systems are much slower and can be more dangerous.
Safety switches are required by law in Australia, but simply installing safety switches in an existing switchboard may not be enough. It definitely isn't a DIY job and only an electrician can tell you if you need to replace the switchboard, too. Safety switches also have a "test" button and you should test them at least every three months. The test button will simulate an "earth leakage" and turn off the power.
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The prices for the switchboard alone may vary according to their size and capacity:
An electrician can recommend the capacity of switchboard you need. The cost of the switchboard is one cost you will face. The electrician will have to install the switchboard for you. Electricians often charge a service fee of between $70 - $130 and charge hourly rates of between $70 and $95 per hour, but will break the charges down into 15 minute increments. In general, replacing a switchboard costs between $900 and $1200, including a 12 pole switchboard. If you need another type of switchboard, the cost could be higher or if you need 3-phase power, the cost will also be higher.
An electrician should be able to give a fixed rate for installing a switchboard and will offer a warranty for the switchboard and their labour. They may also have to inspect cabling and wiring to make sure the switchboard is right for your home.
Some cabling may be needed and that can cost in the range of $2000 to $2500, including the switchboard replacement.
If your house needs to be rewired, the cost can be higher. Australian Standards apply to house rewiring and if your house has old wiring, it may not comply with Australian Standards. Homes older than 40 years should be rewired, but even newer homes may need to be rewired if they rely on extension cords with several powerpoints for electricity because the powerpoints can be too much for the wiring to handle and could pose a danger.
How do you know if you need to have the house rewired? Along with the points mentioned above for switchboards, a house may need rewiring if:
Instead of putting rewiring off, have it done as soon as possible, because old wiring can pose a fire danger. While rewiring may be expensive, it is far less expensive than having a house or part of a house burn down.
Generally, houses are rewired with copper wiring. Copper is expensive, so the wiring alone can cost around $600 for a three-bedroom house. Quotes for rewiring can vary from $4000 to $8000, so get quotes from several electricians and choose an electrician who is experienced at rewiring homes.
All electricians must hold a licence in every state. However, not all electricians are alike and it may be worth spending a little more on a more experienced electrician. When choosing an electrician they should:
All of these things are important, but a compliance certificate will tell you that the electrician has installed a switchboard or re-wired the house according to Australian Standards. The compliance certificate may vary depending on the state, but it is mandatory and is your assurance the job has been done correctly. Any reputable electrician will carry insurance and they will give a firm quote after they have inspected the switchboard and wiring. A good electrician will be happy to provide you with references you can contact to find out about the quality of their work.
When you get quotes from electricians, they may give you an online quote first, but it probably won't be accurate. They will want to visit your home and inspect your switchboard and possibly your wiring. If two or more electricians recommend rewiring, it's something you should consider because a switchboard may not be enough to fix the problems in your house and you may face the same problems after the switchboard is installed. Since rewiring quotes can vary so much, choose an electrician who is experienced and offers a lower quote. A lower quote is not necessarily a sign of a less competent electrician and may be a sign of a more honest electrician, but check their references to be sure.
*Costs and prices in this article are indicative and should only be used as a guide. They also vary locally and are subject to market forces.
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