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Switchboard Upgrade – What Is It And When Do You Need One?

A switchboard is the focal point of any building where the entire electrical distribution of all wires come together. Strictly speaking, it’s the brains behind all your electrics that takes the mains electricity from outside and distributes it to every electrical power outlet in your home or business.

They contain safety switches, fuses, or circuit breakers which are usually located at the front of the property. Once you start making upgrades to your home or business, you will need a switchboard upgrade to cater for the change in power so that the existing circuits don’t overload and cause a hazard.

What Is a Switchboard Upgrade?

A switchboard upgrade is an upgraded version of any current switchboard. Switchboard upgrades are a legal requirement in Australia for homeowners that want to make amendments to their switchboard, add more electrical power outlets in their home, acquire bigger appliances for their home, or if their current switchboard is old.

These upgrades happen to enable an RCD (residual current device) safety switch in the upgraded switchboard to provide homeowners with maximum safety for their families.

For example, in case of potentially dangerous hazards like an electrical fire or electrical shock that occur when the current switchboard still uses ceramic fuses and from power overloads due to higher-powered appliances.

Why Do You Need to Upgrade Your Switchboard?

Since technology has taken the world by storm in the past 20 years, the power consumption for these appliances has also increased. This has led to overconsumption and a demand for more power outlets in homes due to acquiring more technological equipment.

The old ceramic and porcelain fuses in switchboards are not equipped to cater for these technological upgrades and therefore require an upgrade to a modern switchboard that will cater for the growing electricity demands.

Under the new laws of Australia’s Energy Standards, a switchboard upgrade is required if you:

  • Upgrade to higher-powered electrical goods
  • Receive an electrical defect notice
  • Plan on installing a new power-point.

Common reasons for upgrading your switchboard

There are several reasons why a switchboard upgrade is necessary, such as:

  • Your switchboard is old and uses ceramic-style fuses.
  • Your fuse or circuit breakers trip when using many appliances at the same time.
  • Flickering lights happen randomly around the house.
  • Your electrical equipment shorts frequently.
  • You hear a buzzing noise coming from the central hub switchboard.
  • The fuses blow more frequently than before.
  • The cables within the switchboard become overheated due to power overloads.
  • You want to install more power outlets around your home.
  • You have a need or desire for larger electrical goods that have a higher power consumption.

As the world develops bigger and better electrical goods, switchboards need to adapt to these changes in order to cater for more powerful appliances and prevent electrocution or electrical fires from happening.

Switchboard Upgrade - What Is It And When Do You Need One? 1

Why Are Ceramic Fuses Not Safe?

Ceramic fuses were installed in Australian homes in the late 19th century as a safety device. As times have changed, these fuses have become obsolete in the technological world due to greater power consumption demands.

These fuses were good 20-odd years ago, as they only tripped the power when a short circuit or overload happened. Still, nowadays, with current electricity demands, these fuses are not built to handle them – and thus trip at any minor electrical usage.

For these reasons and the fact that the old switchboards don’t have circuit breakers, the ceramic fuse is deemed unsafe for 20th-century requirements.

What Is An RCD?

A residual current device (RCD) is a switch (a life-saving switch) that’s installed in switchboards as a safety device to prevent any damage happening to people in the house and the switchboard due to an imbalance of power.

RCDs monitor the flow of electricity and protect against electrical strikes when storms occur, an overload of power, electric shocks, and fires by immediately shutting off, which significantly reduces the risk of serious injury or death.

Other Switchboard Safety Devices

Switchboards have two other safety devices called fuses and circuit breakers that are designed to protect electrical goods and families from electrocution.


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Circuit Breakers

A circuit breaker is an upgrade to the fuse and also trips when the current is larger than usual, with the electromagnet in the circuit breaker pulling to break contact.

What’s Involved In a Switchboard Upgrade Process?

A switchboard upgrade process replaces the ceramic fuses for RCDs and circuit breakers along with other components.

Switchboard Upgrade Extras Include

Asbestos Panel Replacement

If your home was built more than 25 years ago, the switchboard in your home likely has an asbestos panel. This is a highly hazardous material and needs to be removed by a professional electrician (level 2) and upgraded to a modern switchboard.

Upgrading Your Consumer Mains

Older homes were fitted with electrical switchboards that were supplied with a maximum of 40A using a 6mm cable from the consumer mains. If you’re thinking of installing a pool, air conditioning units, or other large appliances, you will probably need to upgrade your consumer mains. The consumer mains is what connects the service lines from the street to your home.

Upgrades and Protection for Cables

It may be necessary to upgrade the cables in the switchboard if they have been previously tampered with by a DIY electrician and because the rewiring of the cables may cause damage or a potential fire due to overheating.

3-Phase Switchboard Upgrades: What Are They?

A 3-phase switchboard upgrade has three active wires and one neutral. These upgrades are designed with more power to successfully run lots of electrical systems and appliances in larger properties and buildings.

The benefits of installing a 3-phase switchboard

  • A 3-phase switchboard is more energy-efficient than a standard switchboard.
  • No matter how many electrical systems or appliances are in use, the power supply will not drop below zero.
  • There are fewer cables involved in the installation process, which means 3-phase switchboards are quicker to install.
  • A 3-phase switchboard is far more reliable and powerful than its counterparts.

What Are the Costs of a Switchboard Upgrade?

In most cases, when upgrading your switchboard, you will likely require a level 2 electrician, which will cost you more money. Depending on where in Australia you live, the price can vary significantly.

The average electrical switchboard upgrade costs around $800-$1900, depending on the type of upgrade required and how experienced your local electrician is.

As an example, here is what you can expect to pay for an electrical switchboard upgrade if you need:

  • 5 circuits/poles + main switch installed – around $800
  • 6-10 circuits/poles + main switch installed – around $1200
  • 11-15 circuits/poles + main switch installed – around $1300.

For bigger upgrades:

  • A fuse box upgrade – $800-$1900
  • A switchboard relocation – $2000-$4000
  • A 3-phase switchboard – $3000- $4500.

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How long does a switchboard upgrade installation take?

Generally speaking, it should take approximately 2-4 hours, depending on the type of installation and your existing infrastructure.

Is a switchboard upgrade a legal requirement?

It is only a legal requirement to upgrade your switchboard under Australia’s Energy Standard for any of the following reasons:

  • You have received an electrical defect notice
  • You need to install major electrical appliances
  • You need to install a new power outlet.

Can any electrician install a 3-phase switchboard?

No, it is mandatory that a level 2 electrician installs, replaces or upgrades a 3-phase switchboard.

What is an electrical defect notice?

A defect notice is a notice issued to homeowners stating that their electrical installations don’t comply with Australia’s safety standards and must be corrected as soon as possible by a qualified electrician.

Why Upgrade Your Switchboard

If your home was built more than 25 years ago and your switchboard hasn’t been upgraded since then, it is a good idea to contact your local electrician company to upgrade to a newer switchboard.

Doing so will protect you and your family from any unforeseen hazards that occur from using older switchboards. Although you might have to spend a considerable sum of money, you’ll be keeping yourself and your family protected against electrical fires and other issues such as asbestos exposure.

For more information on how switchboard upgrades, contact Fix Electrical Contractors today!

Adrian Faull
Adrian Faull

Adrian Faull is the founder of Fix Electrical Contractors. He is proud to lead a team of qualified electricians and support team that are experts in the field, who will work with you to ensure you’re getting the best electrical solution for your needs.

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