Aussies are some of the biggest consumers of electricity worldwide. We’re constantly updating and buying electrical appliances, and this shows in growing quarterly bills. The majority of electrical power is still produced by coal-fired power stations and delivered to your home through the grid. Street transformers convert the high voltage into usable power that is fed to your mains connection box or fuse box located on an external wall. These are just some of the electrical enclosures that you’d find in your home electrical installation. Enclosures provide a safe connection to the power grid, and are the starting and ending points of the wiring in your home.
Fuse and Meter Boxes
Most of us have been through a power outage, and a fuse box is the first thing we check. These are the metal boxes fixed on an external wall or somewhere accessible, like inside a garage. They contain meters, circuit breakers, and a mains switch and all the wiring inside the house ends here. Most meter boxes can be locked, so they won’t be tampered with, and accessed by the power company employees in case of faults, or when reading meters. The mains switch enables homeowners to cut off the power to the house or unit when doing repairs or upgrading the electrical installation to ensure maximum safety. It is also the switch that you flick if the electrical supply has been tripped. Individual circuits should be labelled according to the room or appliance, like boilers or ovens.
Circuit breakers are installed to protect fuses when there’s a surge in the current or an electrical fault. There are various kinds of circuit breakers depending on the type of circuit and the integrated safety features. Common in homes are single, double and three pole circuit breakers. Larger appliances and those that need more power to operate, are connected to double or triple pole breakers. Circuit breakers and the mains switch make up the switchboard. Often meter boxes contain these along with any meters, though meters can be contained within their own enclosures, separate from the fuse box.
Since they’re located outside, fuse and meter boxes need to be made of durable materials. They’re built of high-grade galvanised steel in 1 or 1.2mm thickness, and can be powder coated to stay intact against high temperatures and humidity. When closed they have an IP23 protection rating, meaning high resistance to impact.
To meet new electrical standards, switchboards are often the first things changed in your home’s electrical installation. Older houses often have switchboards with ceramic fuses that offer only a basic level of protection during an overload. These can fail often and are not designed to withstand the current draw from newer and more appliances. If lights flicker, or appliances turn off or on, it’s time to replace the switchboard and meter box with a newer version. Failing to do some can lead to electrical shock or fires.
Distribution boards are electrical enclosures that split the power supply from the mains board into multiple secondary circuits. They’re also known as panel boards, breaker panels or just electrical panels. Inside you’ll find circuit breakers, fuses and other circuit protection devices like RCDs that cut off the power to a particular circuit while allowing electricity to flow to the rest of the house. Distribution boards are located in different parts of the home. For instance, there may be a distribution board on each floor of a two-storey house splitting the wiring into two separate units. These are also installed in garages or sheds with several sockets that need to run things like power tools or pumps.
For better aesthetics, distribution boards are available as surface mounted or recessed boards and different colours to blend in with interior walls. They have one or several transparent doors, depending on the amount of wiring. Circuit breakers and fuses installed here are more sensitive to smaller changes in current, so detect and switch off the circuit quickly without any further damage. They’re also labelled so you’ll know where exactly the fault is. In terms of materials and build, surface mounted distribution boards have higher water ingress and temperature ratings, since they’ll be mostly used outside, whereas recessed boards are adequate for indoor use. Both are made of either durable polycarbonates or metals and are resistant to fire.
Other Electrical Enclosures
These include junction boxes, used for splicing wires in circuits, and often located in outer walls or garages and adaptable weatherproof boxes with an IP66 rating, installed for pools or hot tubs.
Electrical enclosures need to offer enhanced safety features. They are built to a standard, and of different materials and sizes depending on use. Switchboards will have space for electrical protection devices in higher output, and enough space when renovating and adding new circuits to your home installation. Look for established brands sold in Australia that are compatible with the appropriate circuit breakers, fuses, MCBs, RCDs and mains switches. Distribution boards are offered in shapes and colours to suit any interior, and like switchboards, they will have the inbuilt safety and flexibility when upgrading down the road. Look for electrical enclosures in hardware and electrical stores and have them installed or repaired by a qualified electrician.