Are you considering upgrading or replacing the consumer unit in your home or your business? The consumer unit, also known as a fuse box or distribution board, is a critical component of your electrical system. It's responsible for safely distributing electricity to various circuits and protecting your home from electrical hazards like overloads and short circuits.Whether you're new to this type of equipment and looking to understand this essential device or a seasoned veteran considering an upgrade, this ultimate consumer unit guide will walk you through everything you need to know about consumer units (and what you should consider before buying one).Continue reading to find out concerning: What are consumer units?Key consumer units definitions. Main types of consumer units.18th Edition Consumer Unit Regulations.4 key consumer unit buying tips.What to look for in a consumer unit.What is the best consumer unit to buy?What are consumer units?Consumer units, also known as fuse boards, fuse boxes or consumer control units, are essential components of residential and commercial electrical systems. They serve as the central point for controlling and distributing electricity throughout a building. Their primary purpose is to protect the electrical circuits from overloading and short circuits, ensuring the safety of both the occupants and the property.Consumer units can be segregated into 2 main types. The domestic consumer units, which are usually smaller fuse boxes suitable for residential properties, and the industrial consumer units, are suitable for large-scale commercial applications.Inside a consumer unit, there are multiple parts from the main switch to your circuit breakers. In the event of an electrical fault or overload, the circuit breaker or fuse automatically trips, cutting off the electricity supply to that circuit, thereby preventing any potential hazards like electrical fires or damage to appliances.Key consumer unit definitionsRCDs? RCBOs? MCBs? What is all this? Luckily, we’ve put together an easily digestible glossary so you can understand the key acronyms you’ll need to understand when buying a consumer unit.A main switch is the primary switch controlling the electrical supply of your building. Your consumer unit is controlled by the main switch.A residual current device (RCD) is a feature inside a consumer unit that switches off the power immediately when noticing a defect or fault.A mini circuit breaker (MCB), also known as a fuse, protects individual circuits in your building from overloads and faults. The average house has about 6 circuits, each controlled by a circuit breaker.A residual current circuit breaker with overload (RCBO) combines the best of RCD and MCB protection into one device in order to safeguard individual circuits from overload.A surge protection device (SPD) is a feature in some consumer units that protects against power surges, especially useful in areas where there are frequent lightning strikes.A bus bar is a feature inside consumer units you’ll rarely see. It is a long copper strip that looks like a set of teeth, which are used to lock into place the main switch, RCDs and circuit breakers.Main types of consumer unitsThere are four primary types of consumer units available on the market. These include:1. Main switch consumer unitsThe main switch consumer unit, sometimes called the main switch fuse box, serves as the primary control point for your entire electrical system, allowing you to turn off the electricity supply to the entire premises quickly and safely. It features the well-known mains on/off switch.This main switch is designed to handle the total electrical load of the building and is capable of shutting off all the electrical circuits at once. In case of emergencies, maintenance work, or any other situations that require a complete power shutdown, the main switch can be easily turned off, cutting off the electricity supply to all the individual circuits connected to the consumer unit.2. Dual RCD consumer unitsYour dual RCD consumer unit features a main switch and two RCDs. It allows for the creation of two banks of circuits, rather than just one. Each of the circuits is protected by its own RCD, which trips if it detects any leakage (thereby preventing any damage done to your system).The benefit of having a dual RCD unit is that if one circuit overloads and trips, only half of your devices will be affected.It is a more cost-effective consumer unit option than some of the other options.3. High-Integrity consumer unitsA high-integrity consumer unit provides you with not two, but three, banks of circuits, providing your system with the protection of two banks of RCBs and also RCBOs.This unit is popular for homeowners and businesses because it is cost-effective and also provides for a complete separation of your most critical circuits.4. RCD incomer consumer unitsAn RCD incomer consumer unit is best when you only have a small amount of circuits. They are useful for places like sheds, small offices, workshops and garages.Unlike the other consumer units, it does not have a main switch. The board is instead controlled by a single RCD. There is no circuit separation with this unit, which means any residual current fault will cut the power to each and every other circuit.It is not recommended to rely on an RCD incomer consumer unit in your main dwelling or office building.18th Edition Consumer Unit RegulationsFrom 28 March 2022, the 18th edition Consumer Unit Regulations apply to the design, erection and verification of electrical installation. They must comply with British Standard (BS) 7671:2018+A2:2022 (also known as the IET Wiring Regulations).Broadly, these regulations require that your electrical circuits are protected from:OverloadResidual current leakageThis is because overload can cause fires, and residual current leakage can lead to nasty electric shocks.If you are purchasing a consumer unit for your home, you’ll need to make sure it is made from a non-combustible material, and this means having a robust enclosure in place. This is obviously so any fires that occur within the unit are contained.The main changes in the 18th edition that differ from the 17th edition include:The requirement for a risk assessment to be carried out in order to assess if your property is at risk of transient overvoltage from things like switching loads and lightning strikes. If so, then surge protection will need to be installed.The installation of Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) in consumer units in certain circumstances in order to protect your property from fire, burns and overheating as a result of ‘arc faults’ (which basically refers to the situation where your connections are loose or your wiring is faulty, leading to ‘arcing’ or sparking).The requirement for cable support systems (including your building’s cable and cable management) to be built from materials to protect against premature collapse in the event of a fire.The requirement for RCD protection in socket outlets with a rated current not exceeding 32A and lighting circuits within homes.Can I still use 17th edition consumer units?Yes, but only in non-domestic environments such as offices.Any new consumer unit that you install in a domestic setting such as your home will need to comply with the 18th edition consumer unit regulations.Also note, that there is technically no such thing as a “17th edition” or “18th edition” consumer unit.4 key consumer unit buying tipsBefore purchasing and installing a consumer unit, careful planning and consideration are essential to ensure a safe and efficient electrical system for your property.Here are key buying tips to keep in mind prior to your purchase:1. Consider the number of consumer units you'll needIn most residential settings, a single consumer unit is sufficient to cater to the electrical needs of the entire home. However, in larger or more complex properties, or in cases where separate electrical supplies are required for specific areas, you might need more than one consumer unit.For example, if your property has multiple outbuildings or an annex with its own electrical requirements, a separate consumer unit for those areas may be necessary.2. Decide on the location of your consumer unitsThe location of your consumer unit is crucial for both accessibility and safety. Consumer units are often installed in easily accessible areas, like utility rooms, garages or ground-floor storage cupboards. The chosen location should allow sufficient space for working around the unit during installation, maintenance, or emergencies.If you plan to install a consumer unit in a shed or a more remote area to the main dwelling, it is essential to choose a unit specifically designed for such environments (such as an RCD incomer consumer unit).3. Determine the number of banks of circuits you’ll needConsumer units are divided into banks of circuits, each controlled by a separate circuit breaker or fuse. It is often worth having more banks than you originally consider necessary just in case your circuit layout changes or expands sometime in the future.4. Determine your circuit prioritiesWhen configuring your consumer unit, it's essential to prioritize critical circuits for safety and convenience. Circuits supplying essential services like security alarms, smoke detectors, emergency lighting or medical equipment may need to be given higher priority.These priority circuits should be separately protected and easily identifiable within the consumer unit. In the event of a fault or overload, this prioritization ensures that crucial services remain operational while non-essential circuits may be isolated.What to look for in a consumer unitUltimately, when buying a consumer unit, you’ll need to look at whether:The consumer units comply with the 18th edition consumer unit regulations (as explained above)The units can suitably manage the electrical demands of your residential, commercial or industrial propertyThe units are able to protect your property and its occupants from dangerous hazards such as fire and electric shocks.It may also be worth factoring in where the units are being manufactured and how long the company has been around as this will impact your ability to easily source replacement partsWhat is the best consumer unit to buy?The best consumer unit to buy for your property hinges on several critical factors, and each installation may have unique considerations. The size of your property, the number of electrical circuits required and the specific electrical demands play a pivotal role in determining the ideal consumer unit. We hope this consumer unit guide has given you some guidance so you can choose which unit is right for you.Here at Sparks Direct, we offer a comprehensive range of consumer units on our online store, catering to various installation needs and preferences.Some of the terrific brands we offer include consumer units made by Hager, MK, Schneider, Wylex, and BG Electrical.We are also committed to helping you find the perfect consumer unit to meet your needs.Should you have any questions or need expert guidance during the selection process, our team of knowledgeable professionals is readily available to assist you, ensuring that your consumer unit installation is a seamless and efficient process.
It is well known that combining water and electricity is a recipe for disaster, as water is highly conductive. This means the bathroom - where water is in excess use - is possibly the most dangerous room in the house in terms of electrical safety. It is not only the chance of receiving an electric shock that is higher in the bathroom. The consequences are also far more severe in a bathroom or shower room, as wet skin reduces the body’s resistance to shocks. In this article (inspired from the article on Bathroom Safety, via ESF website), we will advise you on how to stay safe using electrical appliances and devices in your bathroom. Electrical safety in the bathroom: electrical installations and sockets Electrical installations in bathrooms must comply with special requirements that are explained in Part P of the UK Building Regulations. We highly recommend that you use an electrician registered with one of the government-approved schemes to carry out electrical installations. You can find out more about these schemes by visiting the Electrical Safety First (ESF) Find an Electrician page. The next thing to think about is sockets and their placement. Socket outlets should not be permitted in bathrooms or shower rooms (apart from shaver-supply units). This is unless they can be fitted a minimum distance of three metres from the bath or shower. Shaver sockets without transformers should not be used in a wet area such as a shower room or bathroom. When choosing a shaver socket for a bathroom, look at the British Standard BS3535 to see if it is compliant. Any shaver points must be a safe distance from the bath or shower to avoid splashes, which could damage the socket. Electrical safety in the bathroom: Lights When it comes to lights and light fittings in the bathroom, first of all, you should look at their IP rating and ensure they are at least IP44 rated or above. Any light within Zone 1 (the area above the bath or shower to a height of 2.25m from the floor) should be IP65+ rated. We sell a variety of bathroom downlights that are suitable for bathroom use at Sparks. For instance, the Kamo Brushed Nickel downlight has an impressive IP65 rating, protecting it from strong shower spray. It can also hold an energy-saving 6W LED, to save you on running costs. Enclosed or recessed ceiling lights are preferable to suspended lights. This is because they are less likely to experience water splashes. All light fittings which are not enclosed should be placed out of reach of someone using the bathroom, that is, someone who is wet. This is especially important if you are just coming out of the bath or shower. Light switches could be a problem because of the hazard posed by dampness and wet hands. An electrical fault with the light switch could well result in an electrical shock in these cases. It is not recommended to have any wall-mounted switch in the bathroom. This means that a ceiling-mounted pull-cord switch is the safest option, as your wet hands will not be touching a conductive material. Electrical Safety in the bathroom: Electric showers Electric showers require their own electrical circuit, which in general will have the highest electrical demand out of your household appliances. All circuits in the bathroom must be protected by an RCD (Residual Current Device). Electric showers will also need to be connected to a consumer unit, which is a distribution board for electricity. The cost of fitting an electric shower will depend on whether the consumer unit is up to date and follows current safety standards. Building regulations require adequate ventilation, meaning that extractor fans are essential for helping you to cut down the amount of steam you produce by showering. Electrical Safety in the bathroom: Heaters and towel rails Central heating is the safest way to keep the bathroom warm, and it will also supply heaters and towel rails with electricity. This is a great way to start your day off - by drying yourself down with a warm towel. However, there are some safety precautions you should take before using heaters in the bathroom. Electric and gas water heaters in a bathroom should be fixed and permanently wired. The only exception is if they are powered by a socket fitted three metres from a bath or shower. If you have an electric heater, it must also be fixed at a safe distance from the bath or shower. A pull-cord or a switch outside the bathroom is the ideal way to control electric heaters. Once again, this lessens the chance of your wet hand coming into contact with electricity. Electrical appliances really can make your life easier in the bathroom, as you set about grooming for the day ahead or preparing for bed. Electric showers, heated towel rails, and bright lights all make washing a more pleasant experience. However, it is important to follow the above minimal electrical safety tips in the bathroom to ensure you are using electrics inside your bathroom in a safe manner.
The 18th Edition Wiring Regulations brought about a whole range of new rules to the electrical industry. The regulations set out a number of significant changes and guidance on protection against overvoltage. They also instructed on EV charging point installation and guaranteed the energy-efficiency of electrical installations. The rules went into effect on January 2019. As well as the significant nature of rule changes, there was an added element of complexity. In a survey conducted by Hager, a large portion of professional electricians admitted to not understanding all the changes. This, of course, poses a problem as registered electricians are the ones who are supposed to be the most knowledgeable in this subject area. If they find the 18th Edition difficult then it must be complicated! In this article, Sparks will endeavour to explain key parts of the 18th Edition Wiring Regs in layman's terms and help everyone understand the regulations more clearly. The sections of the 18th Edition that have caused the most confusion Hager’s research indicated that an incredible 45 percent of those in the electrical trade did not completely understand all the rule changes of the 18th Edition. An entire third of those surveyed said they would not be prepared to comply with the 18th Edition’s amendments. Two topics kept coming up in regards to complex changes: Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) and surge protection laws. Nearly half of respondents pointed to AFDDs as an issue they were unclear on, whilst almost a third cited surge protection as their main concern. An AFDD is designed to detect the presence of dangerous electrical arcs (prolonged discharges) and disconnect the circuit affected. Meanwhile, a surge is a transient overvoltage that lasts for a short duration and increases in voltage measured between two or more conductors. Surge Protection Devices (SPDs) protect electrical equipment from these transient overvoltages. What the 18th Edition has to say on SPDs and AFFDs Section 443 is very clear in outlining the importance of protection against overvoltages, and the entire section has been re-written in the 18th Edition. These changes include surge protection rules for all kinds of dwellings, except where the value of the property does not warrant the protection. This section states that overvoltage protection: shall be provided where the result of an overvoltage would affect different aspects; such as danger to life, public services, commercial or industrial activity and more The requirements also stipulate they are needed where there is a large number of co-located individuals, for instance, in social housing. This has greatly increased the need to install SPDs in all manners of facilities. Sparks sells all manners of SPDs that are compliant with the 18th Edition.Classification of SPDs and AFFDs - important details contractors must get right Confusion may arise from the different ‘types’ of SPDs which are available - for instance, the Hager 14 described above is classified as Type 2. Type 2 SPDs are used in primary distribution boards when there is no need for a Type 1 SPD. Type 1 SPDs can discharge only partial lighting current and, like the Type 2, are used mainly on primary distribution boards. However, unlike the Type 2, these SPDs do not offer an adequate amount of protection level to prevent overvoltage. They must be used in conjunction with Type 2 SPDs. Type 3 SPDs, however, have a relatively low discharge capacity. This means they are not used on primary distribution keyboards and only in a supplementary way - for ‘sensitive loads’. It is essential that contractors understand the different classifications of SPDs. Primary distribution keyboards provide and regulate power throughout your home through a multi-core run cable. The 18th Edition six months later - has the industry got to grips with it? Reaction to the changes made by the 18th Edition have been largely positive. Michael Kenyon, the technical engineer at Bureau Veritas, said: The introduction of the 18th Edition regulations has ushered in a new era of best practice for surge protection, EV charging point installation and energy efficiency. Michael goes on to say that these new rules on surge protection are making a huge impact in public sector buildings such as hospitals. Demand for charging points is massively on the rise, so it is essential that contractors have an understanding of how to test them. The initial benefit is the added peace of mind this knowledge of surge protection grants to hospitals. However, there are other benefits that are already being welcomed. Electrical installations made under 18th Edition guidelines are proven to be more eco-efficient. They have lessened their environmental impact and saved copious amounts of energy - and money - for public sector buildings. Mr Kenyon admits there have been some growing pains in administering all the 18th Edition regulations. However, he also believes that they are on the road to ‘best practice by achieving compliance’. It is his belief, and ours at Sparks too, that increased compliance with surge protection laws will improve electrical safety for years to come.
After speaking of the 3rd Amendment to the 17th Edition Regs (which came into full application in the beginning of 2016), we need to pay attention to what kind of consumer units we install in new built properties, HMOs, or when we replace a consumer unit. The main considerations with these new boards is the protection against thermal effects (protection against fire) for a longer period of time and the protection against electrical shock (via an RCD). It used to be that the consumer units could use a plastic enclosure, but starting from the 1st of January 2016 ALL the consumer units installed have to be of metal and need to have an RCD protection. Most of the consumer unit manufacturers came out with a range of Metal Consumer Units (RCD protected, fireproof), and in this article, we would like to introduce some of the most popular ones from MK and Hager. MK 10 Way Metal Consumer Unit (Amendment 3 Compliant) - Best Value for Money! The MK Sentry K7666sMET consumer unit is a 17th Edition Amendment 3 compliant metal board, a 16-way enclosure with 10 useable ways. It comes fully populated with 10 MCBs (3 x 6A, 2 x 16A, 4 x 32A, 1 x 40A) and it has a 100A switch disconnector.This metal consumer unit has a stylish design, curved, and it makes full use of the floating bus bar system, offering you ample wiring space. This unit comes in a white colored metal and comes pre-fitted with a switch disconnector and RCD together with all the necessary split-load cabling. The flexible design allows you to position the RCD to suit the required configuration. At Sparks this MK board is now at a reduced price - it is the best Amendment 3 consumer unit value for money! Hager Design 10 Consumer Units - Reliable and Supportive Hager came out with quite a few ranges of consumer units to comply with the third amendment to the 17th edition regulations, one of which is Hager Design 10. This range is designed for safety, installation, and aesthetics, and it is reliable and supportive. Here are some of the key points concerning these Amendment 3 compliant boards: Cable Space - Maximum cable space is available even with RCBOs fitted to make installation easier. Terminal bar - The top-mounted terminal rail makes the wiring of the neutral and earth connections neat and simple. Fixings - Multiple points allow the use of No.8 or No.10 fixings giving a range of fixing options. Full metal DIN rail - Minimised distortion to ensure the devices sit square and are not easily displaced. Snap-able busbar - Provides quick and easy configuration of circuits. Enjoy a video presentation of this great range from Hager below: See the entire range of Hager Design 10 - from 2-way to 20-way boards (all of them Amendment 3 Compliant and with 63A/100A switch disconnector incomer) at Sparks.
We have noticed a video recently put online by Hager outlining the main features and benefits of their consumer units, and after watching the 1.07 min video we thought that our readers and customers would also benefit from watching it. We have spoken extensively about the Hager Domestic and Commercial Consumer units on our blog, but there's always something new and special that we find out about them.Update: the video has been made private by Hager, but the main benefits and features of these boards from Hager still stand Hager Consumer Units - Features and Benefits When we talk about the consumer units from Hager, we mean especially the domestic distribution boards. Take a look at this short video and don't forget to read the comments below. Removable Top Wall - removes easily to provide cable access and re-seals to IP4X when used with the two foam strips provided. Cable Space - maximum cable space is available even with the RCBOs fitted so that the installation and the wiring would be much easier. The Terminal Bars - the top-mounted terminal rail makes the wiring of the neutral and earth connections easier and neater. Meter Tail Kit - an optional meter tail kit is available to make the wiring and termination on the incoming cables easier to install. Snap-able Busbar - a snap-able busbar provides a quick and simple configuration of the devices. You can purchase Hager Domestic Consumer Units via Sparks - or read more on our blog concerning these devices.