Switchboard Installation

Safety Switches vs Circuit Breakers

What’s in Your Switchboard?

What are all those switches and bits and pieces in your switchboard? What do they do? Keeping it simple, there are fuses, circuit breakers and RCD safety switches. The old porcelain fuses are definitely yesterday’s technology. They had (and still have) a wire that burns through or ‘blows’ if the circuit is overloaded. They are a nuisance to rewire when they do blow and have been superseded by circuit breakers. The purpose of a circuit breaker is the same as a fuse – to prevent electrical fires. Circuit breakers are easier to reset than fuses by simply switching them back on. If the circuit is still compromised they just won’t switch back on until the cause of the problem is fixed. That’s better than a fuse which would just blow again.

Protect against Electrocution

But although circuit breakers are clearly a big improvement, they are lacking in one critical area. They don’t prevent electrocution. They are designed to protect equipment and to make sure the house doesn’t catch on fire. RCD safety switches, on the other hand, do protect against electrocution. If a child becomes part of the circuit by trying to get toast out with a knife, the electricity shuts off in a millisecond.

Testing Safety Switches

For some time all new builds have been required to have RCD safety switches installed on all vulnerable circuits such as the one powering kitchen appliances or anything in the bathroom. For instance, an RCD safety switch should cut out in the situation where someone drops a hair dryer in the bath. But there is no ironclad guarantee that they will always protect you because, like anything, the switch can fail. You need to test them regularly with the test button. Unlike circuit breakers, safety switches have test buttons. It’s the easiest way to tell them apart. Just push the button and the switch should go off to show that it is working.

Safety Switch Regulations

The latest regulations to do with switchboards stipulates that if any new things are put in a circuit, such as a new light or powerpoint, the circuit breaker has to be replaced by an RCD safety switch. The same applies to all new circuits as well, so a new air conditioner requires a safety switch. There are even combination safety switches and circuit breakers that double the protection for you and your home.

Published: 22 Sep, 2020

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