A safety switch inside your fuse box could be the critical difference that prevents death from shocks or electrical fires – but your home may be unprotected. A professional electrician can install and test a safety switch for you this week.
Safety switches are actually mandatory for new builds in New South Wales, but for the vast majority of homes built before the year 2000, especially pre-1990s homes, that leaves a big hovering question mark for the resident – Do I even have a safety switch?
What to look for in a safety switch
Safety switches are also known as Residual Current Devices (RCDs) or as Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs).
The main focus here is on the type of safety switch required by law to be fitted to new homes. This is the circuit breaker safety switch typically found in the fuse box or mounted to the switchboard. This safety switch features a ‘T’ or ‘Test’ button.
Don’t confuse switches with circuit breakers. The circuit breaker saves appliances. The safety switch saves lives.
There are other types of safety switches, such as:
– plug-in portable safety switches that are plugged into power points and will also feature a test button on the front face – these are mostly used in temporary structures
– portable appliance safety switches that plug into power points and protects portable appliances such as power tools
– surge protector safety switches that protect against power surges.
How much coverage does your switch provide?
The safety switch works by monitoring the electricity flow through a circuit and switching it off within milliseconds if it detects electrical current leakage.
You may have one safety switch that protects several circuits, as this is common in older dwellings; however, this is not enough. A mixture of protected and unprotected circuits is also inadequate.
Ensure that you have a separate safety switch protecting each circuit, not just the lights or electrical appliances circuits. Install switches on the circuit breakers for air-conditioning, ovens, hot water units and pool equipment, for example.
What you should do if you are a renter
Renters have specific rights in this household issue. Tenants are able to request the location of electrical safety switches and seek permission to test them.
By law, at the start of every tenancy landlords need to do proper checks on the safety switch and confirm that they work in their condition report.
If the rented residence is an apartment or other shared dwelling it may take longer to locate the switch. It could be in a common area like power room that requires checks organised by the strata manager.
Regular testing and maintenance
It is recommended that you understand enough to run a safety switch test several times a year, as an inactive safety switch may not be working. Hiring a professional electrician initially to understand what regular tests your home needs can set you in the right direction.
The basic testing procedures are:
- Pre-warn everyone in residence – so they know you are conducting a test.
- Press the “T” or “Test” button on each safety switch – each time it should cut the power and the button should switch to the off position. Confirm that the relevant household items such as lights or appliances have gone off.
- If you haven’t lost power – call a licensed electrician to investigate immediately.
- If the switch works and has cut the power effectively – you can reset it by returning it to the on position.
- If the reset fails – contact a licensed electrician to install a replacement switch.
Set up an easy-to-remember schedule, such as twice a year at the daylight savings changeover weekend, or ideally four times a year when you receive your electricity bill.
For routine maintenance of your safety switch and other critical electricals, hiring a licensed electrician at least once a year is recommended. Remember that unqualified electrical work is dangerous to you and could miss faults that ultimately cause a fire. Furthermore, it is an offence to do electrical wiring work without a licence or certificate and in NSW. The relevant fines start at $22,000 for an individual. Your insurance policy could also be voided.
You will also need a professional on board if damage has occurred, such as cracked casing on the switches, or following flooding in the home.
Hiring a professional electrician
When you book an electrician ensure that the person being sent to your home is properly qualified. Curran Plumbing, Electrical, Heating & Air is the first choice for all of your electrical needs.
It’s important to ensure you have a working safety switch fitted in your home because 40 per cent of NSW house fires are caused by electrical faults and electrical appliances.
For more information about safety switches, contact Curran Plumbing and Electrical today.