Frequently Asked Questions

Electrical Terms FAQ


They are one and the same. Consumer Unit is the modern name for an older fuseboard, which used to contain fuses. Consumer units contain a Main Switch, RCDs (residual current devices) and MCBs (miniature circuit breakers), controlling the power that comes into your home and the electrical circuits within it.

RCDs (Residual Current Devices) are there for protection. If there’s a fault such as power leaking in one of your electric circuits the RCD switch will “trip” and switch to the “off” position. 

MCBs (Miniature Circuit Breakers) prevent overload and wires overheating, also flipping to off if a fault is detected. There is one MCB for each electrical circuit.

You need to identify the source of the problem – which may well be a faulty appliance. Turn off and unplug all the appliances in the building, then turn the switch on again. Next go round and replace each plug one at a time. When you plug in the faulty appliance the switch will trip again and you will know where the fault lies. 

If this doesn’t work, or your RCD switch will not turn on at all, call an electrician.

Even if it is still functioning well, a fuseboard in a property should be upgraded or replaced every 20 to 30 years because it may be outdated and no longer meet safety regulations.

Fuseboards should be kept clean and dry, so its best to avoid cellars or basements. Attics and close proximity to a boiler or heating pipes could also be problematic because of humidity. Moisture can often cause issues with fuseboards tripping out repeatedly. An electrician will be able to tell if this is the case.

General Electrical Work

Yes, but very necessary if you are renovating a property that is more than 25 years old, because it could not only be dangerous, but also not compliant with Part P of the building regulations. Rewiring can be disruptive to the fabric and décor, so best completed before finishing is carried out.

There are no rules about a maximum number of electrical sockets per room, but there are regulations about where they – and light switches – should be positioned. These are contained in Part P of the Building regulations.

Since April 2013 certain electrical work in or around a dwelling is notifiable to a local building control body. This includes the installations of new circuits; the replacement of a fuseboard (consumer unit); and alterations or additions to existing circuits in bathrooms or areas containing a swimming pool or sauna.

If you use a registered electrician the work should meet the UK national standard, BS7671. When the work is finished you should receive an Electrical Installation Certificate, a Minor Electrical Installation Works Certificate, or a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate as appropriate for the work completed.

If you’re an experienced DIY-er you could if you are using an existing connection, but you’ll have to get a Part P qualified electrician to come to inspect and certify your work. Without this your cooker’s guarantee and probably your property insurance would be null and void if something goes wrong. If it is a new installation requiring a new circuit you will have to call in a professional electrician. Remember working with electricity is risky.

Electrical Inspections

Electrical installations, like anything, deteriorate with age, so periodic inspection and testing is recommended at various intervals, depending on circumstances.

  • An owner-occupied home – every 10 years
  • A rented home – every 5 years
  • Commercial properties – every 5 years
  • Industrial installations – every 3 years
  • Caravans – every 3 years
  • Swimming pools should be inspected annually
  • Also have an inspection when a commercial or domestic property is being prepared for letting, or before buying or selling a property.

Yes – regulations came in in 2020 stating that landlords have to have the electrical installations in their properties inspected and tested “by a person who is qualified and competent” at least every five years. They are obliged to provide a copy of the electrical safety report to their tenants, and their local authority, if requested.

There are two types of inspection:

EICR (Electrical Installation Condition Report)
This detailed report for compliance with regulations will identify hidden defects and dangerous conditions. It takes up to four hours to complete, depending on the number of circuits and size of the property. The electrician will need free run of the property and the electricity will be switched off at the main for the duration. A report and certificate is then issued rating the condition of the electrics under three codes, recommending where remedial action is required.

VIR (Visual Inspection Report)
The competent electrician will make a thorough visual inspection with a trained eye of everything from the fuseboard, sockets, plugs and light fittings to all the electrical cables and leads in the property, looking for things like signs of wear and tear and scorching. The inspector will need access to all parts of the property. It takes an hour or so to inspect an average-sized home. At the end a report is issued recording observations, recommendations and a summary of the condition of the electrics. 

PAT stands for “Portable Appliance Testing” – a routine inspection of electrical appliances to ensure they are safe to use. PAT tests are not a legal requirement, but are commonly carried out in the workplace to prevent electrical accidents. They include a visual and in-depth inspection using specialised electrical testing equipment. All appliances that are tested should be marked with a label as to whether they passed or failed, and a record kept of the results.

For a new build, including an alteration or addition to an existing property, you can commission an Electrical Installation Certificate (EIC) and/or Minor Electrical Installation Works Certificate (MEIWC) to declare that the new electrical installation is safe to use. These certificates provide a useful basis for future periodic inspection and testing, forming the foundation of documentary evidence about the standard and safety of the installation. This also applies to a property that has been completely rewired.

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