Do You Carry Out An EICR Before A Consumer Unit Upgrade?
Let’s talk about the real world, what really goes down in the day to day life as an “electrician”.
There are typically two methods many electricians use when upgrading a consumer unit:
- Carry out an EICR beforehand, identifying any defects and ensuring the cabling is all okay to connect to the new consumer unit. Fit the new consumer unit and testing again to verify the circuits are compliant.
- No test beforehand. Upgrading the consumer unit and test once complete.
Option 1 is advised by many technical publications produced by recognised trade bodies. The downside is that it tends to cost a little more for the client.
Option 2 is risky for both contractor and client because you may find defects on the installation which you then have to charge the client more or if they refuse to pay, leave the installation unsafe.
In my opinion, we should always strive for high standards and ensuring everything we do as professionals to ensure client installations are safe (without money as a factor). Option 2 provides can leave a client at risk due to a unsatisfactory non-compliant electrical installation.
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What do most electrician’s do?
When I was contracting, I often had enquiries regarding consumer unit upgrades. I would always ask why they believe their consumer unit requires replacement and often the answer is that someone told them so.
When I explained that we need to carry out an electrical installation condition report before we upgrade the consumer unit to assess the condition of the existing electrics, the customer was often wondering why I would suggest such a thing because 3 other local electricians said that they just take the fuseboard off the wall and fit a new one.
Let me explain why that is wrong from the perspective of both parties. It increases RISK.
Replacing or upgrading a consumer unit is not a minor alteration, it is a large change to the design of the installation. You may be introducing RCD protection, different types of circuit breakers and SPD’s. When a consumer is replaced, often is due to age. The IET wiring regulations BS7671 are regularly updated so British Standards are constantly evolving along with user trends and technology. It is an opportunity to ensure that the main earthing and bonding meets current standards and other basic electrical principles to ensure SAFETY.
What is involved replacing a consumer unit?
When we carry out electrical work on any circuit, we are to ensure that the basic electrical principles are met. Sometimes this requires upgrading parts of the electrical system that we are not physically altering because we have to ensure all connected parts function how they should do to meet BS7671.
Changing a fuseboard alone will likely increase the safety of an installation but I have seen recently instances of replacements being made but the installation has no main earth! In this situation safety is still being compromised.
The Electricity At Work Regulations 1989
When you work on electrical systems you must always remember that the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989 is statutory meaning it is the law and must be adhered to. If you don’t meet the EAWR 1989, you could face fines and/or imprisonment.
Regulation 29 applies only in criminal proceedings. It provides a defence for a dutyholder who can establish that they took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing an offence under regulations 4(4), 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16.Extract from the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989
Have you done everything you can to take reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid someone getting an electric shock which could cause injury or death or cause a fire?
The above statement is the first principle anyone working in the electrical trade should be working to.
Electrical Safety First Best Practice Guide
Sections 4.2 and 4.3 of the Electrical Safety First Best Practice Guide 1 advises that existing circuits do not need upgrading to current standards when the consumer unit is upgraded, but if any circuits provide any immediate or potential danger, they must not be re-connected to the new consumer unit.
4.2. BS 7671 does not require existing circuits to be upgraded to current standards in order for them to be connected to the outgoing ways of the replacement consumer unit.
4.3. However, circuits that are defective or noncompliant with the requirements of BS 7671 in a way that would result in immediate or potential danger must not be reconnected to the consumer unit
Section 6 of the guide advises that an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) is recommended to highlight any immediate or potential dangers. Of course, we cannot make the customers have this carried out and if they do not wish for a report a survey must be taken out BEFORE replacing the consumer unit to ensure the existing circuits are free from immediate or potential danger.
The pre-replacement survey consists of:
- making enquiries with the user as to whether there are any known defects, faults or damage,
- an internal visual inspection of the existing consumer unit to determine, amongst other things, the type and condition of the wiring system used for the installation,
- an external visual inspection of other readily accessible parts of the installation,
- a measurement of the external earth fault loop impedance (Ze ),
- a test of circuit protective conductor continuity at the end of each final circuit,
- a test of earth fault loop impedance at readily accessible socket-outlets and
- an insulation resistance measurement of the whole installation at the consumer unit, between the live conductors connected together and the protective conductor connected to the earthing arrangement.
Does the above sound familiar??? It sounds like an Electrical Installation Condition Report!
What happens in the ‘Real World’?
The truth is, what really happens in the real world is often an electrician quotes a consumer unit upgrade without a survey. They turn up in the morning, rip the existing consumer unit off the wall, slap on a new consumer unit, turn it on and hey presto. They will then do a couple of Zs readings, calculate the R1+R2, count the number of points on each circuit if they can be arsed, take the RCD readings with minimum effort and produce an Electrical Installation Certificate. Often this certificate will say >299 M ohms insulation resistance readings because well, the RCD’s are okay so the IR readings must be fine. Jobs a goodun.
The above is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
It is a complete risk for both contractor and client. If the electrician finds an issue once the consumer unit has been upgraded, they client is then in a position where they may need to spend quite a lot of money to rectify any immediate or potentially dangerous items. Worst still, they don’t have the money, so they are left with a non-compliant dangerous installation without any certification.
Is it likely an electrical installation will have defects?
I can count on two hands how many domestic properties my team have tested in 10 years that were satisfactory and had no code C1 or C2 items out of hundreds and hundreds of properties tested. Unless an installation is fairly new and was installed to a high standard, I do not believe many consumer unit changes do not need additional works to rectify any immediate or potentially dangerous items. I have carried out an EICR before and all cabling under the floor was VIR and damaged throughout, but someone had joined it in modern T+E so visually it all looked okay. You cannot accurately assess the safety of a circuit without calibrated test equipment.
From a business perspective I also think this is financially risky carrying out option 2 because quoting a job and then asking for more money often can breakdown relationships and part of ensuring payment is maintaining good relationships (check out my post on Top Tips To Prevent Non-Payment).
Therefore, in my opinion I would always advise option 1 is undertaken and an Electrical Installation Condition Report is strongly considered BEFORE replacing a consumer unit to reduce risk to you as a contractor and business owner and for public safety.
You can download a FREE guide – Electrical Safety First Best Practice Guide 1 – Replacing a consumer unit is a domestic premises
Written by Dan Jackson AKA Dans the Engineer in Essex, United Kingdom
Disclaimer: All content within this blog post are the opinion only of Dans the Engineer and should you choose to take any of the advice or information given, we accept no responsibility for any loss you may occur.