Consumer Unit Explained
What is a consumer unit?
A modern consumer unit is the control centre of your electrical supply. It's found at the point where the supply enters the property, and it contains circuit breakers, residual current devices and a main switch to help regulate your electricity. Consumer units replaced the older-style fuseboxes.
It's important to know where your consumer unit is, in case you ever need to cut off the mains electricity or re-set a 'tripped' switch.
What's in a consumer unit?
Consumer units help control the distribution of electricity to the different circuits throughout your home. They contain the following components:
Mains Switch - this controls the mains electricity supply to your home. You might want to cut this off in an emergency, or if you're planning any kind of electrical repair.
Circuit Breakers - these are safety switches that operate automatically to protect electrical circuits from damage. When they detect a fault, they shut off the flow of electricity, which is called 'tripping'. As circuit breakers are sensitive, it's fairly common for them to trip - for example, when you plug in a faulty electrical appliance - and they can easily be reset by moving the switch once the fault has been corrected.
Residual Current Devices (RCDs) - are switches that cut off circuits under dangerous conditions, and are designed to prevent you from being electrocuted if you touch something like a bare live wire. They're fitted as standard to consumer units as they can help prevent electrical fires. They should be tested once a month to make sure they're functioning correctly and your consumer unit should have a test button and an information label explaining how to do this.
Consumer units are a vital part of electrical safety, and should be tested in line with current regulations. If your unit has a wooden back or contains old-style wired fuses, it may need to be replaced with a modern consumer unit to give you the best protection.