Is My Old Fuse Box Illegal? Common Myths Debunked

Today was a day for a big fuse board change. This commercial monster was a relic from years ago when the large warehouse was constructed and the electrical installation was in great need of an upgrade. Whilst large fuse panels like this are not the type of thing found in ordinary people’s homes, it did make me think about all the old fuse boxes out there.

We all know it would be good to have the latest and safest or everything, but this isn’t always reasonable – if it were I would be driving around in a much more modern and safe van than the one at my disposal!

Therefore, If you have an old fuse box in your home that has seen better days you most likely have some questions regarding the old relic such as, is my old fuse box illegal? and is it worth upgrading to a more modern consumer unit?

With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to put together this brief post answering this and some of the other most common questions!

Old consumer unit (the modern name for fuse board)
Old consumer unit (the modern name for fuse box)

Is My Old Fuse Box Illegal?

Old fuse boxes are not illegal so long as they complied with the wiring regulations at the time of installation. The wiring regulations are constantly updating so it would be unreasonable to expect homeowners and businesses to change all their electrical systems at the same time just to stay compliant.

Provided that the fuse box has been recently tested by a qualified electrician and they have deemed the entire electrical installation to be safe for continued use, then that old fuse box is not illegal. Having said that it’s worth remembering that like a lot of things, just because something isn’t illegal doesn’t make it right and it is most likely worth upgrading to a more modern alternative.

To use my poor old van as an analogy, it probably wouldn’t pass the latest Euro NCAP safety ratings for new vehicles. Fortunately for the old van, this doesn’t mean he is now illegal to drive and going to be hunted down and scrapped – He complied with the car-making regs when he was made and regular MOTs ensure he stays legally safe to drive.

Imagine the situation if every time the regs changed, everyone had to completely overhaul their electrical systems – it would create chaos. Instead, recommendations are made so that as long as old electrical installations are tested and deemed safe, they are not illegal.

When I test an electrical installation I make various recommendations based on the latest edition of the wiring regulations. These are recommendations based on the current best safety standards. Making the improvements to bring the installation up to the latest standards is often legally required for the safety of both you and your property. Businesses, in particular, may have trouble explaining why they didn’t carry out the recommended improvements if an accident were to occur.

Bear in mind we are talking about existing electrical installs. Any new installation must comply with the current version of the regulations. Not complying with the current version of the wiring regulations on a new installation is illegal and would not be able to be signed off as complete.

At the risk of laboring a point, I just want to highlight that installing an old type fuse board today would be illegal. When I do a new install today I want it to be as safe as possible and that means complying with the latest regs, which an old-style fuse box does not.

Are Plastic Fuse Boxes Illegal?

Plastic fuse boxes, or consumer units to give them their more modern name are not illegal assuming they complied with regulations at the time of installation. This is the same rule that applies to fuse boxes mentioned earlier.

In previous editions of the wiring regulations, plastic consumer units were perfectly acceptable and widely installed, especially in domestic settings. Then the regs were updated and metal consumer units became required in an effort to reduce damage caused by electrical fires among other things.

As highlighted before, this does not make all the previous electrical installations illegal. Instead, plastic consumer units become a recommendation to be upgraded. Again, homeowners and businesses must employ a qualified electrician to check the electrical installation is safe for continued use and make improvements based on their recommendations.

Also See: Why Electricians Leave Screws Vertical

It’s worth noting again though that we are talking about existing electrical installations. At the time of writing this, all electricians should now be installing metal consumer units (except in circumstances that are beyond the scope of this simple post).

Is It Worth Upgrading Your Fuse Box?

Old fuse box on fire
Old fuse box on fire

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the home or business owner to decide if it is worth upgrading their fuse box. Upgrading from an old fuse box to a modern consumer unit is often a very good idea as the modern consumer unit is much better at protecting people and property.

Modern electrical installations and equipment have many great safety features (such as RCD and surge protection) which make them a lot better at keeping people and equipment safe compared with the old-style fuse boxes. For example, In the event of a power spike, that modern surge protective device that has been fitted may just save your new 50″ TV!

As always, we must take into account the safety recommendations of the electrician who has tested the property. If they have recommended upgrading a fuse board this advice should be followed. When professional advice is ignored this can be seen as breaching health and safety laws – by not maintaining the electrical installation in a reasonable and safe standard.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, now readers have a clear understanding that old fuse boxes are not illegal as long as they were installed at a time when the fuse box met the required wiring standards. However, as alluded to earlier, just because old fuse boxes are not illegal does not mean that they are safe to continue using or should not be upgraded.

If you have an old fuse box it is definitely worth getting a qualified and registered electrician to come around and test the property. They can make professional recommendations as to the safety of the installation and what can be done to improve things.

I know having an electrician around to test the wiring may seem daunting or like it could become a money pit, but more often than not people are pleasantly surprised about the simple upgrades which can be done that can make all the difference!

Disclaimer: This post is based on my opinion and should not be considered advice as to the safety or legal compliance of your own electrical installation. Always contact a qualified electrician in your area to discuss your individual needs!

Dave Nicholas

I have worked as a professional electrician for many years and like to use my experience to help others in any little way I can.

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