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Switchboard Upgrades: The Renter’s Quick Guide to Home Electrical Safety

According to a recent ID Community demographic survey, 53.7% of households in Sydney rent privately. More than half of Sydney’s properties are occupied by renters who have little control over their rented property’s safety—they take the place as is, doing little to no safety inspections before signing their lease contract.

As a result, many renters (and even landlords) overlook one of the most essential parts of rental property safety: the electrical system, particularly the switchboard. Usually out of sight, the switchboard can cause problems that make a rental property unsafe if left unchecked over time.

As a renter, you may be experiencing some odd power-related issues in your home. It may be too late to back out on a lease or too daunting to find a new place, so you have to fix the issue. If so, let us guide you on the telltale signs to look out for and what you must do before you take the necessary steps for a switchboard upgrade and keep your family safe.

Telltale Signs Your Rental Home Needs a Switchboard Upgrade

Whether your rental has an old residential switchboard or a new but malfunctioning one, both can demonstrate signs that tell you it needs an upgrade. Pay attention to these things whenever you’re at home.

Dated House Architecture

Residential homes designed before 1990 still follow the old laws on designing and installing electrical systems. If the house you’re renting had little to no renovations, the switchboard is most likely an old model. Ask your landlord when the rental property was built and if any changes were made in the previous years.

Flickering Lights

A typical symptom of a switchboard that needs upgrading is flickering lights. While several things can cause this, such as a wiring issue or the lighting itself, in some cases, the situation signifies an overloaded switchboard.

Burning Smell at the Switchboard Area

Walk around your rental home’s switchboard area. If there’s a smell akin to burnt rubber or plastic, chances are the switches or the wires are overheating due to too much power demand.

If this is the case, you must hire a level 2 electrician to repair or upgrade your switchboard. Taking an overheating switchboard for granted can lead to electrical fires.

Frequent Tripping

Most households nowadays have major electrical appliances that require a lot of energy. Strong air conditioners, water heaters, stoves, and washing machines are some examples.

On a typical day, a household uses this electrical equipment simultaneously, creating an overwhelming power demand that an old or unsuitable switchboard can barely meet, eventually resulting in a loss of power or what’s known as tripping.

Electrical Defect Notice

An electrical defect notice in the mail indicates unmet electrical safety requirements you must address immediately. There can be various reasons for receiving this letter, including having an outdated home switchboard. You’ll need to have the issue resolved within 21 days, or the power supply to your home will be cut off.

The Anatomy of a Modern Switchboard: What Homeowners Should Look For

Renters need to distinguish between old and modern switchboards to improve their housing conditions and comply with the state and local government’s safety rules. Here’s what you must inspect to know if your rental home’s switchboard is up to par. We highly encourage that you do this alongside a level 2 electrician to ensure safety and qualified professional assessment.

Safety Switch

Electrical safety switches protect people from shocks. When electrical circuits overload, the safety switch cuts the power flow, preventing any current from leaking from appliances you use and keeping you safe.

Both old and modern switchboards have them. These safety switches often have a test button that, when pressed, resets the power.

Circuit Breakers

Modern switchboards have circuit breakers that also look like safety switches. These things protect the electrical circuits if a high volume of current flows through them, usually caused by too many electrical appliances being plugged in.

Old switchboards have ceramic fuses instead of circuit breakers. Ceramic fuses are white rectangular-shaped blocks plugged into a switchboard’s panel. 

Main Switch

The main switch is another feature of a modern-day switchboard. It’s usually characterised as an isolated switch, far or beside rows of other switches. It functions as a master controller that cuts the power off the entire household whenever there’s too much energy drawn from the outside poles.

Outdated switchboard models don’t have a main switch, which makes them dangerous because preventing excess electrical current from flowing will solely be carried out by the ceramic fuses.

Earth Electrode

Modern switchboards have a visible earth electrode sticking out of the ground. In most outdated designs, the electrode is attached to the pipes, which becomes a problem if plumbers repair or replace the pipes to which the electrode is attached.

A visible earth electrode is crucial because it informs electricians that the house is grounded and protected from excess power flowing through the circuits.


New model switchboards are enclosed in a metal box with its front covered in a tight panel casing.

Old ones are often exposed and have an asbestos panel on the back of the switches, which has to be removed—this material is hazardous to health. In most old switchboards, the asbestos panel becomes brittle and damaged as time passes, which releases particles that, when inhaled, become a health risk for renters and electricians alike.

How to Inspect Your Electrical Switchboard

If your rental home has a modern switchboard that appears in good condition yet you’re still experiencing power issues, your switchboard likely needs further inspection. In most cases, you will need a switchboard upgrade due to other issues such as power capacity or switchboard and wiring damage.

We advise that you contact your local level 2 electrician for a comprehensive electrical safety inspection as the problem may not be isolated in the switchboard alone. However, for the sake of education, we’ll talk about what happens when inspecting the switchboard.

Turning Off the Main Switch

The first safety precaution a professional must take before inspecting a switchboard is to flip the main switch. This is to ensure all power is cut off from the switch panels, making it easy and safe to inspect all of them.

Checking the Electrical Wiring

Professionals will open enclosures and check if the wires are isolated from each other at a reasonable distance.

Apart from wire proximity, electricians check if the wires are properly insulated and if the wire jackets are in good condition. Damaged or exposed wires cause heat, which is a fire risk if left unfixed.

Checking the Switches

Next, electricians have to check if there are proper labels on the safety switches and circuit breakers. Both your electrical systems need to be identifiable for proper testing.

Professional electricians will also inspect the switches for any overheating or burning. They may test the switches by flipping them or pressing the test button to see if they are still functioning correctly.

Checking the Switchboard Box and Enclosure Integrity

Professionals also need to inspect if the enclosure holds the wires and switches properly and is not exposed. They have to ensure the enclosure’s integrity is intact, protected from outside elements that can damage the switch and wiring, and capable of containing switchboard sparks or explosions.

Getting an Upgraded Switchboard on a Rental Home

A renter needing a switchboard upgrade is tricky. While it’s okay to get your local electrician out to do inspections, you may still have to inform your landlord about the switchboard situation so that they can take care of it themselves with potentially zero cost on your end.

If there are circumstances wherein you have to do it on your own or if matters are urgent, you may have to seek your landlord’s approval before you have the local electrician do the switchboard upgrades. Arrange it with your landlord if you need to get one outside the tenancy agreement.

It’s important to note that your landlord is obligated to provide a safe rental property, including an up-to-date electrical switchboard. It’s also your right to live in a safe house.


Professional Switchboard Upgrades in Sydney for the Private Renter

Once you have the go signal to upgrade your rental home’s switchboard, contact The Local Electrician.

We have licensed level 2 electricians on standby 24/7 with over 25 years of experience handling electrical issues. We operate in Sydney, North Shore, South Sydney, and Sutherland Shire. 

residential switchboard

Call us at 0439 823 190 for prompt switchboard upgrade service. We’re also happy to answer inquiries on electrical switchboard upgrade costs.

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Our skilled electricians are qualified to carry out any electrical repair or installation within Sydney. We strive to deliver absolute customer satisfaction by offering electrical services that are affordable, safe and long lasting.

Hamish Baker