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Keep on keeping up with the changes

May 2018 18th Edition, General | Comments Off on Keep on keeping up with the changes
Keep on keeping up with the changes

Paul Appleby, product manager, circuit protection at BG Electrical, outlines how the elec-trical industry has reacted in meeting the changing regulatory landscape, ensuring consumer units adhere to existing and future legislative requirements, protect contractors and support house builder’s requirements while still satisfying consumer-driven aesthetic challenges

Changes in recent years to regulations around the design, assembly and installation of con-sumer units in homes have forced the electrical industry to review and alter design and manu-facturing developments. Updated safety considerations, compliance responsibilities and design demands all had to be aligned to make way for a new world for consumer units.

The changes focused on two primary areas: alterations to wiring regulations, and the need for accessible positioning of consumer units within the home. These were implemented under the 17th Edition IEE Wiring Regulations, BS 7671 and Amendment 3, as well as influenced by re-vised requirements requested by Part M of Building Regulations.

However, confusion and myths around what was or wasn’t permitted in order to comply took a long time to fade from the industry.

Chief among those was uncertainty about thermoplastic consumer units and whether they would all have to be changed, as well as issues around metal trunking and the implications around consumer unit positioning in home spaces such as garages. Ove time, the industry and installers worked to eradicate possible problems and create effective solutions.

New challenges in safety and design

The new regulatory regime brought to the fore safety-driven requirements, which dictated that all consumer units would need to be manufactured from a non-combustible material, ie metal, because those housed by thermoplastic or similar would no longer pass the more stringent guidelines put in place.

As well as such a fundamental alteration to the consumer unit’s construction, changes to the Building Regulations also asked that future installations should be ‘accessible’ and mounted between 1350 and 1450mm from the finished floor height. This translates to around shoulder height, with positions often in high traffic areas of the home such as the hallway.

In essence, the new positioning requirements meant that installers had to be mindful both of safety aspects, such as homeowners accidentally colliding with a hard metal box in the home, and the growing importance of aesthetics.

With consumer units having the potential to be one of the first items observed when entering a property, this would, quite rightly, be a major concern for people. The availability of flush-fitting consumer units in various colour and shape options has been the industry’s response to the challenge. The potential for accidents has been overcome as consumer units are now capa-ble of being recessed into the finished wall space. While smart and modern design aesthetics enable the look of the unit to blend in seamlessly with the décor.

Safe installation

With the safety of circuit protection a prime focus of the original legislative changes, the indus-try has worked to ensure enhanced protection for trades working in almost complete premises when electrical circuits have been instigated. Innovations, such as locking systems to allow only essential circuits to be on during construction completion phases, help to protect busy trades-men under pressure to complete tasks on new builds.

Safety is also a key driving force behind the imminent changes and revisions associated with the 18th Edition, which come into force from the January next year, giving contractors just six months to get up to speed before mandatory implementation.

It would seem reasonable to assume that a continued focus on safety and circuit protection will be further enhanced under the 18th Edition revisions, and manufacturers such as BG are already preparing to ensure that product solutions will continue to comply.

Points of interest that are likely now to appear in the upcoming 18th Edition include surge pro-tection and Section 443 has been rewritten to encourage better protection from overvoltage. Unless there is a risk assessment against the values and calculations outlined in the regula-tions, electricians will be obligated to build – on new installs – a surge protector into the con-sumer unit, taking into consideration the external cable runs on remedial works.

Arc Fault Protection is also likely to create some interest and the approaching regulation up-date may look to make a recommendation for the use of Arc Fault Detection Devices, which trip a circuit when dangerous electric arcs are detected within an electrical circuit.

Manufacturers such as BG will maintain its work with housebuilders and installers to provide high-performing, aesthetically pleasing, safe product solutions that can underpin continued evolution of the consumer unit.