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Distribution Boards and How They Work

The main purpose of the distribution board in any building is to provide safety equipment, protecting people and their assets. In order to reduce cost and attract those who are enticed by low prices, electrical products are subject to design and material shortcuts. It is therefore important for installers and users to be aware of the intended functions of the equipment concerned so that short-term savings can be discouraged.

Distribution board (DB)

A distribution board (DB) distributes the electrical power to all parts of a building. A DB contains fuses, breakers and earth leakage units that protect people from electrical shock. The main DB is usually found near the main electrical cable entering the house, but there may be smaller boards with fuses at other points in a building, such as swimming pool pumps, gate motors and outbuildings.Distribution boards come in many sizes and configurations. The number of circuits within a board is determined by a number of factors, including the size of the board itself and how much room you have available. Some manufacturers refer to these different configurations as ‘modules’ while others use the term ‘ways’—for example: Eight-way, 12-way, 18-way, 24-way, 36-way.In addition to a variety of meters, time switches and pilot lights, distribution boards are available with surge arresters and can be purchased as an empty enclosure or pre-wired. Ready boards for low-cost housing or irrigation systems are also available.

The switch disconnector should:

  • Be mounted in or next to the distribution board.
  • In the case of the main or first distribution board of an installation, be labelled as ‘main switch’.
  • In the case of a sub-distribution board, be labelled as ‘sub-main switch’ or ‘main switch’ if the board is labelled ‘sub-board’.
  • In the case where an alternative supply is installed, such as emergency supply, uninterruptible power system (UPS), etc, be labelled as required.
  • Have a danger notice on or near it. The danger notice should give instructions that the switch disconnector must be switched o? in the event of inadvertent contact or leakage.
  • A distribution board must comply with the requirements of SANS 10142, and each item of electrical equipment used in a distribution board should comply with the requirements of this standard:
  • The distribution board must be suitable for the environmental conditions in which it operates.
  • Distribution boards shall be protected against corrosion.
  • Any point of a distribution board that has to be reached during normal operation, must not exceed a height of 2 200 mm above floor (or walking) level. However, the board may be mounted higher if it can be disconnected from the supply by a switch disconnector that is less than 2 200 mm above floor level. Unless a residential distribution board is housed in an enclosure and direct access cannot be obtained by an infant, no part of an indoor distribution board can be less than 1 200 mm above the floor level, and no part of an outdoor distribution board can be less than 0.200 mm above the ground level.
  • A distribution board must not be mounted in a bathroom, or above a fixed cooking appliance, or in a position where a stationary cooking appliance could be put below it, unless the enclosure provides a degree of protection, or within a radius of 1 m from a water tap or valve (in the same room), unless the enclosure provides a degree of protection.
  • If an installation is likely to be extended, a distribution board with spare capacity should be fitted.
  • Each unoccupied opening of a distribution board must be fitted with a blanking plate.
  • Unless obvious, permanent labeling must identify all incoming and outgoing circuits of the distribution board.

Circuit breakers

Fuses are the traditional form of protection, but a circuit breaker is chosen and connected into a circuit in the same way. Circuit breakers are located in the distribution board of the building and also in the utility supply meter box. A breaker can also be used to switch on/o? appliances, like lights, plugs and geysers.

Switches and isolators

Switches and isolators are used to break the flow of current. Switches come in many shapes and sizes, but all operate on a similar principle. A crucial factor when choosing a switch is its rating, which will be indicated by reputable manufacturers. For instance, a light switch should not be used as a stove isolation switch because the rating of the light switch will be too low for the stove’s current drain, causing it to overheat and fail. Switches in a residential building would include those in the distribution board and common switches like those shown here.

Earth leakage unit

A device that detects small imbalances between the earth conductors and the supply, indicating leakage of electricity down to earth. When this happens, the Earth Leakage Switch automatically trips off or turns o?. A small test button is provided and it should be used to test the unit periodically. It is a vital safety feature for any installation and should always be installed.

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10:25 am, Aug 12, 2022
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