THE CONSUMER UNIT is the heart of the home. It distributes electricity to appliances and safeguards the electrical wiring system. With the limited power supplies that are available in Spanish dwellings, it is essential that it is adequately equipped with the correct devices to protect against overloading, short circuits and leaking electricity.
Back in the day a consumer unit was called a fusebox. When circuit breakers replaced fuses it changed its name. The term consumer unit, or CU, principally applies to domestic premises, and across the Costa Blanca dwellings normally have a 5.75 kilowatt 230 volt single-phase power supply to theirs.
It is usually located near the front door and normally consists of two compartments. The smaller compartment is solely for a manual operated power control switch (ICP) which is fitted under an Iberdrola authorised seal. The larger compartment is for consumer equipment, and houses the safety devices for the subsidiary circuits. With the introduction of Smart Meters the manual type ICP is becoming obsolete.
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A consumer unit in a Spanish property is different compared to the UK.
Since 2002 following publication of the latest Spanish electrical regulations, the basic installation for a dwelling requires a consumer unit to be fitted with five sub-circuits. Properties built prior to 2002, can have four sub-circuits, or even only two. Very old properties can be found without any, just a main switch.
The basic installation is protected by a single RCD rated at 30 milli-amps. This can cause secondary safety problems with loss of lighting and defrosting of food if a trip occurs.
Large properties with higher electrical consumption should have consumer units fitted with additional safety devices. Extra protection is needed for a Jacuzzi, swimming pool, tumble dryer, large air conditioning and heating systems.
For external electrical fixtures and fittings, as well as a pool supply, it is preferable to have them independently controlled in the consumer unit, enabling the sub-circuits to be easily isolated in the event of a fault. This prevents major disruption to the electricity supply inside the property, which may occur during wet weather.
For properties built before 2002 consider replacing the existing consumer unit with a dual split-load consumer unit together with a Surge Protection Device (SPD). By splitting the sub-circuits, electricity will always be present in part of the property if one of the RCDs trips out. An SPD provides protection for the whole house against over-voltage spikes, an occurrence notorious with the Spanish electricity supply.