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Circuit Breaker or Fuse Box?

by Hickerson Brothers on April 2, 2016

Do you need to upgrade to a circuit breaker from a fusebox?Most homes use a modern electrical panel with resettable circuit breakers.  There is a chance that your home still uses an older-style fuse box.  So the question is, are these boxes outdated and should you spend the money to upgrade to a modern circuit breaker?

The Differences

Circuit breakers and fuse boxes both serve the same overall function.  They’re current-limiting devices which protect individual circuits from overloads and electrical fires.  Current limiters are exactly what their names state: devices which disconnect the circuit when the current flow of the circuit exceeds a certain amount.  In both fuses and circuit breakers, this is done by measuring the amount of heat on the circuit.

You see, as the amount of power flowing over a circuit increases, the heat in individual components increases.  That heat is directly caused by power demands and makes it very simple for fuses and circuit breakers to respond to fast increases in power demands.  The differences are in how each device responds to these power changes.

Circuit breakers use a bimetallic strip.  Two pieces of metal are pressed together to create an electrical contact.  Since the two metals have different thermal expansion rates, they change size in different proportions as the circuit heats up.  This causes the strip to bend.  Once the heat in the circuit reaches a high enough point (current has exceeded the breaker’s rating), that strip curves too far and the breaker trips, snapping the circuit open and cutting off power.

Fuses have a very thin electrical filament with a melting point that’s lower than the wiring and devices used in the circuit.  When the current spikes to a point where it heats up that filament past it’s melting point, it burns up and the missing filament becomes an open spot in the circuit, stopping current flow completely and removing power.

With both devices, the point is to provide a fast response to a sudden problem (current spikes and heating issues).  If they don’t respond to this change, the excess heat will (at best) burn out one of the devices on your circuit or (at worst) set insulation or a device on fire due to the high temperature of the wire.  It’s about safety, and both systems work extremely well for this job.

Should You Upgrade?

The short answer is: no.  Unless there’s a problem with your fuse box, there is no urgent reason to upgrade to a modern circuit breaker.  Fuse boxes are often just as safe (when used properly) as a standard circuit breaker.  There are a few reasons you might want to upgrade anyway, however.

You have to match fuses exactly. Purchasing or replacing the wrong type of fuse is dangerous.  If you place a fuse with a higher-rating than your old fuse, you risk overloading the wiring in your home.  Many fuses look extremely similar and will fit the same slots in your fuse box.  So always make sure to buy the same amperage-rating on a replacement fuse.

Electrical hacks aren’t as common in circuit breakers.  It’s fairly common knowledge that if you wrap tinfoil around a burnt out fuse you can bypass it entirely.  Never do this!  Yes, it works, but it’s also extremely dangerous.  Consider that you’re bypassing a safety feature.  If your fuse has blown, there’s a reason for it you and need to find the source of the problem, not ignore the protective device.

Circuit breakers are reusable. The most common reason for upgrading is reusability.  Circuit breakers don’t need to be physically replaced when you overload the circuit.  You can simply reset the breaker and return to business as usual.  There are no worries of buying the wrong size fuse or running out of fuses in an emergency.

And if you decide that you want to upgrade to a new electrical panel with circuit breakers, then you should consult a professional electrician to see what all is involved in the upgrade and how easy it will be for your home.

Hickerson Electrical is your source for all home electrical services.  We’re ready and willing to deliver top-quality service to your home at a moment’s notice.  So call today at (703) 594-3913.

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