Many older homes were originally constructed with a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker which means that for some modern homeowners, home fuse boxes are mysterious and unusual. Fuse boxes also have a reputation for being "unsafe," as there's a potential fire hazard whenever they aren't handled correctly. If you're a home buyer who is purchasing an older home, understanding fuse boxes and how they differ from circuit breakers can help you decide whether or not your new home's fuse box is adequate for your needs.
What's the Difference Between a Fuse Box and a Circuit Breaker Box?
Fuse boxes and circuit breaker boxes are both designed to supply electrical service to residential structures. A fuse box consists of fuses. Fuses are made to "blow" when a circuit overloads. When a fuse blows, this cuts the power to the circuit, thus preventing a possible fire. Power cannot be restored to the circuit until the fuse is replaced.
When a circuit breaker overloads, the breaker cuts the circuit. Power cannot be restored to the circuit until the switch is flipped.
Are Fuse Boxes Safe?
There is nothing inherently unsafe about fuse boxes. However, fuse boxes are an old technology, and therefore all residential fuse boxes are old. Old electrical systems can be unsafe if they're not well maintained. Even fuse boxes that are well maintained can develop problems like short circuits and frayed wires, and thus must be monitored carefully.
Do Fuse Boxes Deliver Adequate Electrical Service?
Fuse boxes date back to a time when there was much less demand for electricity. Many decades ago, 60-amp service was common. Today, most homes require between 100- and 200-amp service.
Many fuse boxes do not supply enough electricity for a modern household. In addition, many fuse boxes lack dedicated circuits for large appliances like the air conditioner, dishwasher and dryer. Homeowners who try to use a fuse box with inadequate electrical service may frequently blow circuits and overload the system.
Some fuse boxes may appear to have adequate electrical service, but this can be the result of tampering from previous homeowners. For example, it's easy to install a 30-amp fuse on a 15-amp circuit. This enables the homeowner to draw more power on a single circuit than was intended by the manufacturer and thus can be a fire hazard. Unfortunately many new homeowners have no way of knowing if this has been done to their fuse box in the past, and may continue to use fuses that allow too much electricity to pass through a single circuit.
What Are the Signs That Your Fuse Box is Overloaded?
Signs that your fuse box is overloaded include:
- The fuses need to be replaced frequently.
- Certain appliances cannot be run together at one time.
- The fuse box makes noises like hissing and popping.
- The wall feels warm around electrical outlets.
If your new home displays any of these symptoms, this is a sign that your fuse box is overtaxed and a new electrical panel may need to be installed.
Fixing a Blown Fuse in Your Home
If ever a fuse is blown in a home due to excessive electricity use, it may become necessary for the homeowner to replace the fuse. So, how do you replace a fuse in a fuse box? When a blown fuse needs to be replaced, there are a few precautions homeowners should take to ensure that replacing the fuse goes as smoothly as possible. First, the homeowner should turn off all the lights and unplug all the appliances in the rooms that have lost power since the fuse blew. If this isn't done, it's possible to overload the circuit again and blow the fuse box all over again once the power is restored.
Once all devices and lights have been turned off and unplugged, the homeowner should locate and open the fuse box. Check each fuse for deformities: The metal center of a blown fuse is likely to have melted, and the glass window at the top of the fuse may be discolored purple or brown. This is the fuse that needs to be replaced. Once the fuse has been identified, replace it with another fuse of the same size, type, and amperage. Homeowners wondering where to buy house fuses can purchase them at a local hardware store. If a homeowner is unsure how to locate a replacement fuse, bring it to a local hardware store to have a professional aid in selecting a replacement fuse for the fuse box.
Once the old fuse has been replaced, start switching appliances on, but be mindful not to overload the circuit again. Oftentimes, it's necessary to shuffle appliances around to ensure one circuit isn't managing too heavy of an electrical load.
How to Maintain a Fuse Box
In general, the maintenance for a fuse box is not too different from that for a circuit breaker. Keeping up on regular maintenance can keep your home safer and protect you from costly repairs and surprise outages.
First, make sure that you know how to turn off your home's power at the fuse box. In most cases, this is achieved by removing the main disconnect box. While this will not interrupt power from between your home and the street, it will cut power within the house when needed.
Regularly inspect your fuse box to ensure that all wires are in good working order. If any look worn or corroded, call an electrician to replace them. Make sure that you have plenty of extra fuses in the correct sizes. This way, you can replace them quickly if a fuse blows.
Should You Plan to Replace the Fuse Box After Moving In?
Not all old fuse boxes are able to supply enough electricity for a modern household. In addition, some types of homeowners insurance will not insure homes with 60-amp electrical service because of the potential safety hazard if the homeowner doesn't maintain it correctly. Before moving in, have the electrical box inspected by a qualified electrician. If your box only has 60-amp service, replacement may be necessary. If the box delivers 100-amp service, the box may be adequate for your needs if it's still in good condition. Find out from your electrician whether or not your box needs to be replaced.
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