Fuse Box vs Circuit Breaker: Which to Install?

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In the 1950s, the average home needed electricity for lighting, a vacuum cleaner, and maybe a new TV. The needs were simple, and the fuse box could meet them.

Today, homes need electric panels to deliver power for everything from recharging batteries to running the dishwasher. With lots of devices and appliances, the safe handling of a lot of electricity is imperative.

A fuse box and circuit breaker box have the same purpose – protect from power overloads – but go about it differently. If you’re planning upgrades to your electrical panel, should you consider installing a fuse box again or should you switch to a circuit breaker system?

Let’s take a look at each system and how they fit into today’s modern home.

Fuses Explained

A fuse is an over-current safety device, meaning it detects and interrupts excessive electric power surges.

Most fuses are made with a thin wire filament inside a glass tube housed in a metal casing. It’s plugged into a central fuse box that houses all the wiring for the home’s electricity.

In a power overload, the metal filament melts as it overheats, cutting off the electric current before it can damage your wiring or start a fire.

You can’t reuse a blown fuse and must make sure you replace it with the same type and amperage rating as the original.

Circuit Breakers Explained

Inside a breaker box, circuit breakers work with a switch mechanism that trips during a power surge.

In the ON position, the breaker allows an electrical current to pass through to the home. Unsafe power levels cause the switch to flip to the OFF position, breaking the current. Circuit breakers can be reused by opening the panel and flipping the switch back to the ON position.

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Fuse Box vs Circuit Breaker

So which would be the better choice if you need to replace your current electric panel?

Fuses are quicker to cut the flow of power and are inexpensive and easy to find. However, you have to replace them each time they trip, unlike circuit breakers.

Fuses do have the advantage of giving more protection for sensitive electronic devices because they react quickly, but if your grid is prone to surges, that same reaction can cause the fuse to blow regularly.

There are also many exposed electrical connections in a fuse box, which is one of the reasons most electricians consider them outdated and unsafe. It’s too easy to install the wrong-sized fuse, especially as a way of trying to get more power and create a fire hazard.

Fuses provide 60-amp service, which was plenty years ago, but today’s appliances need the higher levels available through circuit breakers. You can still run low voltage electric circuit breakers if called for, but also as much as 200 amps to power large appliances.

The key difference between a fuse box and a breaker box is the need for GFCI outlets, which can’t be used with a fuse box. These break the circuit of an individual outlet to prevent shock if the current becomes unbalanced. You find them in wet areas like bathrooms or kitchens, and they are part of modern building codes.

Time to Upgrade Your Electric Panel?

A fuse box was the standard for homes built years ago. While it was adequate to the time, the advent of more large appliances and sensitive electronic devices calls for a different way of delivering electricity to your home. Choosing to do a circuit breaker installation can improve the stability and safety of your electrical service distribution system.

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Check out our other articles for more tips and guides for your next home improvement project.