Imagine you are getting ready for the day with your family. You plug in the toaster, your wife is blow drying her hair, your kids turn on a lamp to finish their homework as the television is playing the morning news. You plug in the slow cooker to start dinner and – POP! - everything goes dark. The electrical circuit has been overwhelmed, and a safety mechanism has stopped the flow of electricity. Either the circuit breaker has tripped, or a fuse has blown, causing the flow of electricity to cease.
While circuit breakers and fuses do the same job, they do it in different ways and must be repaired in different ways. Both are used to interrupt the flow of power in a home or building to prevent overloads and fires, but they do so differently.
Do You Have a Fuse Box or a Circuit Breaker in Your Home
You should always know where the power box is in your home. Whether you have a fuse box or a circuit breaker, at some point, there will be a situation where you either need to shut off power to part of your home, or where the electricity overloads the system and you either need to reset the circuit or change a blown fuse.
Most times, the electrical panel is in an out of the way, but easy to access, area of the home. This could be a basement, laundry room in a hall closet. Look around your home to find the electrical box.
When you open the box, how do you know if you are looking at a fuse box or a circuit breaker? A fuse box will be full of small glass bulbs in a line, while a circuit breaker will have rows of metal strips or switches.
Difference Between a Fuse and Breaker
While both fuses and breakers are used to quickly disrupt the flow of power to prevent an overload, they do so in different ways. Fuses are made from metal wire or filament enclosed in a glass or ceramic with a metal case. The fuse allows electricity to pass unobstructed when the electricity is passing at a safe rate, but if an overload occurs, the filament with melt to stop the flow of electricity.
In circuit breakers, if the flow of electricity reaches an unsafe level, the magnetic force throws a metal lever or bends a metal strip, throwing a switch and breaking the connection.
Fuses: Pros and Cons
- Fuses are very inexpensive, and the fuses for your home can generally be found at any electrical store. It is easy to purchase a pack of fuses in the right rating to have as a backup at your home, so if the fuse is blown, you can quickly replace it by yourself.
- Fuses react quickly to overloading, which means they provide more protection to sensitive electronic devices, such as computers or recording equipment, to ensure these do not overload.
- It is easy to see which fuse has been blown and it is safe for any homeowner to repair the electrical system.
- Because they are more sensitive to overloading, fuses are sometimes quicker to blow than a circuit breaker, resulting in more blown fuses and times you will need to change them.
- If you do not have replacement fuses on hand when the fuse blows, you might have to run to a hardware store to pick up replacements before you can change them.
- You will need to ensure you select the correct fuse for your home, as different replacement fuses have different voltage or ratings.
Circuit Breakers: Pros and Cons
- Circuit breakers are easy to turn back on. If it was a one-time surge or the reason the breaker tripped has been repaired (like removing an extra appliance that was taking up too much energy), homeowners can flip the switch back to its original position to reconnect the circuit.
- Circuit breakers provide an easy way to turn off electricity to parts of the home. If a repair person is working on the electricity in the bathroom, it is easy to find the switch that controls the bathroom and safely turn it off while they are working.
- Circuit breakers are also used for ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, which breaks the circuit in an outlet to prevent electrical shock if the current gets unbalanced. These outlets generally have a “reset” button on the plate and are useful in kitchens or bathrooms.
- Circuit breakers are more expensive to install and repair, and repairs must usually be done by a professional electrician.
- Circuit breakers do not react as quickly as fuses in a power surge, which means more sensitive electrical items may get damaged.
- Circuit breakers can also be sensitive to vibration or movement, which might allow a switch to trip for reasons that are unrelated to the electricity in the home. This might be confusing for a homeowner trying to solve the problem.
Whether you have a fuse box or a circuit breaker, when you have an electrical problem with your home, it is best to call a professional electrician to inspect and fix the issue. Contact the team at Central today for electrical help on your home.