What is the Difference Between Circuit Breakers and Fuses?
Get to know how fuses and circuit breakers work to protect your home from dangerous power surges.
While most contemporary homes come with a circuit breaker panel to protect against dangerous power surges, you may find that some older homes will have a fuse box. While they serve the same purpose, they operate differently, and each come with advantages and disadvantages. If you are thinking of investing in an older home with a fuse box, or are thinking of upgrading to a circuit breaker, here are some things to consider for both units.
Fuses are made of a metal filament that melts when heated. Should your home experience a surge of electricity, the energy will melt the metal, causing an immediate interruption of the circuit. Once the fuse is used or “blown,” it must be replaced.
Used fuses are easy and inexpensive to replace, and work great if they are rated with the correct amperage. Fuses are often more sensitive than their circuit breaker counterparts, which is a positive for protecting devices or equipment in the home that are sensitive to power fluctuations.
On the other hand, fuse sensitivity can also result in frequent use and replacement of fuses. Fuses cannot accommodate Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs), which interrupts current when it travels through an unintended route, such as water or a person. GFCIs are an added safety feature that can prevent injuries in the home, as well as fires.
Fuses can be more challenging to replace without power to provide light, and the potential for installing oversized fuses, such as a 30 amp in place of a 20 amp fuse, can create a fire hazard. Fuse boxes can be more challenging for homeowners to manage, often requiring the services of a certified electrician.
Like fuses, circuit breakers stop dangerous currents from entering the home and damaging your property. Unlike fuses, circuit breakers achieve this by separating contacts when power surges are detected, and can be reset and reused rather than replaced like a fuse.
Circuit breakers are well suited for modern home electrical needs, and homeowners benefit from the added safety of using GFCIs.
While newer and more widely used than fuses, they can be slower to respond to energy surges, and are more sensitive to physical movement and vibrations than fuses.