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Fuse panels are often found in older homes, and tend to be partnered with dated wiring, insulation and services. Switching from a fuse box to circuit breakers may provide a more reliable electrical system, but this upgrade shouldn't be taken on without serious consideration.
Do You Need to Upgrade?
If you've recently moved into a home or apartment with glass fuses, changing may be one of the first home improvement projects you want to complete. Some people assume that the panel needs to be upgraded to provide more power. Others feel that dated electrical services are unsafe and do not provide the same level of protection that newer designs offer.
All of those concerns are valid. But unless the existing service is creating problems with your electrical appliances and devices, or the insurance company is insisting on an upgrade, you may not need to spend the money.
Safety could be an issue, but some engineers argue that glass fuses offer a reasonable amount of protection. Circuit breakers will trip when the load reaches a certain point. Fuses tend to limit the fault better, blowing quicker than a standard breaker. But modern design and the convenience factor have caused breakers to take over in homes around the world.
Benefits of Circuit Breakers Over Fuses
If you've ever had to replace a fuse, only to discover that you're out of fuses and the hardware is closed, the benefits of circuit breakers are obvious. These control switches flip when the circuit is overloaded, cutting off the power in that area and protecting your home from fire and damage. To reset the circuit, all you need to do is flip the breaker back into place.
Glass fuses, on the other hand, will blow when overloaded. These controls need to be completely replaced with new fuses. Although the process may be quick and the price of fuses relatively low, this home repair can be time consuming and irritating. Keeping a decent supply of fuses can become costly over time, as well.
Many homes have 60 amp fuses boxes, while the average circuit breaker panel can handle a 100-amp service. This provides your family with greater flexibility and safety inside the home, and also allows multiple devices and appliances to be running at the same time.
You may be able to increase the size of the fuse box, but remember that the main service dictates your overall available power. Today's breaker panels are far more superior in terms of size, when compared to the standard fuse box of yesterday. This single benefit convinces many homeowners to start an upgrade, although that project also presents a number of challenges that need to be dealt with.
Considerations When Changing Your Fuses to Circuit Breakers
Electrical upgrades are rarely simple. Fuse box systems may be grandfathered, meaning that elements of the system do not necessarily need to meet current building codes as long as they are left alone. If you start to replace any part of these grandfathered structures, the entire system will need to be reassessed and redone to meet existing codes. This could push a simple project into expensive territory, and expand your electrical reno into a full scale replacement.
The switch from fuses to breakers may also signal a replacement in your wiring and insulation. Upgrades tend to spread, and changing all of the important elements in your electrical system may be the best plan overall. Always be sure to hire a professional for wiring and panel upgrades; this type of work requires the skills of a licensed electrician for the optimum safety.
Find out the size of the incoming service. If you plan to install a 100-amp panel on a 60-amp service, hold on for a moment. You'll need to call the local utility company first, and arrange to have the incoming service upgraded. This change will alter the wiring coming into your home, meaning that the replacement breakers will not match the existing fuse sizes. Get the service upgrade done first to ensure your project runs smoothly and efficiently.
Have a look at your main disconnect as well. Will you need to replace the fuses there, or can they be left alone? If the main fuses remain as they are, the supplies and installation are fairly simple. Depending on the size of your system, existing conditions and your geographical area, this type of upgrade runs anywhere from $500 to $1500. When the main disconnect fuses also need to be changed, along with much of the existing system, this cost can climb even higher.
Remember to match the breakers with the existing fuses. Do not attempt to put a 25-amp breaker into a spot that housed a 15-amp fuse. This is dangerous and will almost certainly result in damage.
You'll want to install a breaker panel with plenty of extra room. Invest in a larger 200-amp panel for better long-term durability. Modern life contains more devices and appliances, and equipping your home to deal with them is wise.
Some of the fuses in your existing box will need to be replaced by double pole breakers. This product provides the power required for stoves, driers and other large appliances that may have been equipped with two cartridge fuses.
You'll run into various challenges and decisions when switching from a fuse box to circuit breakers. First of all, decide whether the upgrade is necessary. If you decide to invest in the benefits that modern circuit breakers deliver, find out whether the system has been grandfathered. This will help you decide how far to spread the upgrade, from the main disconnect to the wiring and insulation. Hire a professional and have them look after all of the electrical upgrades at once, for optimum safety and reliability.