The heart of the electrical system in your home is an electrical panel. It receives and directs the flow of incoming electricity, distributing the power to the circuits in your home. It is also crucial to the electrical safety of your home. An electrical current that is too strong may create a fire hazard. An electrical panel is expected to detect if there is an overloaded current and shut off the power to the circuit to prevent fire. In general, there are two primary forms of electrical panels: fuse boxes and circuit breakers. Both fuse boxes and circuit breakers serve to protect electrical circuits from overloading by interrupting the electrical current. But they have different designs, features, and working mechanisms.
What is a Fuse Box?
A fuse is an electrical safety device providing over-current protection to an electrical circuit. A fuse’s essential component is a metal strip or wire that melts if too much current flows through, hence stopping the current. Due to the nature, a fuse is more of a sacrificial device. Once a fuse has operated (melted), it has to be replaced or rewired. Fuses have been utilized since the early days of electrical engineering. Today, there are various designs with specific voltage and current ratings, response time, and breaking capacity for different applications. The most common reasons for a fuse operation are short circuits, mismatched loads, overloading, and device failure. In a house, the fuse is usually plugged in a central fuse box, in which all of the house’s wires pass through. In North America, fuse boxes can be found in buildings that are wired before 1960. Since the 1950s, fuses have been superseded by low-voltage circuit breakers.
What is a Circuit Breaker?
Obviously, circuit breakers are a newer technology than fuse boxes. A circuit breaker is an automatic electrical switch that interrupts an electrical current after a fault is detected. However, unlike a fuse, a circuit breaker can be reset to resume the normal operation. A circuit breaker works in one of two possible ways: using an electromagnet / solenoid or a bi-metal strip. The basic design of the two possibilities is the same. When turned on, an electrical current can pass from the lower to the upper terminal across the solenoid or strip. When an unsafe level is reached, either the magnetic force of the solenoid becomes strong enough to throw a switch mechanism to cut the flow, or the metal strip bends to throw the switch and break the connection. After the problem is resolved, you can easily restore the electricity flow by turning back the switch. A circuit breaker may also have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, which prevents electric shock by breaking the circuit in an outlet once the current becomes unbalanced. It can also be reset by a push of a button. This technology is especially useful in bathrooms and kitchens, where electric appliances are used near water.
Pros and Cons of a Fuse Box
– It is more sensitive than circuit breakers, increasing safety
– It is utterly cheap
– The high sensitivity may lead to frequently blown fuses
– Difficult to replace
– Prone to mistakes
– May be incompatible with modern appliances and GFCI circuit breakers
A fuse can be easily purchased from any hardware store. It is utterly cheap and inexpensive. It reacts very quickly to overloading, meaning that it gives better protection for sensitive electronic devices. Thus, a fuse box can be a good choice for usage with electronic devices that are very sensitive even to the slightest current spikes.
However, the high sensitivity may also be a disadvantage. If the circuit regularly experiences power surges, it will result to frequently blown fuses. If your place experiences power outages and surges fairly often, a fuse box is not an option. It is not very practical; a blown fuse needs to be replaced for the current to flow again, but a replacement may not be available right away and the task is challenging if in a darkened room. Replacing a fuse is prone to mistakes. If the replacement’s voltage or current rating is too high, the circuit may get overheated or overloaded and result in a fire hazard. In addition, a fuse box may contain exposed electrical connections, which are dangerous for a layman who does not follow the safety instructions. A fuse box is not compatible with GFCI circuit breakers and perhaps some modern appliances.
Pros and Cons of a Circuit Breaker
– Very easy to reset
– Does not need a replacement after a power surge
– Compatible with modern technologies and GFCI circuit breakers
– Not as sensitive as fuses, relatively slow to react on a power surge
– May be sensitive to sudden movements and vibrations
– More expensive to install and repair
Circuit breakers may have many advantages, but the most evident is how quickly they are to reset. You can see clearly which switch that has been tripped, and you can push it back straight away without having to replace anything. For an average homeowner, such system is safer. There is no doubting about choosing the right ratings, and all electrical connections are secured. And, of course, you should choose a circuit breaker if you need the GFCI feature.
However, a circuit breaker is indeed more expensive than a fuse box with the fuses. It is also pricier to repair, if a trouble results with the circuit breaker getting damaged. Typically, a circuit breaker is not as sensitive as a fuse; sensitive electronic devices may get damaged by the “let-through” energy on a power surge. It is also somehow sensitive to vibrations and movements. It may get tripped because of something unrelated to electricity.
|Fuse Box||Circuit Breaker|
|- Very sensitive, which is beneficial for increased safety||- Not as sensitive, which can be bad for sensitive devices|
|- Very cheap||- Relatively more expensive|
|- Difficult to replace||- Easy to reset|
|- Not compatible with GFCI||- Compatible with GFCI|
In general, a circuit breaker is the better option for a typical house. It is easier and more practical to use, and also relatively safer for an average homeowner. You may need a GFCI circuit breaker on certain places such as the kitchen or bathroom. A fuse box is typically found in old buildings; fuses make the way to go in order to protect sensitive electronic devices, otherwise upgrading a fuse box to a circuit breaker is usually better.