Home Repair: Fuse Box

Fuse boxes have become outdated in today's home. If you have a fuse box in your home here are some helpful hints to prevent overloading.

Trying to squeeze a few years out of an old fuse box could be a poor attempt at saving money. Nationwide, approximately forty thousand house fires are caused by electrical problems each year. The purpose of fuses is to prevent fires and electrocutions by interrupting the flow of electricity to circuits that are drawing more current than they can handle safely. When a fuse blows or a circuit breaker trips, what you want is to get the juice flowing again. What you need is to know why it stopped and to correct the problem.

When the lights go out, the most common problem is overload. This happens when too many items are plugged into the circuit. The next most likely problem is a short circuit in an appliance or the household wiring. To find out which event occurred, start by turning off the main power supply at the box. Depending on the age of the installation, this could mean unplugging the pullouts, these are the black plastic blocks with large cylindrical cartridge fuses in them, pulling a big handle type switch on the side of the box, or throwing the main circuit breakers.

Then unplug or turn off everything on the circuit. Look for and replace cracked or melted plugs and worn or frayed wires. Leave everything unplugged. Install a new fuse or reset the breaker. Wait about a minute. If the fuse blows or the breaker trips off, you know the trouble is in the wiring. At this point an electrician should be called.

One by one test the lamps and appliances, with the fuse out or the breaker off, plug one appliance back in, then screw in the fuse. Repeat the process until a blown fuse tells you that you have found the problem. Over the decades, fuse boxes have tended to sprout clusters of smaller boxes all around them. This is caused by the continuous stream of new and indispensable electrical gadgets available. Existing circuits could not handle the increased load, and the original boxes could not accommodate new circuits, so more boxes were added on. If this is what you have consider replacing your fuse boxes with a panel of circuit breakers.

Circuit breakers look something like light switches, only they are thicker and are mounted horizontally. Unlike fuses they can be reset. Circuit breakers can not be bypassed by putting a penny in the socket. This was and still is a fire hazard.

If your house was wired to code after 1970 or so you likely have Romex wire, a plastic clad, three-conductor cable, and a circuit breaker box. But if you have several fuse boxes with frayed wires hidden in the basement, you should be concerned. Old, overburdened, outmoded systems have too few circuits trying to serve too many demands. You need more circuits and a good place to hook them up. The best thing to do is to hire a licensed electrician to remove the old fuse box, install a new breaker box, and run new wiring to the heaviest loads such as the kitchen, bathroom and large appliances. The new circuits will be safe, and the old wiring that remains will be safer because you have reduced the load on it.

If you have any energy and money left after that, you could have the service improved to other parts of the house. Anytime you are renovating or remodeling a room, take a look at how the room is wired. There will never be a more convenient or cheaper time to rewire.

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