Fuse Box vs. Circuit Breaker: An Age-Old Rivalry

The world is not quite the same as it used to be.

Phones have personalities, fridges can connect to the internet, and ovens can even be activated from hundreds of miles away. It’s a brave new world out there to be sure.

One of the biggest changes has been our growing need for more electricity. In fact, from 1950 to 2010, the average per-household energy consumption increased by a factor of ten.

As our electricity needs changed, so too did the way we control it in our homes. Fuse boxes, for example are now rare in many modern households and have been replaced by circuit breakers instead.

But what is the difference between these two methods of electricity control?

Fuse Boxes vs. Circuit Breakers: What Separates the Two?

Both fuse boxes and circuit breakers serve the same purpose of preventing an overloading of your home’s internal wiring system.

If there’s ever a sudden spike of voltage within a certain circuit (e.g. your family room’s outlets, your washer and dryer plug, the bathroom sink), then both of these measures effectively cut off power to the area.

The difference, however, is how they each accomplish this feat.

Fuses, for example, are made from a thin and very precisely constructed length of wire that’s been selected and crafted to withstand a certain amount of electricity. When the current flowing through it is higher than the threshold it’s designed for, the wire melts and as a result, the circuit is no longer closed.

No more closed circuit, no more power. Disaster is averted and your home is safe for another day.

The only problem, however, is that this fuse that so nobly gave its structural integrity to protect you now has to be thrown away. After all, if the wire’s melted, the circuit can’t be completed.

While this system worked well for several decades, when the circuit breaker came onto the market in the 1960s, it largely displaced fuses.

These innovations allowed the exact same kind of protection through the use of either a bendable bimetallic strip or an electromagnet. But rather than having to toss them out after it’s tripped, circuit breakers can be reused indefinitely.

It’s pretty easy, then, to see the appeal of using these devices over their older, less reusable counterparts.

A Few Quick Notes About the Differences

One of the biggest advantages of a circuit breaker over a fuse box is the convenience. However, that convenience can come at a cost. For especially older homes, for example, upgrading to a circuit breaker panel could run several thousands of dollars.

However, there are a few things to remember here. First, our electricity needs are constantly growing. And in general, circuit breakers have a higher amperage allowance than most affordable fuses on the market today.

What’s more, some circuit breakers like upper-end molding case circuit breakers (MCCBs) let you change the tripping allowance, giving you greater flexibility in how you use them. Not a bad deal for a single breaker.

Fuse Box vs. Circuit Breaker: A Pretty Clear Winner for Most

While the initial expenditure on a circuit breaker (if you don’t already have one) can be a bit on the pricey side, the investment more than makes up for itself in flexibility, ease of use, and most importantly, convenience.

It’s a wonder, then, why so many people still consider this to be a fair fight!

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