Circuit breakers vs fuses

17 Replies

I have acquired a house with screw in fuses.  There is a large difference in premiums with the insurance company if I convert to circuit breakers.  From reading on the internet fuses seem perfectly safe.  What am I missing? 

Good Question...

You are half correct.

Fuses are not unsafe, but there are some related conditions that are indicated by the presence of a fuse box.

1) you haven't lived until you've found a penny behind a torched fuse.

2) generally speaking houses that have a fuse box also have non-code-standard wiring (gen one and two knob and tube) and non-code-standard things means extra money from you to insure them.  even if you look around in your basement and you see some romex, often times the knob and tube is still hidden behind the walls where it's much more difficult to detect.

2ish - 3) knob and tube wiring is much more difficult to safely ground, if you look around the unit, you'll likely notice many two-pronged outlets, and a strange lack of GFCI outlets (or no outlets at all) anywhere near a water source.

House was built in 1958.  It is not knob and tube, but ungrounded. 

Fuses are easy to overload and blowout from all the appliances being plugged in the circuit. Frank
Frank Romine, Real Estate Agent in CA (#01957844)

We have one house with fuses and some knob and tube- it is a pain.  

Other than the small expense every time a fuse blows (which can be often given all the things we have now that need to be plugged in), I feel the fuses vs. breakers is a slight disadvantage when renting (or rerenting) and we plan to upgrade to breakers at some point.  Updated wiring will come later when we plan to do a larger scale upgrade to the whole property.

Kelly

Breakers are safer because tenants can't manipulate them.

If you have fuses, the tenants will probably do exactly what I did when I rented an old place with fuses.  Put a higher amperage fuse in if it keeps tripping because of all the AC units we are running. 

This leads to a fire hazard.

Mark Forest

Nick as the right answer.   Circuit breakers are an evolution from fuses and "fusitrons" (remember those) and cannot be easily manipulated/circumvented by the occupant.  If you look in any fuse panel and chances are very good you will find at least one circuit which is over fused - "Stick a 30amp in it Martha and the hairdryer will never blow it again" ... of course, the house might burn down when the wires become elements in the walls, but there will be no more running to the basement in a towel while trying to dry your hair.

Is it now obvious why insurance companies penalize you for having fuses in rentals?

Steve, Roy N. Pointed out the main reason why fuses are bad for a building. Now days fuses are not so easily replaced with fuses of a higher capacity. Still fuses have only one element in them and will only burn out if you overload them but not necessary if heat builds in the circuit. Circuit breakers have two elements in them a magnetic element and a heat element so if you over load them they will trip and if heat build up they will likewise trip so that is safer for the building as well as the occupants. 

Use to be most municipalities would allow you to simply replace a fuse box with a circuit breaker panel I do not know about all municipalities because codes and requirements differ according to the Authority having jurisdiction in the area but here where I live if you update the panel meaning installing a new circuit breaker system you also have to update the entire electrical system , meaning rewire the entire house. 

Historically insurance company know that a building with fuses will be far more likely to have an electrical fire and that is why insurance companies will charge you a higher premium to insure your building. 

This post has been removed.

Originally posted by @Gilbert Dominguez :

 in the area but here where I live if you update the panel meaning installing a new circuit breaker system you also have to update the entire electrical system , meaning rewire the entire house. 

That would be cost prohibitive.  By making such rules they just force people to hire an electrician to do the work without a permit. 

Originally posted by Mark Forest:
Originally posted by @Gilbert Dominguez:

 in the area but here where I live if you update the panel meaning installing a new circuit breaker system you also have to update the entire electrical system , meaning rewire the entire house. 

That would be cost prohibitive.  By making such rules they just force people to hire an electrician to do the work without a permit. 

 Steve:

Updating the electrical system, if required, may not be cost prohibitive.   Here you would first have an electrician look it over.  In cases where the wiring is not grounded, you may be able to use CFCI receptacles at the start of each roped set and not have to pull new wiring to all locations.

Updated over 2 years ago

Typo ... it should read "GFCI receptacles"

Updated over 2 years ago

Typo ... it should read "GFCI receptacles"

Originally posted by @Roy N. :
 In cases where the wiring is not grounded, you may be able to use CFCI receptacles at the start of each roped set and not have to pull new wiring to all locations.

That would be fine, and I have done that in two houses, but rewiring the entire house like was said above takes A LOT of time.  

I had to laugh as i read this thread. I am a licensed electrician and I agree with many of the comments about not letting tenants change out fuses. However the comments about breakers being safer or better than fuses are wrong. Breakers can get stuck in the on position and never trip as they age. You are actually supposed to replace them if they have tripped more than twice and also test them monthly to make sure they still turn off and have not become frozen in the on position (no one does this but it is on the box or in the instruction of all breakers). Also the comment about fuses only tripping in a high overload situation but not in a situation where the circuit is running hot is false. There are fuses now that have two different types of elements in them that will trip in either situation. 

Originally posted by @Adam McCarty :

I had to laugh as i read this thread. I am a licensed electrician and I agree with many of the comments about not letting tenants change out fuses. However the comments about breakers being safer or better than fuses are wrong. 

Unfortunately the insurance companies prefer circuit breakers.  

Fuses are just as good as a panel with breakers. The only difference is that when a fuse pops you have to buy a new fuse.

I know this thread is a little stale now... but I thought I'd add my $.02 in the unlikely event you hadn't made a decision yet.

Everyone has already touched on the differences and perceived safety between the two...

Don't be penny wise and pound foolish... If the wiring is in decent shape throughout the house (most likely is if it was done in '58 and hasn't been messed with by unknowing DIY'ers since) get a quote from a licensed electrician to swap out your fuse box with a breaker panel. Or if you need more service to the house (which is likely if it still has a fuse panel and you ever want to do any upgrades (especially in the kitchen)) -- you can do a 200 amp heavy up. The latter would likely cost anywhere from $1200 - $2000 (at least in MD which is probably slightly more expensive than MI). I've done a few of these in the past and they were within that range. The former (just swapping out the box) would probably be around $1k or less. That's much better than paying higher premiums with your insurance company overtime. Plus it will be much easier to make any electrical additions in the future. It's really a good investment for the future and not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.

I don't know about your specific jurisdiction but you shouldn't have to rewire the whole house (again, unless it's in really bad shape -- which, if it is, you should upgrade anyway for various other reasons) just because you upgrade the fuse panel to a breaker panel.

Good luck either way!

People will put the wrong size fuses in. True. The ungrounded electrical system that is wired to a fuse box is not code compliant. True. 

A new electrical panel and all new wiring should be considered. Some knob and tube wiring is still rubbery and well insulated and still very usable, but some is brittle and the insulation cracks exposing energized conductor. A new electrical panel will be properly grounded and bonded to ground rods, the plumbing system, and the gas system (if applicable), To make an insurance company happy, you'll need to upgrade to breakers, and GFCI protect all the knob and tube. By the time you do that, the cost to upgrade the whole electrical system won't be much more... unless its a big house.

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