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Homes with Fuse Boxes: What you need to know.

Homes with Fuse Boxes: What you need to know.

For home buyers used to modern electrical panels and circuit breakers, the fuse boxes found in many older homes may be a bit of a mystery. Understanding how a fuse box works and being aware of its limitations could affect your home-buying decision.

Fuse Box or Circuit Breaker?

Both a fuse box and circuit breaker box manage the supply of electricity to a home. Homes built before 1960 most commonly have fuse boxes. These fuses will “blow” when too much current passes through a circuit. Fuses also keep your home’s wiring from overheating, reducing the likelihood of a possible fire hazard. However, the fuse must be replaced in order to restore power to the circuit.  

Modern circuit breakers work in a similar way. In a circuit breaker, the flow of power is governed by switches that “trip” and break the circuit when it becomes overloaded. Power is restored when the switch is reset.

Are fuse boxes safe?

The number one question when considering a home with a fuse box should be: Is it safe?  The answer can be tricky. In general, fuse boxes are fairly safe. In fact, they may react more quickly to an overloaded circuit than modern circuit breakers. However, fuses are an outdated technology and are not included in contemporary residential construction. Individual fuse boxes and their component parts may also be very old, which could be cause for concern. Even well-maintained fuse boxes may have worn or frayed wires or develop other problems over time.

Can a fuse box handle a home’s electrical needs?

Home buyers should also consider whether a fuse box is adequate for their electrical usage. Fuse box technology originated in a time when demand for electricity was significantly lower, before personal computers, video game systems, HDTVs, mobile devices, smart appliances, and many other modern energy-consuming devices existed. Most homes today require between 100 and 200 amps to support modern electrical consumption. If your fuse box isn’t adequate for your electrical needs, you may blow fuses frequently, which is both frustrating and potentially problematic. 

Warning: Some fuse boxes may appear to have adequate electrical service, but it’s possible that a previous homeowner may have mistakenly installed a fuse with higher amperage on a circuit not rated to handle it. An example of this would be adding a 30-amp fuse to wiring rated for 15 amps. If too much electricity is allowed to flow through the circuit, the results may be dangerous.  One potential sign of an improperly maintained box is an overabundance of 20 or 30-amp fuses. 

[Side Bar] – MOVED ABOVE “IS A FUSE BOX A DEAL-BREAKER?”

No-fuss fuse replacement

You’ve done your due diligence and determined that your older home’s fuse box will adequately support your electrical needs. However, you may still have to deal with a blown fuse from time to time. While not as easy as flipping a breaker switch, replacing a fuse can still be fairly simple.

  1. Turn off all electric and unplug any appliances or devices in the area affected by the blown fuse.
  2. Identify the blown fuse using a flashlight. Be sure to look inside. Most fuses have a small glass window that becomes discolored when the fuse blows. 
  3. Shut off the power. Pull the main fuse in your fuse box to stop the flow of electricity.
  4. Unscrew the blown fuse and install the replacement. Be sure to use the correct size and amperage. 
  5. Replace the main fuse and restore power to the box.

Go back to the area that suffered the outage, and plug in your devices. Make sure the fuse doesn’t blow again. If so, it may be time to call an electrician.

Is a fuse box a deal-breaker?

Ultimately, the decision whether or not to purchase a home with a fuse box depends on your specific situation. Consider your energy needs, and the capacity of the home’s overall electrical system. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is needed to safely maintain a fuse box. And remember—in real estate everything’s negotiable.

Beyond a standard home inspection, you may want to have a qualified electrician inspect an older home’s fuse box and extended electrical system. Be aware that some lenders and insurance companies may require this, or impose other obligations or restrictions related to older electrical systems.

Whether you’re buying or selling, working with a new home or one that’s just new to you, at Casteel we take home electrical system safety seriously. We’re here help you with all your electrical repair, replacement, or upgrade needs. Call your Casteel team anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we will take Amazing Care of You® and your home.