Circuit Breakers vs. Fuses for Your Home


Few devices are more important to the safety of your home than the circuit breaker or fuse. Although each device goes about protecting your home in different ways, the basic idea is the same: to prevent overloaded circuits that could overheat and cause a fire.

Circuit Breakers 101


Photo credit: Circuit Reference

Today, circuit breakers are the most common form of overload protection found in homes. Circuit breakers, usually found in breaker panels (pictured above):

  • Use either a bimetal strip or solenoid to trip a switch when current reaches unsafe levels
  • Are easily reset if tripped
  • Can contain GFCI-style breakers for extra protection in certain locations
  • Protect your home from overloaded circuits and fire

While circuit breakers are most commonly found in newer homes, many updated homes have breaker panels instead of fuse boxes. As we mentioned above, they’re very easy to reset. You simply need to find the breaker that’s tripped, and turn it off and back on to reset it. 

Fuses 101


Photo credit: High Electric Bill

Fuse panels like you see above are less common, but are still not uncommon to see, especially in older homes. Fuses:

  • Use a filament that melts when overloaded
  • Must be thrown out and replaced completely when blown
  • Cannot contain GFCIs like a circuit breaker
  • Protect your home from overloaded circuits and fire

We can see, then, that circuit breakers and fuses are similar in function, though different in design. So why have so many homes started using circuit breakers instead of fuses? 

Which Is Better? 

Circuit breakers are more common than fuses these days, but that doesn’t automatically mean that your fuse box needs to be replaced if you have it instead of a breaker panel.

Circuit Breaker Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Very easy to reset if tripped
  • Useable with a GFCI-style breaker
  • Does not need to be replaced like a fuse once tripped
  • Is often more compatible with modern electricity needs

Cons:

  • In some cases, not as sensitive as fuses; slower to react to surges
  • More sensitive to sudden movement and/or vibration than fuses 

Fuse Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • More sensitive than circuit breakers, which can be useful for sensitive devices
  • Cheap—fuses are very inexpensive at any hardware store
  • Perfectly viable if they’re rated with the proper amperage

Cons:

  • Aforementioned sensitivity can cause frequently-blown fuses in some situations
  • It’s possible to use an oversized fuse; a 30 amp fuse can fit in a 20 amp circuit, which is a dangerous fire hazard
  • More difficult to replace in the dark
  • Often more difficult for the average homeowner to maintain

In many ways, a circuit breaker is like a modern-day fuse; a properly installed breaker panel is often lower maintenance and easier to use for the average homeowner. That said, if you’re interested in (or living in) a house with a fuse box, you don’t necessarily need to upgrade and install a breaker panel so long as the fuse box is properly installed and up to code. A house with 60-amp service, for example, almost always needs to be upgraded, while a house with 100-amp service and main fuse can be left on its own in certain instances.

In all cases, a properly installed and rated fuse box is better than an old circuit breaker that’s improperly rated; the same is true the other way around. If you have any questions about the safety or operation of a circuit breaker or fuse in your home, don’t be afraid to reach out to us here at Hiller Electric. Electrical safety in your home is paramount, so don’t hesitate if you’re unsure about the safety or function of an electrical device in your home. 

You can get in touch by phone at 402.339.0524, or visit our Contact Us page for more information.