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Electrical Upgrades: Fuses vs. Circuits

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Going to talk electrics with Donald in Rhode Island. How can we help you?

    DONALD: Yes, I have a house that I want to upgrade the electrical. Right now, it’s on a fuse system.

    TOM: OK.

    DONALD: And I was thinking about taking it to circuit breakers.

    TOM: OK.

    DONALD: Because every time I plug something into – like a 220 into it, it usually blows a fuse.

    TOM: OK. Well, there could be a good reason it’s doing that. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with fuses. They do their job, which is to protect a wire from overheating. If you have a 15-amp fuse and that fuse is burning out all the time, that means that it’s doing its job and you’re putting in – you’re pulling more than the 15 amps. The one thing about fuses is they’re very accurate in terms of when they blow. A circuit breaker could pull 16, 17 amps before it pops a fuse. If you go to 15.1, it generally goes right away.

    So, one thing you pick up with circuit breakers is the convenience of not having to replace a fuse. However, that’s not going to solve your problem of fuses that burn out all the time because breakers will pop all the time if you’re pulling more power.

    When was your house constructed?

    DONALD: In the 50s.

    TOM: OK, so you probably don’t have that many circuits. Houses in 50s, they did things like they had one circuit for the whole kitchen with the refrigerator and the lights on it, so every time the refrigerator goes on the lights dim. They have the lights and the wall outlets on the same circuit in the bedroom so whenever you use the vacuum cleaner it pops.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm.

    TOM: So what you might find that you need to do here, Donald, is actually add some additional circuits. Now it can all be done at the same time. And I’m certainly not trying to drive your cost, but I don’t want you to think that just because you’re replacing your circuit breaker – your fuse panel with a circuit breaker panel – that you’re going to make it make that much of a dent. You really need to think about additional circuits.

    DONALD: Oh, additional circuits. And is that the – pretty expensive or …?

    TOM: Well, it depends. You know, it really depends on where those circuits are run and that’s the kind of advice that you’d have to get from an electrician when he comes. But …

    LESLIE: And it also matters what type of service the town that you live in has provided for your house. You know, is your house a 100 amperage or is it more and what will the town allow you to have.

    TOM: And you might want to – you might want to upgrade that. Is your house gas fired? Do you have natural gas?

    DONALD: Yes.

    TOM: Well, probably the least that you could have is 100 amps. And – 100 to 150 amps – but still, remember, that’s the amount of current that’s available to the panel. That’s not the amount of current that’s available to each individual circuit. What you have here – you can have a big panel but if you’ve only got two circuits going out of it, then you’re still going to pop circuits all day long. You need a lot of circuits to divide up that power.

    I would consider which circuits are blowing all the time and I would look into those circuits and try to figure out why that’s happening; is it a specific activity that it’s happening or perhaps there is something wrong with the wires. I mean you could have a wire that’s overheating that’s causing this issue. There could be some danger that’s causing this. So you need to look into all those things. But I think, besides the panel, you’re going to need to run additional circuits.

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