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Fuse Box vs Circuit Breaker: A Detailed Comparison

Writen by Edwin Jones

Fact checked by Andrew Wright

fuse box vs circuit breaker

The fuse box vs circuit breaker conversation continues up to now because each one has its unique strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a summarized take:

  • Thanks to continuous innovation, circuit breakers enjoy more robust application in residential, commercial, and industrial settings, while fuse box usage has declined, except arguably in cars and the internal fuses found in certain appliances.
  • Fuses and fuse boxes are generally more economical but can’t be reused.
  • Circuit breakers may cost more but they’re not limited to one-time use.
  • Overall, both are effective for their intended purpose.

Continue reading to get a more in-depth comparison and view of the two.

What Is a Fuse Box Home?

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A fuse box house or fuses electrical panel contains anywhere from 6 to 12 fuses, all of which protect electrical circuits against both overcurrents and short circuits.

They can either be cartridges or plugs. The former is intended to protect 240V circuits when a short or overload occurs, while the latter works best with 120V ones.

Fuses are mainly composed of two components: a metal wire or filament and the cartridge that encases it. Thermal fuses are designed to fail once exposed to a set temperature.

How Does It Work?

A fuse is a type of electrical equipment that “blows” to perform its protective mechanism.

To be precise, the fuse wire melts or burns out once excess current passes through it, effectively shutting off the circuit and preventing more serious hazards like electrical fires. Once it does its job, it needs to be replaced.

You can check whether the fuse has blown (i.e. the said melting process happened) and needs replacing by testing for continuity using a multimeter.

Make sure you address the electrical problem that caused the fuse to blow before replacing, though. Otherwise, the replacement will likely go the way of its predecessor prematurely.

What Is a Circuit Breaker?

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Also called an over current safety device, a circuit breaker is housed in an electrical service panel and performs the same purpose as a fuse.

It is composed of an internal magnet that allows it to protect against dangerous levels of electrical current passing through the circuit.

As electricity flows, panels accept the incoming voltage from your home’s electrical system and divide it into electrical circuits.

Each circuit is served by a breaker and normally powers multiple devices.

  • Circuit breakers have a tripping mechanism, operating mechanism, arc chutes, molded frame, and contacts in order to function properly. A bi metal strip triggers thermal breakers, which are used in certain industrial
  • The evolution of circuit breakers could not be more apparent in the types of circuit breakers we now have available – most of which overcome the limitations of earlier incarnations.
  • Currently, you can choose from single-pole, double-pole, ground fault circuit interrupters (protects against ground faults), arc fault circuit interrupters (protects against arc faults), molded-case, and more advanced magnetic force, inverse time, and instantaneous-trip varietie

These are exactly why breakers conceivably lead in the circuit breaker vs fuse box debate.

How Does It Work?

In a standard circuit breaker, the integrated magnet flips or the bi metal strip bends to disengage the two integrated contacts (one moving and one unmoving). The action stops the flow of electricity in the circuit.

The trip mechanism occurs once the electrical current passing through the circuit surpasses a specific amount, which is dictated by the breaker’s amp rating.

After tripping occurs, you can open the panel’s metal casing, reset the breaker’s internal switch mechanism or metal lever, restore power, and reuse it again to protect your property’s electrical devices.

Of course, this is assuming you’ve already solved the electrical problems that caused the overloaded circuit or short, and you’ve confirmed the tripped circuit breaker functions normally.

For visual reference, I suggest you watch this video that excellently shows how a circuit breaker (particularly its magnetic mechanism) works:

Fuse Pros and Cons

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Fuses might shine in scenarios where breakers underperform, and vice versa. A fuse box may seem like an obsolete choice to many, but the following advantages are why it still stands firm in the fuse box vs breaker box match-up:

Pros

  • Lower initial costs than breakers, which is why they’re still widely used in cars and solar panel inverters.
  • A central fuse box and its fuses require less space than panels and breaker
  • When a fuse “fails”, it’s done its job. The same can’t be said for faulty breakers.
  • Internal fuses can provide overload and overheating protection in electrical devices like refrigerators, ovens, and dryers.
  • Some fuses trip faster than circuit breakers.
  • Doesn’t require maintenance.
  • A blown fuse immediately alerts you about an electrical issue and what it affects – all the more so if the fuse has a built-in indicator.

Cons

  • Needs to be replaced after blowing. This could be a problem if there are no ready sources of fuses available on hand or at your local hardware store.
  • No magnetic and ground fault protection and limited to thermal protection.
  • Typically needs larger wires to account for inrush currents.
  • While doing a replacement or electrical installation for a breaker box fuse blown is relatively easy, it’s still more troublesome than just resetting a breaker.
  • Fuses have uncovered live parts, which expose you to unsafe levels of electricity and heightens the risk of electric shock and electrocution.

Circuit Breaker Pros and Cons

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Many people, whether a qualified electrician or casual homeowner, favor breakers in the electrical fuse box vs circuit breaker battle because of the following compelling benefits.

The fact that most of the disadvantages are marginal only brings an easy end to this discussion.

Pros

  • Can be reset and used again to help regulate normal operating current and address more power overloads as long as it’s not been damaged to the point of needing a replacement.
  • Offers different kinds of protection, depending on the type you use.
  • Lasts longer than fuses.
  • May be tested for proper operation, unlike a fuse, which has to be blown just to tell you it’s working.

Cons

  • Only certain circuit breakers have trip indicators that help you promptly know that the breaker has flipped.
  • Certain types, like molded circuit breakers, need regular maintenance.
  • May wear out faster when continuous trippings occur.
  • More expensive than fuses.

Main Differences Between Circuit Breaker Panels and Fuse Boxes

Pitting fuse panel vs breaker panel inevitably shows us what sets a fuse and circuit breaker apart from each other. Look no further than the comparisons I’ve outlined below.

  • The fuse box and circuit breaker electrical panel aren’t the same since fuse boxes are designed to hold only fuses and are smaller than the latter. That being said, there’s technically no such thing as old style fuse box circuit breakers.
  • On the other hand, an electrical panel only houses circuit breakers.
  • Breaker panels are characterized by the rows of switches in them, which move to ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ positions if a trip occurs and can be used to cut power to a circuit.
  • Fuse boxes, on the other hand, are mainly identified by the arrangement of knobs you see once you open them.

Cost Considerations for Both

  • The cost to replace fuse box with breaker panel may reach between $2,000 to $4,500. You can cut your expenses to $200 if you’re going the DIY route, which requires electrical know-how and confidence in handling electricity.
  • Installing a new main circuit breaker panel costs an average of $1,250. For a sub panel, it’s $1,075.
  • When comparing circuit breaker fuse replacement, fuses cost less upfront (around $10 to $20 per fuse in cars) but may lead to more expenses with subsequent replacements.
  • Fuse box replacements may reach $100 in certain cases. Depending on the size, that can balloon from $200 to as high as $2,000.
  • Breakers cost more per replacement, though, as proven by the fact that they can cost you 10x that of fuses, totaling a range between $100 to $200.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Which is better fuse box or circuit breaker?

A circuit breaker may seem the better option based on the points made above.

However, since both can offer overload protection caused by a power surge and short circuit protection, the better option is arguably the one that gives you the most number of extra perks depending on your purposes.

Are fuse box and breaker box the same?

No, a fuse box contains solely fuses, while a breaker box only works with circuit breakers.

Should I replace my fuse box with a circuit breaker?

If the fuse box has served the property’s electricity and power protection requirements for years, if not decades, and has seen better days, it’s high time to replace it with more reliable and compliant circuit breakers.

Conclusion

Whether it’s circuit breaker vs fuse box or breaker box vs fuse box, one thing is clear: there’s no other healthier rivalry in the field of electricity, electronic devices, and a home’s electrical system.

Despite circuit breakers seemingly ticking a lot more checkboxes and bringing more meaningful conveniences, they’re still not enough to completely overshadow what fuses can deliver.

This is especially true if there are specific requirements that need to be met. With that in mind, we can only say that it’s still up to you whether you’ll use one over the other.

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