Make Sense of the Fuse Box in Your Home

When you're first buying or renting a home, the last thing on your mind is probably your fuse box. After all, this metal container is never front and center in a residence. Instead, you will usually find it tucked away near a closet or even outside your home.

Most homeowners never have to come into contact with the fuse box until lights flicker, or if they run the microwave, hair dryer and TV all at the same time and cause a power outage. However, knowing the basics to make sense of the fuse box in your home is necessary. With that said, let's review what exactly a fuse box is, what it does and some troubleshooting tips to keep your power running.

Replace a blown fuse is a simple task anyone can do if they understand the basics.Don't be left in the dark. Learn the basics about your fuse box.

Fuse Boxes

A fuse box is a metal container that houses either the fuses or the circuits that direct and control the electricity in your home. Most homes built before 1960 feature fuse boxes inside the house while more contemporary buildings have circuit breakers located outside the residence.

Typically, a new home has a separate fuse or circuit for appliances that require the most power, such as your refrigerator, microwave and dishwasher. Even the lights in your kitchen have a separate fuse.

How can I tell what type of box I have?
First, locate your electrical panel either inside or outside your home. When you open it, you'll either see miniature cylindrical glass tubes with metal ends on either side or your panel will feature toggle switches. If your box has glass tubes, electricity feeding to your home is controlled by fuses. If you have the latter, circuit breakers run the power.

While you check the circuits and fuses, make sure you find the main switch on your panel that allows electricity to flow throughout your whole house. If your home requires a lot of power, your panel could have two main electric switches. Knowing which switch controls what before your lights go out in a storm is good knowledge to have. Therefore, check your fuse box before you have any emergencies. Many electrical utility companies recommend homeowners test the main switch at least three times a year to ensure it works properly.

What exactly are fuses?
Put simply, fuses are a type of safety device in your electrical panel. The wire on the fuse itself melts and breaks an electrical circuit if the circuit is overloaded. Therefore, a blown fuse actually keeps your home safe by cutting off power to an unsafe circuit. Most homes nowadays have circuit breakers do the work instead. Breakers are easier to handle and can be reused, unlike fuses. Each time a fuse blows, it must be replaced with a new one. However, if you have circuit breakers, you can simply flip the switch.

If your residence has an old-style fuse box, make sure you know the fuse amperage. You want to purchase new fuses with an amp that corresponds to the one listed in your box. Do not install one with the wrong amperage. If you do this, it could overload your circuit and cause a fire.

Take a look at your electrical panel for the types of fuses you will need. If the box features threaded spaces, also known as Edison sockets, purchase fuses you can screw in place. Other types of fuses have adaptor bases that allow you to install S-type fuses. These can be especially helpful if you mismatch and overload the circuit. This fuse prevents temporary surges in your power that can lead to a blown fuse.

How to Prepare for a Blown Fuse

A blown fuse is bound to happen to you sometime. When it does, it's best to be prepared. With that said, make sure you have the proper tools and equipment to change out your fuses safely so you don't accidentally shock yourself. Let's take a look at what you'll need to complete the job.

New Fuses
Before you go to the hardware or home improvement store, check your fuse box and the different amperage ratings on the fuses. They should be color-coded by the amps for easy identification. Take note of the amperage or colors you need and purchase multiples of each so you're never without power in case one blows.

Flashlight and Batteries
You don't want to be left in the dark without anything to help you fix the problem. Besides a handful of the right fuses, make sure you also have a flashlight and fresh batteries in your tool kit in case the lights go out.

In fact, it's even better to have two flashlights on hand - one in your toolbox and another placed on top of or near your electrical panel for easy access.

Leather Gloves
Always have a pair of thick leather worker gloves on hand when you need to check your panel or change a fuse. Wearing a pair of heavy-duty gloves can protect you from possible electrocution.

Rugs and Mats
To further protect yourself from electrical shock when handling your fuse box, make sure to lay a dry throw rug or rubber mat under your feet before handing the panel of fuses. Using either a rug or a mat adds more insulation so you can safely change out a blown fuse.

Rubber-Soled Shoes
If you want to go the extra mile and truly safeguard yourself from possible shock, wear a pair of rubber-soled shoes when you change the fuse or switch the circuit breaker.

Screwdriver Set
Depending on your fusebox, you might have to unscrew the panel in order to get to the circuit breakers or fuses. Make sure you have one that fits the slot before trying to replace a fuse.

How to Change a Blown Fuse

Now that you have all the equipment you need to change a blown fuse, how do you actually do it?

Don't worry. Putting in a new fuse is relatively easy. However, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions, such as using leather gloves and a rubber mat, so you don't shock yourself. Also, remove any jewelry before opening your fuse box. If there are pools of water near the box, don't attempt to change a fuse until the area is completely dry.

When a fuse blows, do the following:

  • Locate which circuit in your home failed. For example, if the power no longer runs to the socket your blow dryer is connected to, then unplug the device from the wall before opening the fuse box.
  • Wearing your gloves and rubber-soled shoes, turn off the power to the main breaker on your fuse box. Simply toggle the main switch to the off position.
  • If your fuse box has circuit breakers, reset the tripped circuit by pushing the breaker to the off position and then back to the on setting.
  • To completely replace a blown fuse, look for the fuse that has a cloudy-looking glass or broken metal line inside it. Then, carefully unscrew it and replace the blown fuse with one of equal amperage. Make sure you screw the new fuse all the way in, creating a snug fit.
  • After replacing the fuse, turn the main switch back on and retest the circuit by plugging your appliance or device back into the socket. 

When to Call a Professional

While you can often repair or replace blown fuses yourself, keep in mind there will be situations where it's best to seek the help of a professional. Electricians receive specialized training, including both academic education and apprenticeship with master and journeyman electricians. An apprentice electrician requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience before graduating to the journeyman level. This means these professionals are better equipped to handle any electrical issues in a home that may be unsafe or too advanced for average individuals to handle. While there are plenty of ways you can save money on your home's electrical needs, be sure to put safety first and call a professional when necessary.

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