A Beginner’s Guide To Fuses And Circuit Breakers

If you’ve ever had a power outage in your home, you’ve likely had to either flip a tripped circuit breaker switch or replace a blown fuse.  

While fuses and circuit breakers serve the same general purpose, which is to prevent electrical fires and equipment damage, they have different functions. 

Understanding their main similarities and differences will help you determine which type of electrical overload protection device is best for you. 

What is the Function of Circuit Breakers and Fuses? 

It’s important to understand what fuses and circuit breakers are. Circuit breakers and fuses are both designed to detect abnormal and dangerous levels of electrical current flowing through a circuit.  

If there’s too much current flowing through, they’ll interrupt the circuit to keep wires from overheating and possibly causing fires or damage.   

Even though their techniques are different, their purpose is the same – which is to keep your home’s electrical system and devices safe. 

How do Fuses and Circuit Breakers Work?  

Fuses contain a thin metal filament that melts and breaks if too much current passes through, separating the electrical flow. This stops power to the overloaded circuit, while at the same time, allowing other circuits on the same system to continue working.  

To get power back after a fuse blows, the fuse needs to be replaced completely with a new one that has a matching amperage rating. Meanwhile, circuit breakers function by using an electromagnet to counter a spring-loaded handle mechanism.  

If there’s an overload, the electromagnet disengages, which allows the handle to release and break the circuit. After you find the tripped breaker and find the root issue that caused it, you simply flip the handle back on to resume power flow. 

What do Tripped Circuit Breakers and Blown Fuses Indicate? 

Neither scenario is a reason to be alarmed, but both can give you clues about your electrical system’s status.  

A good example is if a fuse continuously blows or a breaker keeps tripping after being reset, which both likely signal an underlying issue like: 

  • Outdated wiring 
  • Exceeded capacity from additional appliances 
  • Moisture incursion 
  • Rodent damage 

A lot of the time, an overloaded circuit is the root problem. 

What are the Differences Between Circuit Breakers and Fuses?  

There are many key differences to understand between these two options: 

Reusability: Tripped circuit breakers can be simply switched back on and blown fuses need to be fully replaced each time.  

Higher Installation Costs: Circuit breaker panels are more expensive initially, while fuses themselves cost more for each replacement. 

Visual Status: Fuses being intact or broken are readily visible and a breaker’s position handle gives their status. 

Ampere Ratings: Breakers have a wider range of sizes available and most common fuse ratings offer fewer incremental sizing options. 

Added Safety: Since fuses blow completely, they must be directly handled and replaced manually. However, breakers can be reset at a distance by simply flipping the lever back on from across the room.  

As you think about your options, keep factors in mind like cost over time, convenience, your electrical set up and safety. Contacting a local electrician is wise for guidance tailored to your home and objectives moving forward as well. 

Final Thoughts 

Whether you rely on basic or advanced fuse and circuit breaker technology to control and keep your home’s electrical system safe, being familiar with how these devices function will prepare you for how to react appropriately if you ever find yourself in this situation. 

Having this simple beginner’s knowledge will help you understand why power has been cut out. You will either be equipped to replace a spent fuse with a new one or seek out and reset the tripped breaker and get electricity flowing in your home again. 

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