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Fuses and Circuit Breakers
If you have an older home you may have a fuse panel. Most homes these days have circuit breaker panels. Both serve the same purpose; to protect the branch circuits from overloads and to trip in the event of a sustained short circuit. Some common fuse and circuit breaker sizes you'd find in your home are 15 amp, 20 amp, 30 amp, and 40 amp. Generally speaking a 15 or 20 amp circuit breaker protects your normal branch circuits containing lights and receptacles. Clothes dryers are normally protected by 30 amp breakers while ranges are protected by 40 amp breakers.
In older homes you will find a multitude of outlets all running off of one circuit which results in frequent blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers. Some homeowners think that if they install a larger fuse or circuit breaker their problems will be solved. While this may prevent blown fuses it creates a dangerous overload on the branch circuit wiring. Cables and conductors are rated by how many amps they can safely carry continuously. A #14 cable is rated at 15 amps and a #12 cable is rated 20 amps. If you were put in a 30 amp fuse or circuit breaker you will exceed the safe limits of the cable.
A dangerous situation may occur if a cable carries more current than it's rated for. Large cables, with less resistance, can carry more current than smaller cables, which have more resistance. It's like a garden hose, the larger the diameter the more water it can carry. The smaller the diameter the less water it can carry. When a circuit is overloaded the conductors will start to produce heat which in turn can melt the insulation covering and cause an electrical fire. Rather than installing larger fuses and circuit breakers, do it the right way by breaking up reducing the number of outlets on overloaded circuits.
In the days of old, houses frequently had only 4 circuits which was fine back then. Today, 32 - 40 branch circuits are required to operate the house of today with all it's conveniences. If a ciruit breaker does trip, it can be reset by first turning it all the way to the off position and then back to the on position. You have to replace fuses when they blow. Keep 1 or 2 spares of the most common fuse sizes close to your fusebox so they can be easily found when one decides to blow. The best solution is to have your fusebox replaced by a modern circuit breaker panel. This is not a DIY job, an electrical permit is required so it's best to hire a qualified electrician to do the job.
When prospective home buyers are interested in your home, or if they hire a home inspector, one of the important areas of concern is the electrical system. An old fuse panel that is overloaded will create a red flag. If you replace your old fuse panel with a circuit breaker panel it will be a big plus when you do decide it's time to sell your home.
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