Does Old Mean Antiquated?

By
Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Residential electrical systems have gone through many changes over the years since they were first put into houses. Many of the changes have been safety related. One safety item that is about as old as the first house wiring is circuit protection.

New circuit breaker panelMost everyone is familiar with circuit breakers or fuses, both are types of circuit protection. Fuses were the first form of circuit protection until they were replaced by circuit breakers or so most people believe.

Fuses have not been completely replaced by circuit breakers. In fact in some applications they are preferred. I spent over twenty years in manufacturing and all motor protection was by fuses, not breakers. Basically this is because fuses are quicker and more reliable than breakers. A huge surge of current can cause major and expensive damage. The slight delay in response from a breaker (or no response) can mean costly damage to machinery.

As a home inspector I occasionally still find fuse panels in homes. The first reaction by the buyer when I discover a fuse panel is it must be dangerous. My answer is not necessarily.

The problem most often with fuse panels is first of all they're old. Unlike wine electrical components do not get better with age. The next problem is there are circuits that are over fused. This has to be the most common and dangerous flaw with fuses.

Nice looking fuse panelAnyone who has ever lived in a house with a fuse panel knows the routine, myself included. The fuse blows and you go to the panel and change it. Later the same thing happens again, except this time when you change the fuse you put a BIGGER fuse in to replace the blown fuse or worse a penny in behind the blown fuse.

Red alert, red alert, DANGER, DANGER!

Fuses or circuit breakers blow or trip because the circuit is over loaded. When this happens you should find out why, not circumvent the protection. There is no question over protected or non protected circuits have caused innumerable fires.

Type S fusesThese flaws were actually addressed in the 1940 National Electric Ccode.  A requirement for new installations stated ; plug fuseholders must only accept a "Type S" tamper
resistant plug fuse. A Type S fuse was designed such that fuses rated 16 -
30 Amps could not be used in a fuseholder intended for fuses rated 0 - 15 Amps. The The tamper resistant plug fuse would also not allow a penny to bridge the fuse.

I have found tamper resistant fuse plugs in fuse panels almost never. Human nature being what it is, circuit breakers are more or less idiot proof compared to fuses. That being said, my recdommendation when finding a fuse panel is to replace it. Not because it may be unsafe, but more because the homeowner may mistakenly make it so.

 

 

 

James Quarello
2010 SNEC-ASHI President
NRSB #8SS0022
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

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Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

To find out more about our other high tech services we offer in Connecticut click on the links below:

Learn more about our Infrared Thermal Imaging & Diagnostics services.

Serving the Connecticut Counties of Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven, Southern Litchfield and Western New London.

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Re-Blogged 4 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Steven L. Smith 11/18/2010 04:03 PM
  2. Lizette Fitzpatrick 11/19/2010 01:38 AM
  3. Roy Kelley 11/19/2010 01:46 AM
  4. Dan Edward Phillips 11/23/2010 02:49 AM
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Rainmaker
365,850
Carla Harbert
www.LorainCountyHomeSales.com - Avon, OH
RE/MAX Omega: Lorain-Medina County Area

Electrical issues scare me to death - don't want to risk experiencing a house fire. Many of our home insurance agencies won't cover a home with an older electrical box on a fuse system.

Nov 18, 2010 05:33 AM #1
Ambassador
1,333,480
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Nutsy is going to blow a fuse when he sees this----he just replaced all his breakers with fuses on the advice of his boss.

Nov 18, 2010 05:43 AM #2
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Carla, Another reason a fuse panel has to be changed.

Charlie, Steve's an old radio guy, he probably thinks tubes are state of the art.

Nov 18, 2010 10:33 AM #3
Rainer
639,083
Carl Winters
Canyon Lake, TX

I don't inspect many homes anymore that uses fuses. Someday it will be just a thing we talk about and will never or seldom see.

Nov 18, 2010 10:57 AM #4
Rainmaker
174,893
Kate Kate
San Diego, CA

So some days I think I'm a fuse and other days a breaker. Remind me, which one is antiquated?

Nov 18, 2010 12:21 PM #5
Rainmaker
233,455
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

I usually recommend replacement too, and the reason that usually convinces people is homeowners insurance.  Many carriers won't cover a 60 amp service, or they'll charge a premium for a home with a fused service.

Nov 18, 2010 01:37 PM #6
Rainmaker
1,244,485
Steven L. Smith
King of the House Home Inspection, Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham WA Home Inspector

James,

In your case I think it means both. Don't you?

Nov 18, 2010 04:00 PM #7
Rainmaker
684,912
Dan Edward Phillips
Dan Edward Phillips, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, CA - Eureka, CA
Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, CA

Excellent post James, great information for the home owner.

Nov 18, 2010 08:02 PM #8
Ambassador
2,758,510
TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc.
Complete Home Inspections, Inc. - Brentwood, TN
Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029

Good Morning James. Good points made. I do mention that these should be upgraded for safety reasons...

Nov 18, 2010 09:22 PM #9
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Carl, I don't see many fuse panels anymore either, maybe a few every year.

Ms. Kate, so nice to see you pop by. I bet those little ones are keeping you busy. To answer your question fuses are old, but hardly antiquated. They work just fine IMHO.

Reuben, Yes the insurance companies do not like "antiquated" fuse panels.

Steve, Have you converted your fuse panel to breakers yet?

Dan, Thanks

Michael, Good advice for sure.

Nov 18, 2010 11:01 PM #10
Rainmaker
1,840,205
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

There are whole neighborhoods here with fuse boxes.  I always recommend an upgrade, but it really is up to the buyer.  However, we all see fuses every day in exterior boxes handling appliances!

Nov 18, 2010 11:53 PM #11
Rainmaker
207,865
Erby Crofutt
B4 U Close Home Inspections&Radon Testing (www.b4uclose.com) - Lexington, KY
The Central Kentucky Home Inspector, Lexington KY

Like Kate said:  some days I think I'm a fuse and other days a breaker.

Can't decide whether to tirp or blow!

 

-

Nov 19, 2010 02:44 AM #12
Rainmaker
1,477,228
Maureen McCabe
HER Realtors - Columbus, OH
Columbus Ohio Real Estate

I showed a house with fuses recently....  I was shocked.  Maybe I show more with fuses  than I realize because if the buyer is not interested I am not going to look at the electrical panel.  When buyers start getting interested in houses I am showing them maybe I will be shocked by how many we still have with fuses. 

Nov 19, 2010 04:39 AM #13
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay, I almost never see fuses here. I had a fused main a few weeks ago, the panel was breakers however.

Erby, Every day is surely different.

Maureen, Was the pun intended? :) I couldn't tell you what the frequency of fuse panels would be in your area, but in mine they are rare and becoming rarer.

Nov 19, 2010 07:24 AM #14
Rainmaker
1,477,228
Maureen McCabe
HER Realtors - Columbus, OH
Columbus Ohio Real Estate

Pun intended.  A few years back I would have told you fuses were gone from our market but I know we saw a panel with fuses last Saturday in a relatively high priced home for our market.  It scared me because there was a water problem in the same corner, the panel was open so we could see the fuses but neither the buyer or I touched it.  I kept thinking she was going to touch it. 

The house had a big addition on it and I would have thought when they did the addition and a kitchen remodel they would have gone ahead and updated the panel.  Perhaps there was another panel somewhere? Odd house.  The house has a generator I think... not common in our area but there was a box next to the fuse box that had to do with a generator I believe.

 

Nov 20, 2010 01:30 AM #15
Rainmaker
683,909
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Maureen, Never a good idea to touch the electric panel with water on the floor. It would make sense that there would be another panel for the newer kitchen, but you never know.

Nov 20, 2010 09:40 AM #16
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