What is the difference between a fuse and a circuit breaker?

Another common question that I am asked by inexperienced customers is to clarify the difference between a fuse and a circuit breaker. While they are both found in similar places and can perform similar roles, their method of working and the service needed are completely different.

Fuses can vary depending on the application, but typically consist of a metal filament which is housed in a glass or ceramic casing. The metal component serves as part of a circuit. If too much current goes through the wire, it will melt and break the circuit, stopping the flow of electricity. When this happens, the fuse must be replaced, which is typically an easy task.

Circuit breakers on the other hand, are reusable. When they are overloaded with electricity, they simply flip to a different position, breaking the circuit and stopping electrical flow. The mechanism is completely different, but the effect is the same.

There are pros and cons to each type of interrupter. For example, fuses can react incredibly quickly to electrical burst. They can be selected to protect sensitive electronic components due to their fast reaction. However, they must be completely replaced, which can come with its own sets of difficulties. If a homeowner is going to replace a fuse, they may select the wrong type, for the circuit, defeating the point. Alternatively, if a room is dark due to a circuit blowing, it can be difficult to replace the fuse.

In these situations, it is typically helpful to use circuit breakers. They are easy to reset, and won’t require you to make a trip down to the hardware store every time a circuit gets overloaded. This can help you to save time and money, as well as headache.

With that said, it will usually cost you more money initially to install or repair circuit breakers. Additionally, not all systems will be appropriate places for a choice to be made. Sometimes, one will clearly be better than the other, or will be the only option which works. Consulting a qualified and experienced electrician is key when looking to decide which one is best for a certain application.

In the end, the difference is not a huge deal. Most people have to deal with circuit breakers on a fairly regular basis, and fuses perhaps a bit less regularly. They require different knowledge and operations, but both perform the important job of protecting us from too much electricity.


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