From Fuse Box To Circuit Breaker

Fuse boxes? Seriously? Yes, indeed. Housing in Washington DC and its suburbs is indeed old enough that fuse boxes may still be found lurking in the dark corners of basements.

Should you replace your fuse box with breakers?

The first question homeowners ask is whether they should swap out the fuse box for a circuit breaker. Unless you embody the quintessential essence of what it means to be anti-technology minimalist, the answer is probably yes. Fuses are an old technology. How old? Well, the original patent on them was taken out by Edison when he was in his early 30′s. Even though they got a lot of updates along the way, the fact is they weren’t used in new-construction after about 1960. Back then, the only devices using electricity in a home were lamps, radios, and maybe a TV. Bottom-line: home wiring systems based on fuses were never intended to handle the electrical load of a modern household. Between coffee machines, computers, microwaves, television sets and all the little LED clocks everywhere, we use a lot more juice.

When should you replace your fuse box with breakers?

fuse box

An old fuse box, and what insurance companies don't like to see

The second question homeowners ask is when and how they should upgrade to a circuit breaker. The short answer is “as soon as possible” and “by a professionally licensed electrician.” The exact answer depends on a few things – your finances, your insurance policy, and the condition of the wiring in your house.

Fuse boxes and old wiring tend to be a package deal: if you’ve got one, in all likelihood, you’ve got the other. Upgrading the two are distinctly different jobs. A breaker service panel can replace a fuse box with little or no need to remove and replace sections of your walls. Pulling new wiring almost guarantees you’re going to have to have some holes punched. The two tasks can be, and frequently are, done simultaneously, but it isn’t always a given. If your electrician thinks you can, you could do them in stages so you can go easy on your wallet.

Chances are replacing the fuse box with a circuit breaker could reduce your home owner’s insurance policy markedly. Because fuses are outdated, insurance companies look at a house with a fuse box and see an electrical fire waiting to happen. Right there, your rates go up, and homeowners have a big incentive to toss out the fuse box.

The one situation that will really leave you with little in the way of options is if the wiring in your home is so old as to be so dangerous that no insurance company will touch it with a 20 foot pole. In the earliest days of electrical wiring, bare conductor was looped around insulating knobs hammered into beams. This configuration, known as knob-and-tube wiring, was so unsafe it was rapidly replaced by wires sheathed in metal and cellulose; and yet there are still homes in the oldest parts of Washington DC and its suburbs where electricians may find it still in use today. If in the process of buying a home, a home inspector finds that knob-and-tube wiring, it is unlikely you will be able to find an insurance company willing to provide coverage for the house.


Regardless of how you plan to proceed, you absolutely should NOT try to DIY a fuse box conversion. It isn’t a question of whether you know what you’re doing, or have the right tools. Depending on where you live, it’s in all likelihood flat out illegal. Even if it isn’t, most homeowner’s insurance policies insist on a licensed electrician doing the work, and will not cover losses if an electrical fire is the cause of DIY work on a fuse box. Think about it – the entire building’s power supply, wiring, and circuitry is affected by this project. There are codes, standards, permits. Oh yes, the utility or power company is also involved. Do yourself a favor, and get a licensed electrician’s help for this job!

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About Sohini

Sohini Baliga is a communications consultant, content producer, and independent writer. You can find out more about her at She is also on twitter @sohinibaliga and on facebook at Sohinicom.
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