Should I upgrade a old fuse electrical panel?

old round fuse box panel

Should I be concerned about replacing a old fuse electrical panel?

     Fuse box panels were replaced by circuit breakers for new home construction in the mid-1950’s.  This makes any fuse electrical panel still in place at least 60 years old.

Insurance companies that write homeowner’s insurance want to get a 4-point inspection report for homes that are more than 50 years old. 

Some companies require them for homes that are even younger.  One of the four points is the electrical system and the 4-point form asks whether the electrical panel has fuses or circuit breakers. 

If the inspector checks the box for fuses—even for a sub-panel — you can be declined insurance or pay a premium until the panel is replaced. 

   There are two reasons why insurance companies will not accept a home with a fuse electrical panel: 

 The serviceable lifespan of a fuse panel is rated at about 50 years. The panel at this point outdated equipment and at the end of its serviceable life. 

Fuse panels were not designed to deal with today’s electrical loads, current electrical codes and the need for various branch circuits throughout the home. 

The base into which the screw-in fuses are inserted will accept any amperage rating in many panels, making it possible to over-fuse wiring rated for 15-amps with a 30-amp fuse when a homeowner is frustrated with blowing fuses.

Actually there are three reasons.  With repeatedly blowing the fuse on a circuit.  Overloaded wiring can get hot enough to start a fire.  Insurance companies do not like fires.

Do all home fuse panels have problems by design?

Typically the screw-in, round type fuses with a clear viewing window in the center to indicate when they are blown are the only kind of fuse type that are problematic.  Cartridge-type fuses, that have a long cylinder shape, are still approved, and useful when a delayed trip is desired. 

In some older homes that have had a electrical service upgrade, a new circuit breaker panel may have been installed as the main electrical panel. However, there might also be an old fuse-type panel remaining in service as a sub-panel.  You might only uncover the existence of the original home fuse panel through home inspection as it may be located out-of-sight in a closet, behind furniture or other common house appliance’s obstructing its presence.

Why is a electrical fuse panel dangerous?

When the wiring in a house is overloaded with too many appliances drawing current, it overheats and can start a fire in the walls or attic. 

Old electric panels with round, glass screw-in type fuses use a simple, dependable technology to avoid that problem: a small metal strip, visible through the window in the center of the fuse.  It is calibrated to overheat and melt apart when amperage (current flow) exceeds the rating on the front of the fuse. 

How do you know if a fuse in your electrical panel is blown?

To check if the fuse is blown you can do a visual inspection of the fuse. If the metal strip in the viewing window is not visible, that indicates the fuse strip has “blown” open and has shut off the circuit. 

Why is there safety concerns with home fuse panels?

The reason for concern is that the wiring for older homes were designed for circuits rated for a 15-amp fuse. 

However, the base that the fuse screws into, called a “Type T” base will also accept a 20, 25, or even a 30-amp fuse allowing it to be fused at much higher ampacity. This can be as much as double the rated safe load that the wiring is rated for.

My old electrical panel has been trouble free for years, why should I replace the loadcentre now?

    Homes that were built with electrical fuse panels in first half of the 20th century had a electrical system designed for the expected usage of the times. 

Only a few circuits were necessary for general appliances, connected devices and lighting.  But due to the 1950’s era of Life is better with electricity. 

Homeowners began acquiring TV’s, home electronics, washing machine, dryer, and kitchen appliances.  Some homeowners found that they began to have problems with their electrical system due to all the new appliances and devices repeatedly blowing fuses. 

Why you should not replace a blown fuse with a lager one.

It was soon discovered that replacing the circuit rated 15-amp fuse with a 25 or 30-amp fused solved the problem of blowing fuses. 

Unfortunately it created a bigger problem that stretched (metaphorically speaking) the homes wiring to the point of failure and can be traced to the root cause of electrical fires. 

Can you update a fuse panel?

 As a result of these house fires a new “Type S” fuse was created.  It comes with its own base that locks permanently into the old “Type T” base. Once in place, only accepts a Type S fuse of the desired amperage rating.

After a 15-amp Type S fuse is installed, no fuses with a higher rating can replace it.  Although this new design was not foolproof. 

Capacity – “Hey can you add a “….” circuit to my fuse panel?” – Nope!

electrical fuse panel with panel cover removed
Electrical fuse panel with cover removed

Some older fuse panels are only rated at 60-amp total capacity.  Many of these panels have multiple wires clamped under the same terminal screw lugs as there isn’t enough wire terminals to properly divide up the circuits individually.

It is for this reason and several others that insurance companies don’t want to write a policy for an older home with a fuse panel still in place.

Many electrical panels get changed simply because they don’t have enough circuit capacity to handle the needs of modern living.

Although a old fuse panel can still be functioning as intended, you may want to replace it so that you can split up branch circuits and take advantage of modern safety features.

Features such as GFCI and CAFCI protection can not be easily added to a fuse panel as it would require more space around the panel board to add dead front devices.

It would also be a poor investment to update such a old electrical panel with modern technology.

Can I add a sub panel instead of replacing my electrical panel?

In some cases a sub panel can make sense to increase circuit capacity and shorten branch circuit wiring distances.

I would avoid adding a sub panel to a old fuse panel because of reliability and safety issues.

To avoid headaches and costs, some electrical contractors will use a shortcut fix. This shortcut is not replacing the main fuse panel. Instead they will opt to install a new sub panel which uses modern breakers.

This option would fix circuit capacity issues but the cost to implement the sub panel in some cases would only be modestly cheaper then a main panel replacement.

A big disadvantage would be that you would still be stuck with the old fuse panel as the main panel which defeats the purpose of improving reliability and safety of your electrical system.

Some of the older 200 Amp fuse panels were prone to “blowing out” (Arcing) the back of the panel. This is why the Ontario Electrical Authority mandated that these panels be installed on Drywall. The Drywall acted as a fire separation (retardant) in the event the panel had a electrical fault.

Green Electric & Automation

Are there any drawbacks or issues to getting a fuse box electrical panel replacement?

Sometimes a electrical panel replacement can be quite difficult to get setup and scheduled.  This is why I recommend getting a site survey by your utility provider and electrical contractor. Doing so will allow you to properly plan and know what to expect going into the job. 

Costs to get a electrical panel change completed can be much higher than you might anticipate if there are more requirements that must be met. 

You might require other electrical upgrades, such as bonding, a meter base replacement, new service mast or underground electrical service.

Unfortunately many electrical contractors fail to due this survey and just give a generic quote for a panel replacement. This can open the customer up to unexpected costs and delays. 

As you can see there is considerable amount of planning, calling, pricing and running around that can go into a panel change job before any actual work starts.

What is electrical Bonding and why do I need it?

One requirement that is sometimes over looked is that the electrical bonding usually requires upgrading.  Electrical bonding is the wiring that connects your gas line, and plumbing pipes (usually bare copper) of your home back to the electrical panel ground. 

If a basement has been renovated getting access to these connection points can be difficult without opening up drywall or strategic wire fishing. 

Your job could fail a ESA inspection if the bonding requirement is not corrected in a timely manner. 

Simply put your hydro utility may not turn your utility services back on until the problem is fixed and inspected. 

Why do I need to involve the hydro utility for a panel change?

One requirement comes from your hydro utilities specifications.  Many hydro utility providers are mandating that if a electrical panel is to be changed that the meter base must also be changed if it fails to meet its current specification requirements.

You can find more information on replacing a electrical meter base by clicking the link.

In order to get a D.I.R (disconnect inspect reconnect) you will need your hydro utility to disconnect and reconnect your electrical service outside.

What is a Disconnect Inspect Reconnect? “D.I.R”

A D.I.R is a work order carried out by the electrical contractor and hydro utility.  It involves the hydro utility disconnecting your electrical service at its connection point. This can be the meter base, road transformer or pole fuse.

A electrical inspection of electrical work to be completed. This is the work outlined on the filed electrical permit for your job.

A re-connection of services by the utility after being approved by the electrical inspector.

Note that the electrical contractor does not give permission to the utility to reconnect power. It is the responsibility of the ESA inspector to site visit the Job and pass the installation for reconnection. 

Utility line disconnection point

Sometimes a proper disconnection at the meter base isn’t possible. In this case, the connected service wires can be taped or can be disconnected at the road transformer or in a neighbors junction box.

This could disrupt service to multiple houses if the junction box serves more then one customer. 

Some key points to remember about you electrical panel

An old fuse electrical panel is not garbage unless its not meeting its purpose of protecting the home and its occupants.

By maintaining associated wiring and connected electrical devices you can drastically reduce harm from shocks, arc’s or fires.   

By avoiding over fusing circuits and splitting circuits into small branch circuits you can prevent electrical problems and hazards.

If a homeowner were to live a somewhat minimalist lifestyle and does not overload the electrical system with every new tech gizmo and latest new appliance. Chances are good that you would not have to change out your old fuse panel to a breaker panel.   

BUT… This implies that the electrical wiring and the electrical panel have been maintained and fuse’s are properly rated to the wiring they protect.

Final message…

The reality is that 99% (just a guess) of the people reading this article (living in 2020) don’t live a minimalist lifestyle and prefer the luxuries of the time we live in. 

In this scenario it is much more likely that although your fuse panel may look safe it is actually inadequate to providing the protection and the volume of circuits that a modern breaker panel can. 

I would typically suggest replacing a fuse panel when you anticipate a home renovation or when adding a new major appliance.   

When purchasing a old home factor into your budget replacement of the electrical panel. Don’t procrastinate until its too late.  Leave yourself time for planning, getting multiple estimates and financial reserves to cover the expenses. 

      Start living in your “new” home with a safe new electrical panel that is up to the task of growing with your family into the future.

If you need your electrical panel changed feel free to contact us via phone or email or contact form. We can provide you with several options that can fit your budget and schedule.