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On changing fuses

The hall nightlight stopped working a month or three ago. Our hall only has light switches on the far ends, so it's handy to have a dark-triggered light to guide the way in dimness, especially for guests.

The first logical step to fixing it was to buy a new light bulb. It didn't make it functional again.
The next logical step was to buy a new fuse.

A new fuse. It's the sort of off-hand repair which Brits talk about, like changing batteries or new light bulbs. I grew up in a non-fuse-changing society. I've never changed a fuse in my life.

Do American appliances have fuses? Surely they must - but where? Or do we use circuit breakers more proactively instead? Our plugs don't have screws in them for easy disassembly. They're hard molded plastic, all of one piece. If a piece of cheap electronics stops working, change the bulb, try a different outlet, but change a fuse? No, we'd wastefully buy a new cheap electronic object.

Getting a new 1 amp fuse was my job, but not an urgent one, so I never made a trip just for it. And let me tell you, there are no 1 amp fuses for sale in Canary Wharf. C. bought a fuse multi-pack before we'd checked what kind we needed; the multi-pack only went down to 2 amps. And so the old fuse languished in my change purse, a regular reminder about which I did nothing.

Yesterday, en route to a meeting about the Latin Project, a vision of wonder appeared before my eyes, kitty-corner from Holborn station. A hardware store! A real one! The man behind the counter got out a many-compartmented plastic box to pick out the right one. ("Like a dice box!", I thought, then mentally added for well-roundedness, "Or button storage.") At long last, I bought my first fuse.

Fuses are as easy to change as lightbulbs or batteries, as I now know. But alas, the new fuse didn't enable a functional nightlight. We may yet be investing in a new piece of cheap electronics instead.


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 5th, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC)
I think you use alternative current instead of direct current. And you don't have an earth wire.
Oct. 5th, 2006 11:23 pm (UTC)
US does use AC, but it is grounded; either implicitly in the wiring or explictly with a GFCI.
Oct. 6th, 2006 08:06 am (UTC)
I'm not sure there is any country that uses DC in its national grid... the efficiency losses on transmitting AC over any distance are bad enough (but better at 220-240V than ~115V) but DC?
Oct. 5th, 2006 10:50 pm (UTC)
Actually, all new electric codes require grounding/earthing -- that's one of the reasons for the third prong on most appliances that require more energy. Older homes in the US might still have fuse boxes -- I've lived in places with them, but anything built or sold since the 1970s (I'm going by observed data here, not that I know the building codes) has more up-to-date wiring. On top of that, most newer construction includes individual circuit breakers on outlets likely to use high-energy appliances, e.g., bathrooms and kitchens.

In terms of actual appliance fuses, though, I've only ever seen them in older stereo equipment. That may be a factor of the AC/DC difference that fjm mentioned. It is fairly easy to repair and replace the bits and pieces on lamps here, though. Most hardware stores sell such things, and generally all that's needed is a screwdriver and wire stripper.
Oct. 5th, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC)
Only a very old and un-updated house would have fuses here; they haven't been used in a very long time. I haven't lived in a house with fuses since I was 10 or so, and it was a pretty manky house even then.
Oct. 6th, 2006 08:14 am (UTC)
I think owlfish was talking about a fuse within the nightlight, not a fuse on a house-circuit.

In the UK, we have both. A small fuse in every plug for every appliance in your house, from your toaster to your TV, and another fuse for each ring-main in your house (bathroom, kitchen, lights, plugs etc)

Although, as others have pointed out, the latter do tend to be replaced with circuit-breakers (mine hasn't. I still have a fuse-box, and a little spool of different gradings of fuse wire for just-in-case...)
Oct. 8th, 2006 10:41 am (UTC)
Yes, that was exactly what I was talking about - the fuse within the nightlight.

The building we're in is only about four years old, so it's all circuit breakers for the larger electric loops.
Oct. 6th, 2006 12:54 am (UTC)
In my experience fuses are usually only in older homes that haven't had an electric re-haul. I don't *think* I've ever had to change a fuse, but I know how to do it. I still consider circuit breakers to be superior, however. VIVA LA CIRCUIT BREAKER!
Oct. 6th, 2006 01:24 am (UTC)
That's what I meant ... pretty much anything built in the last 30 years or so would have circuit breakers. I remember living in places built in the 60s and 70s, though, and although they had circuit breakers, the outlets weren't made for grounded plugs in most cases. If you had an appliance with a three-pronged plug, you'd need an adaptor which needed grounding by connecting it to a screw in the outlet cover. I'm pretty sure the transition to the newer standard plugs was in the late 70s or early 80s. Or, I could be entirely wrong. This is all anecdotal, but my family is pretty much a DIY one.
Oct. 6th, 2006 01:26 am (UTC)
Yep, my house has circuit breakers and grounded outlets, and was built in the mid-70s. Of course, with that comes shag carpeting, avocado fixtures, and a horrible form of wallpaper known as grass paper, but so it goes. ;-)
Oct. 6th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
which is worse? grass paper or that dark wood panelling? My grandparents' house had avocado and turquoise appliances. We had avocado and 'harvest gold'. Really, I do not miss much about the 70s. Every time I see someone wearing 70s retro, I'm hard-pressed to keep from saying, "but our mothers forced us to wear stuff like that"!
Oct. 6th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
Believe it or not, my house has both: the grasspaper wallpaper (installed incorrectly, beige, textured, looked like triscuits) was in the living room, and the dark wood paneling is in the dining room. Overall, I'd say the grasspaper was worse, because it was so incredibly difficult to remove, and you can't just "hide" it.

Our master bathroom has an avocado sink and shower. The toilet is avocado with a turquoise seat and lid. Apparently this was done to match the linoleum on the floor, which is white, avocado, and turquoise.

It's bad, but overall? Much better than harvest gold. Or, God forbid, "flame orange."
Oct. 6th, 2006 08:31 am (UTC)
Most UK houses have circuit breakers, not fuses although some older ones do. It's a legal requirement to upgrade to a circuitbreaker if having significant electrical work done.

However, most UK appliances have an additional fuse in the plug. That's the fuse owl is talking about here. The theory is that is rated to the particular appliance and will blow before tripping the main household fuse for most, thus reducing inconvenience and damage.
Oct. 6th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
I understood that -- I just don't remember ever having seen fuses in US appliances, except for older stereo equipment.
Oct. 6th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
Ohh. Interesting--thanks for telling me! :-)
Oct. 6th, 2006 05:49 am (UTC)
Circuit breakers are taking over from fuses, thank goodness. Just be thankful that what we have now are the little cylinders you clip in, not what I grew up with: fuse wire that had to be cut to length and wound around the ends at just the right tension.
Oct. 8th, 2006 10:43 am (UTC)
We have circuit breakers in the walls here, since it's a fairly new building. Just as well, since that's what I grew up with in the states. Not that it would do me harm to know a practical, still-useful skill like the craft of rewiring fuses.
Oct. 6th, 2006 09:41 am (UTC)
kitty-corner from Holborn station. A hardware store! A real one!

Robert Dyas or The Tool Shop?

(They're the ones I go to when I need some small item in a rush, since my office is not unadjacent.)
Oct. 8th, 2006 10:44 am (UTC)
I suspect it was The Tool Shop. I know it wasn't Robert Dyas since, even if I saw one, I wouldn't have bothered; I'd already tried the one in Canary Wharf, and they didn't carry 1 amp fuses - only a multipack including 2 amps and above.
Oct. 6th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
We don't typically have internal fuses in light fixtures, if that's what you mean; in terms of central or secondary fuse boxes, most of the houses and apartments I've lived in (often built in the 20s, 30s, and 40s) have either had fuse boxes or have clearly had them replaced by circuit breakers. In one case, in fact, I had them replaced by circuit breakers within a few days of purchasing the house -- by the time I got to it (in 2003!), the house needed a lot more power and expansion slots for its basic appliances than the fuse box was providing anyway. Our current house (built in the late 1940s) has already had fuses replaced by circuit breakers in several places, but there are a few little panels of fuses that hang out in the basement wall being vestigial. ;)

Anyway, replacing light fixtures isn't especially difficult unless you simply run into trouble attaching the new fixture (older homes tending not to have properly grounded boxes to screw into, you see).
Oct. 8th, 2006 10:47 am (UTC)
I did mean fuses internal to the light fixtures, yes. We have circuit breakers for the main circuits, especially since the building's not very old.

Ah, attaching new fixtures.... that's can be a problem in so many ways. Our current version of the problem is that we're not allowed to make holes in our rented walls. So often so inconvenient!
Oct. 6th, 2006 03:15 pm (UTC)
I change fuses, depending on the item. I change them out in xmas lights. :)
Oct. 8th, 2006 10:45 am (UTC)
You can do anything!
Oct. 6th, 2006 03:20 pm (UTC)
Ah ... but do you know where the fuse box in your car is?
Oct. 8th, 2006 10:44 am (UTC)
I know very little indeed about our car. I haven't even driven it yet. Of course, I've never known where a fuse box was on any car. So much to learn about the world!
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )