You’re halfway through drying your hair.  Or maybe you’re in the kitchen with numerous electric appliances on.  You’re also watching TV and microwaving popcorn, while your children have their laptops plugged in and are charging their cell phones.

Suddenly, the lights go out and everything goes dead.  You’ve “blown a fuse.”  (You also may have tripped a circuit breaker, but we will discuss those next month.)

A fuse is a piece of metal that acts as a safety mechanism by interrupting the flow of electricity to prevent short circuits and circuit overloads when the flow of electricity exceeds a certain level, such as 15, 20 or 30 amps.  These safety mechanisms help avoid serious electrical problems, and also prevent electrical fires.

As homes become more wired and, especially in the case of older homes, more demands are placed on the electrical systems, blown fuses can happen more frequently.  One sign this may happen in your home is if you are using splitters to add the number of electric devices you can plug in.

When a fuse blows, it actually melts.  A fuse also degrades over time, which increases the likelihood it will blow. Fuses are inexpensive and relatively easy to replace.

Replacing a Fuse

Fuses are inexpensive and relatively easy to replace.

  1. Locate the fuse box, which is usually in the basement.  You should always have a flashlight near the box, since if the affected fuse is by the box, you will not be able to turn the light on.
  2. Identify the fuse that is either melted or discolored.  Unscrew it.
  3. Replace it with an identical fuse (size, type and amperage).  If you need to go to the hardware store for a replacement, take the old fuse with you.
  4. Screw the new fuse in.
  5. Throw out the old fuse.
  6. Test the new fuse by plugging in a few appliances.  If the fuse does not blow or circuit breaker does not trip, you are OK.

Bigger Problems

If the fuse constantly blows, you are probably overloading it.  The easiest way to fix this is to just remove some appliances, light fixtures, etc. from that connection.  Also, minimize or avoid using other appliances like vacuum cleaners that can trip the breaker.

If that is not possible, you may want to look at rewiring.  That involves removing some of the wiring from that fuse and connecting them to another one.  After all, especially if you live in an older home, you most likely are using more electrical items than the electrical system was designed for.

And, finally, don’t do anything unless you are 100% sure you know what you are doing.  If you are unsure, your actions can result in major electric problems, create fires, and cause bodily harm.  If you are unsure, call a professional.