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ChristineLV

04:37PM | 06/23/02
Member Since: 06/22/02
6 lifetime posts
Bvelectrical
What is involved in changing from a fuse box to a circuit breaker box? I live in a mobile home. Is it worth the cost and would it be safer?

HBB

03:09PM | 08/21/02
Member Since: 08/19/02
29 lifetime posts
Under normal conditions, a fuse box provides the same level of protection for the wiring as a breaker box and so long as several conditions are met it should be just as safe as one.

But there is one major consideration that makes a breaker box much safer: Anybody with fingers can very easily unscrew a fuse and screw in another. It's no more difficult than changing a light bulb.

The problem is, people use electric space heaters or other high amperage appliances, sometimes several simultaneously, plugged into wall outlets on the same circuit. Then the fuse blows on that circuit. So they keep a few spare fuses handy.

Depending on its size, electrical wire is rated to carry a maximum number of amps. Each wire must be protected by a fuse or breaker which will snap and shut off the circuit when it encounters more amperage than its wire is rated to carry. This is all that prevents dead shorts in equipment and other types of overloads from causing electrical fires and burning your house down. Screw-in fuses come in 15-, 20- and 30-amp sizes.

So the fuse blows and you fumble around in the spares and grab a new one. Got to get that heater and those table lamps going again. But if you grab a 20- or 30-amp fuse and screw it into a 15-amp circuit, you've just removed all the protection from that circuit. And most wall circuits in those older mobile homes will be 15-amp circuits.

And maybe you don't have a spare 15-amp fuse. Well, we'll just stick in this 20-amp temporarily. If temporarily doesn't burn you out that night, you'll very likely forget the whole incident and the heavier fuse will remain on that circuit -- until you load one or two more space heaters on it and start a fire.

It's just too easy to stick the wrong size fuse into that type panel. And it's nowhere near that easy to change a breaker.

Also, modern breaker panels are simply a better method of protecting wiring. If they weren't, we'd all still be using fuse panels.

Bottom line: If you haven't been having electrical problems, it's probably not necessary. But if you have, you should get the wiring checked anyway.

But problems or not, if you can afford the switch to a breaker panel, do it. It's not a complicated job and interior breaker panels aren't all that expensive, but you'll probably need to hire an electrician, who should also check all the home's terminals in switches, outlets and lighting fixtures for tightness.

The whole deal should cost less than $200.

ChristineLV

04:34PM | 08/21/02
Member Since: 06/22/02
6 lifetime posts
Thank you for the answer! I am not one who would replace a fuse with one that is different than the one that blew. However, being familiar with circuit breakers, I really would welcome the convenience.

I am surprised, however, with your estimation of the cost. Looking at local circuit breaker boxes alone, the cost is prohibitive. That is just buying the box alone at Home Depot. Then I need the breakers and the electrician! Can you elaborate?

P.S. I live in South Florida if that matters.

[This message has been edited by ChristineLV (edited August 21, 2002).]

TAM

01:20AM | 08/22/02
Member Since: 08/19/02
3 lifetime posts
Christine...Changing a panel in a mobile home is not that tough. The tough part is getting at it because they are usually in a closet down low to the floor. Get a few estimates and make sure they are licensed and insured.

One thing I want to mention is mobile homes are generally wired with aluminum wire. Larger sizes (AC, Range, service wire) are fine if installed properly. The problem is your recepticles are also wired with aluminum and can create a problem. Aluminum loosens on the recpticle screw. Whether you have your panle changed or not it would be wise of you to have someone check all your connctions and have them tighten all of them. If you see that the wire is "poked" in the back of a device (switch, recpticle) you should have the electrician change it to the screw.

I never cry wolf and do not like to frighten anyone but you need to have this checked out.

Good Luck and let us know what you find,
Tom

HBB

06:32AM | 08/22/02
Member Since: 08/19/02
29 lifetime posts
South Florida. Hmmmmm... I lived around Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach for 37 years until the swarm of newcomers made the whole place unfit -- and unaffordable -- to live in. Couldn't take it anymore and moved back to Oklahoma.

TAM's absolutely right about aluminum wiring. That stuff's probably burned down more buildings than anything else. And the fact that your mobile home has a fuse rather than breaker panel would indicate it's an older model which very likely could be wired throughout with aluminum.

And if it is, I'd be much more worried about loose connections at terminals than I would the type of breaker box.

The heat from electricity causes some expansion and contraction in wires as it passes through them. That's normal. But if a terminal screw was not fully tightened down to begin with, that action over time can loosen it even more and cause arcing, which will generate abnormal, and dangerous, heat.

The problem with aluminum wire is it doesn't carry current as well as copper and even an originally tight connection can loosen dangerously over time, whereas copper probably would not.

Some questions:

1. First and foremost: Are you having any electrical problems now? IF you are, and depending on WHAT they are, you must do something to get them resolved. It's much better to bust your budget and get something electrical fixed than to risk the possibility of a fire -- especially a fire in a mobile home. (Nothing short of a fertilizer warehouse burns faster than a mobile home. Do you have smoke detectors?)

2. Do you not have enough individual circuits to handle new appliances you may have added to your home? If a fuse keeps blowing, that's obviously telling you too much is operating simultaneously on that circuit.

If you need more circuits, that becomes a major reason to go to a breaker panel, which would offer additional spaces. You can have the additional circuits run along the surfaces of walls, ceilings and baseboards to avoid tearing into walls.

Unfortunately, that could be an expensive proposition. And my $200 guesstimate was just that -- a fairly wild guess. Knowing Florida as well as I do, I assume you're living in a mobile home park on a fixed income and money is a major consideration.

Here are some options that come to mind:

1. Florida is crammed to both shores with retirees and some of them were master electricians during their working life. Ask people you know if they know any. Advertise in the local paper or shopper for someone like that. You may luck out and find one who is bored enough with retirement that he'll be willing to help you at a very reasonable price.

2. That failing, ask around to see if you can find an electrician who is working for some company but moonlights on the side. I don't know what these guys make per hour these days, but I can assure you they make a LOT less than the electrical company they work for will charge you. You'll have to use some imagination and common sense when interviewing these guys to satisfy yourself that they actually know what they're doing. I can't help you much here, because they can always lie to you, but I will say stay clear of younger ones who act like they were there helping Edison when he invented the light bulb. Get references.

3. Find an electrician who works for himself. He has vastly less overhead to pay for and should not charge you the markup an electrical company gets when it hires out its workers. Also, these independents sometimes get between jobs and get real hungry. When that happens, they also get real accommodating to negotiation. The downside of this is that with the building boom that's been going on forever in Florida if this guy is out of work it may because he doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground. But there are some of these guys who do only service work and charge a reasonable price. Same deal on checking them out. Get references.

And what are MY official qualifications for telling you all this? None. I was a newspaper editor. But after I quit the Fort Myers News-Press when someone told me I'd have to start going outside to smoke a cigarette, I moved houses, raised houses, added on to houses and owned 27 rental units. And so far as electrical wiring goes, I learned a lot from a master electrician who used to work for me and I've read a few very good books. But my strongest qualification is probably that I've done a good bit of wiring myself and I'm still alive to talk about it.

Hope all the above helps some.


ttfn

01:27PM | 08/22/02
Member Since: 07/29/02
7 lifetime posts
quote:
The whole deal should cost less than $200.

Christine, this quote is not even close to being accurate.
You cannot just swap out a service panel, first of all the power company takes a very dim view of this and their are penalties involved with this. This is known as disrupting a service and the building department in your area will have a say in this too.
When you change a service panel you must change the entire service. Minimum now is a 100 amp service, in my area they can run anywhere from 600 to 925 dollars. Best thing to do is to get estimates.
If it is a trailor the service conductors cannot be attached to the trailor and a pole must be used, there are some exceptions and a contractor familar with your area will know what they are.
A lot of trailors come now with a 200 amp service and a feeder must be run to the trailor or mobile home.
Standard feeder cable can not be used because now the grounding conductor must be insulated and isolated from the neutral.
To be safe get a few estimates and then you will be better able to see where you stand.
ttfn


ChristineLV

02:04PM | 08/22/02
Member Since: 06/22/02
6 lifetime posts
You guys are all the best!! Thank you so much for the opinions. I have been living here for 3 years now and have not changed one fuse. I'm very aware of the dangers of fuse boxes. I grew up with one and have heard the stories of people putting pennies in them, etc.

I DO have budgetary restraints. I am only 47, far from retirement! But, I am single and the money only goes so far. The lot rent is almost as much as renting an apartment (which I am considering since I have found out how much it really costs to own anything).

Regarding the wiring being aluminum, I don't know. I'm sorry to say that so far I haven't paid much attention to that, but I wasn't aware of the problem either. The whole trailer is "daisy-chained". The receptacles have thick plastic boxes which the whole wire just runs through and there are metal teeth that puncture the wire to provide the connection.

As I have said, I haven't had a fuse blow and I am very careful about what I run on any circuit at one time. I'm convinced that a breaker box would give me more peace of mind because it would just trip.

Anyway, I'm sure that the cost is going to be prohibitive. But it looks like you all vote that it should be done, sooner than later. I'll be careful and try to plan for that to be done as soon as I can figure out how.

The suggestions as to finding a less expensive option are also very good ones. I will keep them in mind and keep my eyes and ears open!

Thanks again! But, if you have more suggestions, keep them coming! I'm afraid of electricity but I have been known to hang a ceiling fan myself and replace receptacles myself. I just have to keep drying the sweat off of my hands!!


ttfn

03:52PM | 08/22/02
Member Since: 07/29/02
7 lifetime posts
quote:
posted August 22, 2002 06:04 PM
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
You guys are all the best!! Thank you so much for the opinions. I have been living here for 3 years now and have not changed one fuse. I'm very aware of the dangers of fuse boxes. I grew up with one and have heard the stories of people putting pennies in them, etc.
I DO have budgetary restraints. I am only 47, far from retirement! But, I am single and the money only goes so far. The lot rent is almost as much as renting an apartment (which I am considering since I have found out how much it really costs to own anything).

Christine:
Since this is a rental property I am sure the landlord would have something to say in changing the panel or a service.
And any changes you make you can be held responsible for. And that being the case most states require a licensed Electrician to do any work to you property.
By using someone who is not licensed you are leaving yourself open to a huge liability.
By using an electrician who works for someone else and if he even considers doing the work without a permit he and his employer can be held accountable.
So good luck.

JimB

05:43PM | 09/10/02
Member Since: 09/09/02
7 lifetime posts
Christine,

This may not apply to your situation, but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

I recently went to bid a job in an older home with a fuse panel. The homeowner proudly stated that she hadn't blown a fuse in the 3 years that she lived in the home. Upon inspecting the panels (3 of them) I found that ALL of the fuses had been replaced at some time with 30A fuses. Much of the home was wired with #14 wire (thankfully no Aluminum), and needless to say, the 30A fuses weren't offering much protection for the small wire and the old devices. Remember. . . .just because the fuse isn't blowing, it doesn't mean that all is well with your electrical system. Likewise, a blown fuse doesn't always mean that the problem is with your wiring.

Cheers

Wolley

05:23AM | 09/11/02
What is the amperage of the fuses in your fuse box? Usually, the screw-in type fuses are used only for receptacles and light fixtures, so they should be all 15-amp fuses. Higher amperage branch circuits, such as the water heater, AC, range, etc would use the cartridge type fuses rather than the screw-in type.

Also, theoretically, a fuse will cut off power more quickly in the case of a short circuit than would do a circuit breaker. So, if all your fuses are 15-amp and you never replace them, I would assume that everything is OK with your wiring and I would not replace your panel. Hope this helps!


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