The Differences Between Fuses & Circuit Breakers

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you'll be able to explain what fuses and circuit breakers do and describe the advantages of each. A short quiz will follow.

Overloading Circuits

Electrical circuits are everywhere in modern life. Lights, computers, microwaves, washing machines, air conditioning systems - they're integral to everything we do. But, they can also be kind of dangerous. If a live wire comes in contact with a piece of metal or a cable is frayed, you can get electrocuted. And, power surges can enter your house at any moment. Any of these three things can cause damage to not only human beings but the electrical devices for which we pay so much money. So, we've developed various ways to protect both us and our appliances. Two of those ways are fuses and circuit breakers.

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Fuses vs. Circuit Breakers

A fuse is a small glass or plastic tube that contains a piece of wire. That wire is carefully calibrated so that it will only allow a certain level of current to pass through it. Any more, and the wire will melt from the heat, breaking the circuit. This means that if a power surge comes into your home, a circuit will be broken before it causes damage to your appliances.

A circuit breaker achieves the same thing, but by a different method. A circuit breaker also disconnects the circuits in your home if the current gets too large but does it using electromagnets. If the current gets high enough, then the electromagnet will become powerful enough to attract a contact and break the circuit that way.

Both circuit breakers and fuses can be used to help with another situation. If you have an appliance with a metal case and that appliance comes in contact with a live wire, it can cause you to electrocute yourself. But if that metal case is connected to a ground wire (the third pin in some plugs), then the electricity will flow through the ground wire, through the circuit breaker or fuse box, and break the circuit, stopping you from potentially getting electrocuted.

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