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Understanding Circuit Breakers, Safety Switches and Fuses

Electrical safety in our homes is taken so seriously that every state in Australia requires all new homes to be fitted with potentially life-saving devices. Three key components will add an element of safety to a home’s electrical system: fuses, circuit breakers, and safety switches. While these terms may get thrown about loosely to describe a home’s protective measures, each involves different methods of preventing electrical hazards.

Light Globe and Switch

Fuses – A protective system from yesteryear.

Fuses, developed over a century ago, were used in older homes and buildings to protect them from electrical faults. While these older protective devices have been phased out of modern residential electrical systems, they may still be present in older homes. While there are different types of fuses in meter boxes, the concept behind them remains the same. If too much current passes from the mains through the fuse, for example in the event of a major power surge, the fuse breaks. This ultimately breaks the circuit, stopping the flow of electricity instantly.

Given the increased power demand of modern homes, fuses will struggle to meet the electrical load and will fail frequently. Also, while a fuse may be useful in preventing an electrical fire, they will not protect from electric shocks.

Circuit breakers – taking the fuse concept further

A circuit breaker in a home acts similarly to a fuse. A series of switches located in the meter box are in place to protect the equipment powered in your home. As with a fuse, if a circuit breaker detects a surge of electrical current it will automatically switch itself off – breaking the electrical connection. Once a switch has tripped, or turned itself off, it can be easily switched back on again. If the source of the initial fault is still live the circuit will trip once again, and a licensed electrician should be contacted to identify the cause.

Circuit breakers will also switch themselves off in the event of an electrical short. Shorts can be caused by leaving equipment running for excessive periods of time, like constantly leaving a ceiling fan on. The heat generated by the fan can cause parts of it to fail, and potentially lead to fires within the home.

Much like fuses, a circuit breaker will only protect your home and the equipment within it.

Safety switches – saving lives across Australia

When it comes to protecting the people living in a home, safety switches are the best option. The Residual Current Device (RCD), as they are technically known, are safety switches which are mandatory in all new homes. Safety switches work in a completely different way than fuses and circuit breakers, and it is this difference which gives homeowners protection from electrocution within the home.

When electrical current flows throughout a home, the current going in should equal the current being earthed. The amount of current flowing changes when an unsafe element is introduced, such as using a knife to remove a piece of bread from a toaster. A safety switch constantly monitors these two currents, and will instantly break the circuit when a difference of more than 5mA is detected.

To keep residents safe from electrocution, and the property safe from electrical faults, it is imperative that these components are inspected regularly. By engaging a licensed electrician to carry out a safety inspection, such as one of the professional team at Everest Electrical, homeowners can be sure that their safety devices are working as they should. Also, a routine safety inspection will also identify any potential hazards throughout the home and can assist in upgrading old fuse based meter boxes with modern safety switches and circuit breakers.

To find out more about how safe your home is from electrical hazards, give the team from Everest Electrical a call on 0410 229 139.