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What is a fusible switch?

Bus Plugs: Fusible Switch

The fusible switch is a type of bus plug typically found in older homes or apartments. When electricity passes through the system, there is always a danger of overload. With no protection from overloads, your appliances would be destroyed and there is great potential for fires as a result. The fusible switch contains a fuse to protect the home. In the fusible switch bus plug, the fuses are designed with an element which is destroyed in the event of a power overload. When the fuse is intact, the circuit is complete and energy can pass through.

When the fuse element is melted, the circuit is broken and electricity does not flow. This keeps the overload from reaching your appliances. Once the element is melted, that fuse must be replaced. This type of bus plug is replaced in newer buildings by the more efficient circuit breaker system, which requires no replacement of burnt-out fuses.

What is a whole house surge protector?

Surge Protectors and Bus Plugs

Computer users and home theater enthusiasts are familiar with surge protectors, but did you know this technology also has a place in your home or company's electrical system? Bus plugs are designed to protect against electrical surges by burning out fuses or tripping circuit breakers, but sometimes additional precautions are necessary. There are surge protectors made especially for industrial purposes, designed to be installed at critical points such as "entrance feeders", key branch panels, and communication lines.For residential use, "whole house" surge protectors (also known as whole house surge suppression) are made to protect any device plugged in to the house's electrical system. This is much different than the power-strip version surge protection sold in hardware and computer stores. The whole house surge protector is installed next to the breaker box or circuit breaker panel and the house power supply flows through the surge protector. Such protection is ideal for those who have more than one computer, or use expensive electronics in the home.

Can I install a whole house surge protector myself?

Installing Bus Plugs and Surge Protectors

When installing bus plugs, surge protectors and other equipment, safety is the top priority. That is one reason why all owner's manuals for bus plugs and other items recommend installation only by a trained professional. If you don't know the difference between a resistor and a capacitor, chances are you need some training before attempting to install a "whole house" electrical system add-on or modification.

Trained do-it-yourselfers know the dangers of working around live electricity. It's not enough to wear safety equipment and make sure the power is completely off before attempting an installation of a whole house surge protector or a new electrical panel. Users need to know how to identify potentially dangerous situations and avoid them. If you have excess wire from the surge protector to the main circuit box, did you know you should never coil or loop that wire? Re-install using a shorter connection. Do you know what the surge capacity maximum is for your surge protector? What happens if that capacity is exceeded? Aspiring do-it-yourselfers still in the dark about these issues should seek professional advice before considering a modification of the electrical system. It may be worth the money to hire a pro to do the work.

How does an electrical surge work?

How Does an Electrical Surge Work?

There are two common types of electrical surges or power spikes that can affect your electrical panel, bus plugs and electric appliances. It is important to know how they can affect your electrical system and anything plugged into it. One type of surge comes from a lightning strike. The lightning hits nearby and causes an increase or "spike" in the electrical charge coming through your power lines.

Another common power surge is caused by appliances connected to your power system. Any unit which has a compressor (or other high-powered components such as a motor) may cause a power surge when the compressor switches on or off. Have you ever noticed the lights dimming for a moment or two when the air conditioning unit turns on? That is an example of a power surge. It may not be enough to trip a circuit breaker bus plug, but it can damage some sensitive computer equipment or stereo gear--one reason why you can't rely on your bus plugs alone to avoid damage from surges and power spikes. Computer and home theater gear should always be connected to surge protectors, because some power spikes aren't strong enough to trip the breakers or blow the fuses in your bus plugs.

Electronic devices are much more delicate, sensitive and expensive than the older equipment ever was, which is why protecting them is very important.

surge protectors are not the same. Pick a surge protector system that
balances price with the cost of losing data or expensive electronic
equipment. The general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for,
so look for a quality product.

What are specialty bus plugs?

Specialty Bus Plugs

Specialty bus plugs are used when ordinary bus plugs such as fusible switches or ordinary circuit breakers aren't appropriate. One example of a specialty bus plug is the special construction circuit breaker designed for use on a boat or ship. In these cases, ordinary circuit breakers can't be used. One good example; marine circuit breakers must not have components made of aluminum and must be calibrated for specific temperatures. They are built to withstand the wear and tear of maritime use, including changes in humidity and other factors.

Specialty bus plugs can also include low-voltage circuit breakers or other types made differently than typical "industry standard" bus plugs. It's very important to use the right bus plug for the right needs. In the case of marine-approved circuit breakers, resistance to humidity and corrosion from sea salt is an important factor--just one example of how some bus plugs are tailored for a specific purpose. They should only be used for that specific purpose unless the owner's manual specifies other approved uses.

What is a circuit breaker?

Bus Plugs: Circuit Breakers

Bus plugs come in three basic configurations. A fusible switch uses fuses to prevent power overloads. The circuit breaker bus plug is similar in that it offers protection from overloads by stopping the flow of electricity--literally breaking the circuit as the name implies. Circuit breakers are found in most modern buildings, while fusible switch bus plugs may be in use for older homes, offices and historic landmarks.

Circuit breaker bus plugs close the circuit by "tripping". The circuit breaker switches off, and must be turned back on again to restore power. Unlike fusible switches, there are no fuses to replace after an electrical overload. This makes circuit breaker bus plugs more advantageous because no replacement purchases are needed. That doesn't mean a circuit breaker can't be damaged in some cases. Depending on the electrical fault, you may need to replace a circuit breaker bus plug. In some instances there may be partial power available to a home or office, in others you may have no electricity at all until the circuit breaker is replaced.

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Guru Spotlight
Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.