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So I asked Why does my ceiling lights require some other outlet in the room to be turned on and off again before it works? a while ago, and the consensus was that my electrics were arcing and that I should check with an electrician.

Well, I have done that and he told me to try swapping our energy saving light bulbs with regular ones and to see what happens. Once I did this the lights worked as normal (switch them on they come on, off and they go off - no need to turn on any other electrical appliance).

He also made a survey of my house and what he said was that we simply need to replace one switch (a dimmer that makes a buzzing sound that he thinks is dangerous) and to replace the fuse box (which he estimates to be about 30 years old).

As you can tell, I know nothing about electrics, so does this seem reasonable? Would changing the fuse box mean that I can use energy saving bulbs again?

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In the previous question you were asked, "florescent lights"? and you said, "Not florescent lights - regular bulbs" Now you are saying they were energy saver bulbs. Energy saving bulbs aren't "regular bulbs" - they're florescent. They're called CFL bulbs - as in Compact Florescent Light bulbs. Question - is the switch to be replaced the switch that controls this bulb? –  The Evil Greebo Sep 16 '12 at 9:41
    
Sorry, I thought they were asking if they were those long strip bulbs, which I took to mean florescent lights. The switch to be replaced does not control any energy saving bulbs. Now the entire house has bulbs that are not energy saving. –  kmp Sep 16 '12 at 12:54
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Understandable. FYI - electricity doesn't really care how old your fuse box is As long as the metal is good the electricity will flow. If it's corroded or if the box is insufficient to demand (unlikely unless you're upgrading something else) then it should be replaced - otherwise its just a nice way for him to charge you about $3,000 –  The Evil Greebo Sep 16 '12 at 13:14
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4 Answers

Would changing the fuse box mean that I can use energy saving bulbs again?

No, you can use energy saving bulbs on a 30-year-old fuse-box.

Fuse-boxes don't contain fuses any more, they contain circuit-breakers (of varying types), so you'll find that "consumer unit" is the current name for what were once fuse-boxes.

Replacing a consumer-unit would be expensive.

replace one switch (a dimmer that makes a buzzing sound

Most dimmers are incompatible with energy saving bulbs (CFL). Unless you really want a dimming capability, you can just have that replaced with an ordinary light switch. This should be a very low cost (a competent person should be able to do this in 10 minutes, the parts would cost less than a sandwich and a coffee).

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Thanks - yeah, that's what the guy suggested - just put in a normal on/off switch and do away with the dimming (which I don't need so am happy with that) - the cost was as you say, basically nothing. So do you think replacing the consumer unit would solve my problems or is it just a way for the guy to charge me a whole load of money for a job he can do in a day (I am trying not to be cynical about this but we have been ripped off right left and center since we moved into this disaster of a house)? –  kmp Sep 16 '12 at 12:57
    
Replacing the consumer unit won't do squat for your specific light problem UNLESS he can show you actual problems in the box itself (corrosion being the biggest concern). Fuses are old fashioned but you can still buy fuses and swapping them out isn't all that difficult as long as you keep a stock of replacements on hand. –  The Evil Greebo Sep 16 '12 at 13:16
    
I agree with Greebo. I wouldn't replace the existing consumer unit. It is likely to be as safe now as it was 30 years ago. More modern consumer units will have some additional safety features but, so far as I know, there is no legal compulsion to upgrade (at least in the country in which I live) perhaps unless you are adding new electrical circuits or doing other major electrical work which would have to be done to current standards. –  RedGrittyBrick Sep 16 '12 at 14:04
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There are some breaker brands that have proven unreliable in the past, and some old panels are unsafe. We really need more info there. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Sep 16 '12 at 19:33
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Replacing the switch makes sense, and considering it's such a cheap replacement I see no reason not to at least try it.

As to whether you need to replace the fuse box with circuit breakers, I think what's missing here is his reasoning as to why he thinks it is unsafe and needs to be replaced. A fuse box in good condition does not need to be replaced "just because", and while circuit breakers are definitely more convenient, fuses are still readily available. You should ask if he had a specific concern with it.

If you do decide to replace your fuse box, now is a good time to also evaluate your electrical service (say for example your house only has 60amp service).

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Swapping out the dimmer sounds good.

If your fuse box is an actual fuse box rather than a breaker box, I would do a few things rather than replace it with a modern breaker box:

  1. Ensure the box is properly covered (no live parts exposed during normal operation) and the circuit index (the list of what each fuse protects, like "#1 - Furnace, #2 - A/C, etc.") is up to date.
  2. Ensure the mains disconnect is safe to use. If it's an old knife switch, I would consider replacing the box, as only the very tip of the handle is safe to touch; a slight mistake will expose you to the power coming from your service entrance cable.
  3. Install Fustat adapters so you can't accidentally overrate a circuit by installing a 20 A fuse instead of a 15 A fuse. The adapter makes each amperage screw base different, so you can't do this any more. The classic Edison base was interchangeable and dangerous.
  4. Get a box of fuses of the appropriate amperage and screw type and leave it by the fuse box for when you blow a fuse.

If you have cartridge fuses, you should probably also post the electrician's name and phone number by the fuse box, because should you ever blow one of those, you'll want a professional in to swap them out.

If you just said "fuse box" out of habit and not because you actually have fuses, you can ignore everything there except the "no live parts" and "up-to-date circuit index" bits.

There are some breaker boxes that you should outright replace because they/their breakers were horrifically unreliable and are considered unsafe now. I'd have to look up the names, but if you post the brand and model of your panel, I'll look it up.

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As a home owner with a classic fuse box, I highly recommend fuse breakers -- individual push-switch breakers in the shape of fuses. They save a lot of effort on replacing fuses on circuits that have overload issues (like the kitchen). –  mikebabcock Sep 21 '12 at 14:02
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Well, thanks for everyone's advice - I took it onboard but my "solution" may cause a riot of flames (I am really grateful for the answers, honestly, and I did think hard about this) but I thought to myself...

Well, I have this old radio which I love but don't use any more - why, well because it uses valves and when they break it is a) expensive to get replacements and b) always a tricky experience so what if I get into the same situation with this fuse box? I know I can get a stock of fuses and I will probably be able to find them far into the future but I live in a small town in the hills in Austria and we have these crazy electrical storms that often blow the fuses and, well, much as I shouldn't I kind of like the guy that came to check - he seemed genuine and maybe he is taking a punt as to why the lights are not working properly but other than costing a bit of money I won't be any worse off with a shiny new box and if it doesn't work it eliminates a bunch of the possible reasons why I have this strangeness going on.

Anyway, so the guy came and he changed the fuse box into a "consumer unit" (it is white with nice curvey edges and has a sticker that says "Schrack" on it) and replaced the switch I mentioned too (plus put a few little clips into the walls where cables were hanging untidily) and would you believe it - the lights, even with energy savers in, are working perfectly!

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No flames. If it solves the problem, it solves the problem. Glad everything worked out in the end. :) –  Jeremy W. Sherman Sep 21 '12 at 7:04
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BTW this is probably more appropriate as an edit to your original post, and then you can accept whatever answer you feel is best as answering your original question. That, or accept this one, since you basically answered, "Yes, totally, go for it!" –  Jeremy W. Sherman Sep 21 '12 at 7:05
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