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I have inherited a house that has been in my wife's family since 1860. I do not know when it was electrified, but it seems to have skipped knob and tube. There is a lot of fabric-covered wire, and also some more modern romex wire. On examining the fusebox (yes, fuses, no breakers) I see that both the hot leg and the neutral leg have fuses in them.

My long-term strategy is to replace the fusebox with a modern panel with breakers. In the short term, I have purchased 30 Amp fuses which I intend to install in the neutral fuse positions. (The hot-leg fuses are 15 or 20 Amp.) My thinking is, since the hot-leg fuse is of a lower rating, it will blow instead of the neutral leg fuse.

Is this an acceptable solution? Is there a better way to ensure a continuous neutral leg connection?

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For safety, I would double check with a voltage meter that neutral to ground gives you 0 volts. Considering how old the home is, I throw out all my newer home assumptions. –  BMitch Jul 3 '11 at 13:30
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@B Mitch I have verified the neutrals and ground are at the same potential. I used both a multimeter and visually following the wires. –  Seth Jul 3 '11 at 13:38
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2 Answers 2

I understand the theory of what you're trying to do, but I also understand the theory of the electrical installer that put fuses on both wires. You still have a wire running through the house that is only designed for 15-20 amps even if it's the neutral that should be fused via the hot. If there was ever a short that resulted in 25 amps going down the neutral, you could be looking at a dangerous situation.

My suggestion, if you want to fix it, is to go all the way and modernize the wiring with a full rip and replace. Although the reason I avoid older homes is because I would end up ripping and replacing so much that it's cheaper to get the newer home (think insulation, wiring, windows, weather seal, etc). And until then, if a fuse blows, don't assume the wires are safe unless you have personally removed the hot fuse.

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I am currently reading up on the NEC. I am also consulting with my "big wire" engineering counterparts at work (I'm 48 VDC, they're 4800VAC). I'm developing a plan to install a new panel with arc-fault, etc, breakers, and to replace all the wiring in the house. But that will take months, and I want to be safe while I'm there for now. –  Seth Jul 3 '11 at 15:16
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Upgrading the panel to AFCI with that wiring in the house will be the single best safety improvement you can do. The fuses just help the 2nd person, since by the time they go, the 1st person has already been electrocuted. Until then, I think the better option is to get some gfci's installed anywhere you are worried about grounding yourself when the neutral has blown. –  BMitch Jul 3 '11 at 16:56
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No- do not overrate the neutral side of things, try to keep them in line. The reason that the neutral is fused is for the early stages of earth leakage. This is usually caused by faulty appliances, damp, reverse shorts or any other problem that may cause electricity to travel down the neutral line.

Today the neutral is controlled in the distribution boxes found in the street. They have some more complex breakers in there; that's why in new distribution boxes you don't need anything really.

In modern wiring you would use an earth leakage circuit breaker that is more advanced than a simple fuse and can be coupled to a lightning breaker if your area is known for lightning storms.

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I want to ensure there is always a complete connection from the return side of the load back to the panel. If the load and neutral fuses are the same rating, then there is a 50% chance that the neutral fuse will blow, leaving the hot leg energized. This will result in an unsafe condition. A higher-rated neutral fuse will increase the chance that the hot fuse will blow before the neutral. –  Seth Jul 8 '11 at 11:39
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