November 24, 2008

Scary Antiquated Edison Fuses
Pite┼čti, Romania

Power problems in this part of Europe have almost been as frequent as in parts of Latin America. It's annoying when you suddenly find yourself in the dark, or mid-day, unable to cook because all of the appliances are electric. And when it's near freezing outside, and your home is a giant lump of communist era cold-absorbing concrete, it's nice to have a space heater that works.

When the power fizzled out this afternoon I didn't think much of it, until I noticed the lights working in some of the rooms—uh-oh. The hallway still had power, the ceiling lights worked, but not an outlet in the place had power.

Fuses looming above the front door

I searched around for a circuit breaker box but knew that'd be asking too much for building design Romania. The rather menacing collection of spider webbed fuses staring back at me from above the front door was the likely culprit I'd have to deal with.

In truth, I'd only observed these objects in passing during my time within various Eastern European apartments. I dared not even touch the relics—lord only knows how little contact in the wrong (or even the right) places would give me an unforgettable lesson in such poor decision making.

But there I was, facing the electrical beast, or a long, cold afternoon alone. Something had to be done.

My host was at his job and Tatiana and Aidric were out for the day, but even though the apartment's outlets were powerless, I still had Internet access (because of the laptop battery and the ADSL connection cable that apparently runs directly out of the apartment and off to a junction box in the eerie hallway).

I called Coulter's mobile with Skype to consult—maybe he'd had this problem before. But the short of it, after some back and forth with him and he with his Romanian teacher colleagues, was that I'd have find the blown fuse and try and replace it (or wait for him to return to the flat, later that afternoon).

I inspected the odd, screw-in object that was sitting atop the door frame. Was it an extra to replace a blown fuse, or a blown fuse that was replaced and never discarded? How do you even tell what one of these look like when they've popped?

I quickly researched online to see if I could reveal some details of the mysterious fuse—identifying it and learning how to handle them seemed like a good place to start.

My sleuthing eventually uncovered that these are called 'T Type' or 'Edison Base' fuses (Edison, because they seem to use something like an American lightbulb screw as a part of the design—maybe Edison's for all I know). They were once the standard in the U.S. until about a century ago, when they were replaced with a safer variety that people couldn't "fix" by placing a copper penny into the unit to bypass a blown fuse.

Remember that scene in Fight Club when Edward Norton goes into the flooded basement of that dilapidated house to kill the power? Unscrewing an object or two from the fuse box, with sparks ensuing? Yeah, this is that type of thing.

It turns out that there are two components to each individual fuse. There's a ceramic housing that has the Edison lightbulb base, and something that goes inside it, which seems to be the fuse itself.

The problem with the ceramic casings is that they're old and starting to get rather brittle. I was quite afraid of breaking one off in the socket as I slowly twisted them out.

I didn't have an extra fuse, just the ceramic casing, but I still went through each, one by one, replacing and assessing any change. Naturally, it's effin' scary to do this on a live box, as the main breaker for the apartment in the hallway wasn't a breaker at all, but another Edison fuse. The little switch on the top of the unit did nothing to stop the flow of power, or the occasional popping noise as I twisted the hot fuses out.

Unfortunately, all my effort were for naught. Replacing the casing did nothing, and I was left to use the last of my laptop's battery power to call Coulter and report the failure. I gave him the best description of what he'd have to buy, and just waited it out.

He returned to the apartment sometime later, new fuse in hand. When he finally figured out what to buy it only cost him about $0.15 for the thing.

Good times in Romania.




March 2nd, 2011

Hi. I moved to Romania in 2007. I'm currently researching these fuses (unwillingly), and it took a bit of digging but I've discovered they're called D-Type fuses, or Diazed.
I have seen coins put in the holders of them, but further reading has confirmed what I thought, that this does not in fact bypass the fuse mechanism; it merely holds the fuse tighter in place, if the holder is for some reason too big. Which is not to say it's safe (some people would even suggest getting the right size fuse holder), but at least the fuse can still blow when overloaded. The only difference is that you can't then see that it is blown without removing it. The other kinds of fuses that people put coins in, where the coin replaces the fuse, are indeed bypassed by the coin. You learn something new every day!

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