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Understanding Electric Wall Sockets and Plugs Around the World

Electric Wall Sockets Around the World Header

Voltage standards vary in each geographical region. Likewise, the voltage frequency, or the total number of times the electrical current changes direction each second, varies throughout the world. Each country carries implements different standards for plug shapes, plug holes, plug sizes, and electrical sockets. Unfortunately, these variances carry unpleasant consequences for global transactions. For instance, most appliances purchased abroad will not connect to home's main outlets. Owners of these appliances only have two options: cut off the original plug and splice it with a model that is standard within their country, or purchase an unhandy and funny looking adapter.

Plug adapters for foreign appliances only solve fraction of the problem, because it does not rectify voltage disparity. In other words, a 120-volt electrical appliance designed for use in North America or Japan will likely fry and cause lighting spectacle if plugged into a European standard socket. An industrialized reformation would counter these problems by creating universal, standardized plugs compatible with a single voltage and frequency pattern. While this conversion may cost international manufacturers extra money, it would likely save and induce more spending in the long run, plus decrease the burden on the global environment.

Global, Single-Phase Voltage and Frequency Standards

Wrong Plug for Wall Socket

Europe and most of the world use a higher voltage than the United States. For instance, the international standard ranges between 220 and 240 volts, whereas the Americas, Canada, and Japan have a standard voltage ranging between 100 and 127 volts. This incompatibility was easily rectified by a young physicist named Nikola Tesla. His calculations and measurements determined that 60 Hz was the primary frequency for alternating current (AC) power generation. His contention overshadowed Thomas Edison who preferred direct current (DC) power generation. Thomas Edison may have proved a point in safety regulation; however, his DC power generation model did not have the ability to power at a distance, unlike the AC model.

AEG, the first German and European power generation facility, affixed its frequency at 50 Hz, because 60 Hz did not correlate with the standard metric system. AEG monopolized the power generation industry, which essentially spread their technology throughout Europe. The British proliferated different frequencies, however, which defied the AEG standard until after World War 2.

Europe originally implemented a 120-volt standard currently existing in the United States and Japan today. Over the years, engineers and electricians have deemed it necessary to increase voltage in order to increase the overall power with less losses and voltage drops from the identical copper wire. The United States wanted to change during the AEG reign; however, the overall cost of the conversion outweighed the benefits. The United States already had refrigerators, washing-machines, and other household appliances that Europe did not have in existence. This lack of change in the U.S. home appliance voltages have caused problems with older buildings. For instance, older infrastructure copes with light bulbs burning out too quickly when they are in close proximity of a transformer, a cause of having too much voltage. Conversely, this may also be the result of not having enough voltage at the end of the power line.

All of the current American buildings receive 240 volts split between two 120-volt neutral and hot wires. All major household appliances, such as dryers and ovens, have been converted over to a 240-volt standard. Americans should not connect European appliances to these electrical outlets to avoid problems.

International Plugs and Sockets (link to PDF)

  1. Type A: A class 2 ungrounded two-pronged plug is a standard in most of North and Central America.

  2. Type B: A class 1 grounded two-pronged plug, a standard used in Japan and North America as seen in the second image.

  3. Type C: An ungrounded two-wire plug with two round prongs. Type C sockets are primarily used in European countries, except for the United Kingdom, Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta.

  4. Type D: A triangular based socket with three large round pins. Type D sockets are primarily used in India, Namibia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

  5. Type E: A standardized socket with a permanent male pin and female contact to accept the grounding pin. Each round contact measures 4.8 mm and 19 mm. Type E sockets can be found in France, Poland, Belgium, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Tunisia and Morocco.

  6. Type F: The “Schuko" plug was designed shortly after the First World War. “Schutzkontakt” is translated into the German word meaning “earthed or grounded contact.” German Earth Plug and SocketType F contacts are similar to Type C sockets with the exception of two grounding clips on the side of each plug measuring 4.88 mm on 19 mm centres. This socket type is primarily used in Germany, Sweden, Austria, Norway, Portugal, Finland, Spain, Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.

  7. Type G: Three rectangular prongs form a triangle to create the Type G socket. The Type G socket is primarily used in United Kingdom, Ireland, Malaysia, Cyprus, Malta, Singapore and Hong Kong.

  8. Type H: An exclusive plug and socket to Israel. Type H sockets have two flat prongs that form a V shape, rather than a parallel line. Type H sockets and plugs have a grounding pin with a 16 amperage rate.

  9. Type I: Type I plugs are equipped with a grounding pin with two flat prongs that form a V-shape pattern. Type I sockets are primarily found in Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Argentina.

  1. Type J: Similar to Type C sockets, this plug has an additional grounding pin. Type J sockets are native to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

  2. Type K: A standardized socket resembling the Type F socket, except it has a grounding pin, instead of ground clips. Type C plugs will fit into a Type K socket. Type K sockets are primarily used in Denmark and Greenland.

  3. Type L: Type L sockets have two styles rate at 10 and 16 amps. Both styles differ in contact diameter and spacing, which makes it incompatible with other plugs. Similar to Type C sockets, these plugs are earthed by a center grounding pin with completely different dimensions. Type L sockets are primarily used in Italy and North Africa.

  4. Type M: The Type M plug mirrors the Type D sockets native in India; however, the pins are much larger. Type M sockets are rated at 15 amps. Type M adequate powers large appliances. Type M sockets are primarily used in South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho.

  5. Type N: Type N sockets and plugs are native of Brazil. A fairly new socket model drafted in 2007 and 2010, these sockets resemble the Swiss standard J connect. Type N sockets have a ground pin closer to the center line than Type J sockets. Type N consists of two pins and one grounding pin. Type N are primarily used in Brazil.

Tips and Tricks to Using Appliances Abroad

Traveling or purchasing foreign appliances may cause problems with comparability and conversion. There are several methods, tips and tricks to getting the most of your appliances overseas. While power adapters do not physically convert electricity, they allow a dual-voltage transformer, appliance or similar converters native to the home country to be plugged into the electrical source of a foreign country. For instance, the plug of a European appliance will be compatible with a foreign country without a power adapter.

Likewise, converters and transformers may increase or decrease the existing voltage; however, there is a difference in the use between them. Converters should only be used with electrical products. Electric products, or heating devices with mechanical motors, such as hair dryers, electronic shavers, irons and toothbrushes, are not designed for consistent use. Moreover, most converters may only be used for ungrounded appliances. Operators of appliances must unplug the converter from the wall while it's not in use.

Transformers also regulate the voltage; however, they are generally more expensive than converters. Transformers are geared towards “electronic” products with a chip or circuit, such as a radio, CD or DVD player, shaver, battery recharger, computer, printer, fax machine TV or answering machine. Transformers can also power electrical appliances over the course of many days. Despite these advantages, converters are ideal for consumers seeking for a lighter, less expensive alternative.

Although computers are electronic devices and require a transformer, they may have customized split voltage. For instance, most laptop batteries and AC adapters are split voltage, which means they only require a plug adapter standardized for the country visited.

Universal World Plug Adapter

Transformers come in a variety of sizes, depending on the model and the wattage it can support. Therefore, consumers must pay careful attention to the wattage ratings displayed on the appliances that need to be plugged into the transformer. Users must also calculate the combined wattage of multiple appliances connected to a transformer and then add 25 percent to compensate for the increase.

Every appliance has it's voltage and wattage requirements listed on the label located on the bottom of the appliance. Manufacturers may only provide the voltage and amperage, but not the wattage. In this case, simply multiply the voltage by the amperage rating, such as 230-volts * 1-amp = 230-watts.

Low-wattage appliances such as radios, CD and DVD players, heating pads, and TVs generally use 75 watts. Larger radios, electric blankets, stereos, sewing machines, TV sets, small fans, and hand mixers require 300 watts. Refrigerators, stand mixers, blenders, stereo equipment, and hair dryers require 500 watts. Projectors, larger sewing machines, smaller electric brooms and vacuums will require 750 watts. Washing machines, heaters, coffee makers, and vacuums run off of 1000 watts. Dishwashers, toasters, electrical deep fryers, grills, and irons use an average of 1600 to 2000 watts. Air conditioners and heat pumps require about 3000 watts for use.

As a reminder, transformers and converters only convert the voltage, and not the frequency. This may cause a faster performance for appliances with a 50 Hz motor plugged into 60 Hz electricity. This difference will cause electric clocks and circuits to log the incorrect time. For instance, European alarm clocks run faster on 60 Hz electricity; while-as American clocks lose 10 minutes on every hour when used in a European country. Most electronic equipment will not experience a difference in the adjustment of the cycles.