Power and electricity vary from country to country. Europe and most other countries in the world use a voltage which is twice that of the United States. It is between 220 and 240 volts 50 Hertz, whereas in Japan and in most of the Americas the voltage is between 100 and 127 volts 60 Hertz. Electricity is measured in terms of quantity and force. The force is the voltage (V) and the frequency is the hertz (Hz), or cycles per second. In addition, plug shapes, plug holes, plug sizes and sockets can differ as well.
Originally, Europe was 110V, like Japan and the US today. In the 1950- 60s, in an effort to increase power output, most European countries converted to 220V. At the time, the United States also contemplated changing, but unlike Europe, many US households already possessed refrigerators, washing machines, etc., and replacing them would have been extremely expensive.
Many appliances bought from home cannot be connected to the wall outlets in your new European home without a little due diligence. A range of 110-240V indicates the appliance is dual voltage. New electronics such as laptops and computers, TVs (must also be multi system or PAL compatible), and stereos often, but not always, fall into this category, requiring only an adaptor to function. Most other items require a transformer to work. Items like clocks, curling irons, irons and microwaves should not be placed on transformers; these items do not work well when the voltage is converted. Furthermore items that are never turned off or disconnected, such as phones and answering machines, should not be plugged into transformers.
Do you know which appliances need a plug adapter or transformer? If not, check the back of electrical appliances before plugging them into electrical sockets. Electronics used improperly can cause shortages, outages, sparks and fire. When purchasing new appliances at the Exchange, don’t automatically assume they are 220V or dual voltage.
Plug adapters allow a dual voltage appliance to be plugged into a foreign outlet. They are inexpensive (less than $2) and can be found at the Exchange or thrift store. On a side note: I was happy to discover that the lamps I brought from home, worked with a 220V light bulb and plug adapter.
Transformers are expensive, bulky, heavy and very inconvenient for certain tasks. They can cost anywhere from $60-200 based on the amount of wattage they can support. This wattage must always exceed the wattage of the appliance it powers. Military installations will issue service members one upon arrival. Check the Thrift Shops for discounted plug adaptors and transformers. While they are able to function for an extended period of time, they continue to draw electricity even when an appliance is not plugged in it. Be energy efficient and immediately unplug a transformer after using it. You’ll save energy and cut down on your electric bill, too.
Did you know???
Since converters only convert the voltage and not the frequency, different electrical cycles result. This difference is what causes American clocks to run at a much slower speed, losing approximately 10 minutes per hour on average. The end result is the wrong time and no excuse for being late. Best bet is to buy your clocks locally.