Electricity Supplies in Europe - Part I

| Supply Differences | _Plugs and Sockets |
_Voltage Converters | _Surge Protection |

Last updated 13-June-1997
__________ Photo source: ESB


In Europe we use a voltage which is twice that of the US. It is about 220 Volts, and this is lethal. It kills hundreds of people in Europe every year - mostly in domestic accidents, usually through mis-understanding or carelessness. And every year the list of tragedies includes some unwary visitors from North America. This page is designed to inform you about our electricity supply and to give some hints to you in using it safely during your holiday.

DISCLAIMER: We give this page in the hope that it will make you cautious in dealing with 220 Volt systems. We are not electrical engineers and we do not have any specialist knowledge about electrical safety, so this advice is just based on our own fallible common sense. Please use your own common sense and do not suppose that our advice is ever the best.

Differences versus North America

There are three main differences between the European electricity supply and that in North America.

220 volts Firstly the voltage is twice has high. In fact it varies a little from country to country. In Ireland it is 220 Volts; in England it is 240 Volts, and in some other European countries it is 200 Volts. Appliances designed for use in one European country may be used safely in any other European country. However appliances designed for use in North America will melt, or go on fire, or suffer irrepairable internal damage if plugged into our sockets.

Plugs & Sockets The second difference is the type of plugs and sockets used. In fact, these are designed to prevent the accidental connection of North American appliances into our sockets. As is a the case with our languages, our currencies and other necessities of life, the electric sockets differ from one European country to another. They are all different, but none are anything like North American sockets! See the picture at the bottom of the page for the plug and socket used in Ireland and Britain.

50 Hz The third difference is subtle and only important for appliances containing electric motors in which speed is critical (electric clocks are one example). The frequency of alternating current in North America is 60 Hertz (= cycles per second), while that in Europe is 50 Hertz. This means that your North American clock will show only 50 minutes passage of time between 12:00 noon and 1:00 pm; it means that your vinyl record player will deliver a deep sounding Shirley Bassey, but give you six minutes worth for a five minute song! This difference is not so important for other motor appliances such as the fan of an electric hair dryer, but if you are familiar with your dryer it will not sound quite so high pitched as usual.

Plugs and sockets in Britain and Ireland

socket plug
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It is also a requirement in Britain and Ireland that all appliances, no matter how small must have a three-pin fused plug for connection to the mains. This plug is about 2 inches square by 1 inch thick, (large enough for a mouse to build her nest in!). The fuse in the plug should be rated to suit the appliance. A 3 amp fuse is used for low power appliances such as razors and computers; a 5 amp fuse is used for appliances up to one kilowatt; and a 13 amp fuse is used for all other appliances including hair dryers, kettles and travel irons.

There is also a 1 amp fuse which is used in a shaver adaptor - this looks like a plug but has a socket in it suitable for the US two-pin plug. It should ONLY be used in conjunction with dual-voltage appliances rated at 200 Watts or less, such as razors, video camera battery chargers and portable computers.

You will not be able to put anything other than a three pin plug of the approved format into a wall socket here. The socket has an internal guard which is opened only by inserting the correct three-pin plug. The earth pin is longer that the other two and opens the guard to admit the power pins into the socket.

In our Bed and Breakfast we have a correctly designed voltage converter for the use of our guests. We STRONGLY discourage you from using the two-pin transformer type voltage converter in our home, and we would advise you not to use it at all.

By the way, sockets are prohibited in bathrooms apart from a specially constructed shaver socket, which will not power any appliance other than an electric razor. Even light switches are prohibited unless they are mounted high on the wall and are operated by a remote pull-cord. So always look for the light switch on the wall outside the bathroom, and failing that look for a pullcord inside!

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