The electrical system in
Europe is 220/240 volts and 50 Hertz whereas the United States operates
on a 110/120 volt, 60 Hertz system. Likewise, the shape of the
plugs themselves differ, with US plugs having two flat prongs and
European plugs having two round prongs. Although the majority of
on-post housing units are equipped with some American style 110 volt
wall outlets, there never seems to be enough of them an the ones that
are there aren't always located where we would want them, and off-post
housing has not 110 volt outlets. Therefore, in order to operate
our American appliances safely here in Germany, three types of
electrical hardware are still widely used: transformers, converters, and
adapters. Each of these items has a distinct purpose and should
not be confused.
Plug adapters merely allow an American style plug
to fit into a German style outlet, and do not convert/transform
the voltage of the electricity. Plug adapters can be used
in conjunction with a German light bulb to operate your American lamps.
They are also used to plug in "dual voltage" appliances. Dual
voltage appliances are those appliances that are designed to operate
safely on both 110 volt and 220 volt electricity. Some items make
the switch automatically, but most dual voltage appliances have a
switch, knob, or other mechanism that must be adjusted from the 110
setting to the 220 setting. Once the appliance is switched to the
higher voltage setting, a plug adapter can then be used to operate the
appliance on a 220v outlet. A metal plate affixed to the appliance
should indicate whether or not it is dual voltage.
Voltage converters can be
found for less than $20 at most travel shops. People often mistake
these items for transformers, but there is a difference. Like
transformers, step-down converters change the electricity voltage from
220v to 110v, but unlike transformers, converters are not designed for
continuous use. These converters should only be used for
relatively short periods of time (45min to 1hr). Additionally most
converters can only be used for ungrounded appliances (2 pins on the
plug), and should only be used with electric (and not electronic)
appliances. Hair dryers, irons, electric tooth brushes, rechargers,
razors, curling irons, and other appliances with simple heating elements
or small motors should work fine on a converter. Converters must
be unplugged from the wall when not in use. The proper use of a
converter is to first plug an adapter (if needed) into the wall outlet,
plug the apploiance into the converter, an then and only then plug the
converter with the appliance plugged into it into the wall outlet.
NOTE: A few companies do manufacture more sophisticated converters
specifically designed to use with laptops and other electronic equipment.
Unlike their $20 cousin, the converter,
transformers are relatively expensive. New transformers can be
purchased prior to your arrival from various travel stores or websites.
Once in country, they can be purchased prior to your arrival from
various travel stores or websites. Once in country, they can be
purchased from the Powerzone and range from $26 for the 75W to $185 for
the 2000W. Used transformers can be purchased at Thrift Shops on
post for about 1/2 the price of a new one.
There are no
organizations that lend transformers.
There are two types of voltage transformers: 1) Step-down voltage
transformers are used overseas to convert the electricity from 220v to
110v so you can operate your favorite American appliances in Germany.
2) And when you find a new favorite appliance of the 220v German
variety, take it back and use it in the States with a step-up voltage
transformer that converts the electricity there from 110v to 220v.
Transformers are sold in various sizes based on how much wattage they
can support. Therefore one must pay careful attention to the
wattage ratings of the appliances to be plugged into a transformer.
The wattage rating of the transformer must always be larger than the
wattage rating of the appliance to be plugged into it (plug a 25% butter
to allow for heat build-up in the transformer). When plugging
multiple items into a power strip, then into the transformer, you must
calculate the combined wattage of all appliances and the power strip,
then add an additional 25% to that total.
You can find your appliances voltage and wattage requirements listed on
the manufacturer's label located on the back or bottom of the appliance
of in the specifications section of the appliance owner's manual.
The label or manual will show the input voltage (100, 120, 220, 240
written as 120 volts, 120V, 120 volts AC, or 120VAC), the wattage (100
watts or 100W), or the amperage (0.5 Amps or 0.5A or 500mA). In
some cases, the voltage and amperage will be listed, but not the
wattage. If this is the case, simply multiply the voltage by the
amperage rating to find the wattage rating. Volts x Amps = Watts.
Below is a guide for the size transfomers typically needed for common
appliances. Use this as a guide only. Always check
your appliance first.
Appliances the Transformer can
small, low-wattage appliances such as
radios, tape recorders, and some televisions
larger radios, stereo consoles,
electric blankets, hand mixers, small fans, and most TV sets
stand mixers, blenders, and some
projectors, some sewing machines, and
small electric broom-type vacuums
small heaters, some coffee makers,
most appliances that have heating
elements such as toasters, electric frying pans, irons, and grills
American 110 volt
electricity is generated at 60 Hz (Cycles) Alternating Current and
German 220 volt electricity is generated at 50 Hz (Cycles) Alternating
Current. Transformers do not convert the hertz so the difference
in cycles may cause the motor in your 60Hz North American appliance to
operate slightly slower when used on 50Hz foreign electricity.
This cycle difference will cause electric clocks and timing circuits to
keep incorrect time (that American alarm clock is going to lose about 10
minutes every hour, so buy a German clock soon after arrival).
Even the American 110v outlets in housing operate at the slower hertz
cycle. Most modern electronic equipment like battery chargers,
computers, printers, stereos, tape and CD players, VCR/DVD players, etc.
are usually not affect by the difference in cycles and adjust themselves
accordingly to the slower cycles.
Another important consideration
when using American appliances here is polarity because you may damage
your appliances if the polarity flow is incorrect. Because the
prongs on a German plug are exactly the same size, the plug on the end
of your transformer will plug into the wall either way. However,
when plugging an American appliance with a ground pin (ie a 3-prong
plug), it is important that the transformer plug be inserted in a
specific direction at the wall to insure compatible polarity. To
determine proper wall-to-plug polarity, use a polarity tester.
These can be purchased for a couple of dollars on post. If the
tester indicates that the polarity is reversed, simply remove the
transformer plug from the wall, turn it over, and reinsert it.
Polarity should then be fine. Polarity is not of importance when
plugging 2-prong appliances in transformers.
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