ELECTRICAL CONSIDERATIONS

IMPORTANT

Please read and print these instructions now and put them in your luggage for reference in London.

THE BASIC DIFFERENCE

Household current in the United States is 110 volts, 60 Hertz.  Household current in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe is 220 volts, 50 Hertz.  The outlets and plugs in England are different in prong size and spacing from those used in the United States, making it impossible to connect an American plug to a British wall outlet.  This is well and good, because if you were to send 220 volts up the cord and into a device designed only for 110 volts, you would have your own private Fourth of July fireworks right there on the spot - and the results would not be pretty.

The French and all other European countries also operate on 220 volts, 50 Hertz, but their plugs are different yet again.

We deal with different plugs by using plug adapters.  We deal with different voltage by using power converters.

PLUG ADAPTERS

A plug adapter does not convert voltage.  It merely lets you plug an American electric plug into the adapter, which then will plug into the British wall socket.  You are sending 220 volts up the cord into whatever you plugged in.  That is well and good only if the appliance is rated to receive 220 volts.

Some blow dryers, travel irons and computer equipment have small switches enabling you to switch between 110 and 220 volts.  If you are using only an adapter plug, make sure the switch is positioned at 220 before you plug in the item.

The power supplies for some cellphone chargers and laptop computers (but not peripherals) are either switchable between 110 and 220 or automatically accept either voltage.  Contact your laptopís manufacturer for instructions on using your laptop in Europe.  If your computer is a Dell, their power supplies are almost always dual-voltage.

Read the fine print on your power supply, phone charger, or appliance.  If it says "110-220V," that means it will work on either voltage. If it says "110V," you'll need a power converter.  The "V" means voltage.

If your computer or cellphone charger or appliance can be used directly on 220 volts, you will still need a plug adapter.  You can get these at Pearsonís Luggage on Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge, or from Magellans.  Also ask for Magellanís catalogue of travel supplies, including power converters (discussed below).  Note that the British and Irish plug adapter is different from the one you use in France and all other countries on the continent itself.  The electricity is the same everywhere in Europe (220 volts), but there are two types of plugs:  one for England and Ireland, another for the rest of Europe.

Under no circumstances use a plug adapter without a power converter, unless you are certain that what you are connecting is rated to accept 220 volts and, if appropriate, any voltage switch on the item is set accordingly.

POWER CONVERTERS

A power converter converts 220 volts to 110 volts.  Accordingly, you can plug 110-volt devices into the converter, subject to wattage ratings and the type of converter.  There are two types of power converters.

The first type of converter contains a small transformer.  It is heavy for its size, since a transformer must contain an iron core.  This type of converter truly converts 220 volts into 110 volts.  But such converters have a low wattage rating, usually about 40 watts.  You can safely plug sensitive electronics into this type of converter, subject however to the wattage limitation.  This type of converter is ideal for radios, CD players, electric shavers, and small battery chargers.  Connecting an item that draws more than the rated wattage of the converter would either ruin the converter or start a fire.  A computer or blow dryer would surely exceed the rated wattage of most such converters.  The wattage used by any device is indicated in the fine print by the letter "W."  Thus, a blow drier whose label says "1,200W" uses 1,200 watts.  Read the fine print.

A second type of converter contains what is known as a selenium rectifier.  This type of converter is much lighter in weight and much cheaper than the transformer, and it is rated at much higher wattage, typically 1,600 watts - enough for an electric iron, blow dryer, or curling or straightening iron.  The use of this kind of converter, however, is limited to heat-producing devices.  Such a converter will damage sensitive electronic equipment such as computers, radios and CD players.  The reason for this is that this type of converter does not truly convert the voltage.  Instead, it turns the 220 volts on and off fifty times each second.  The average voltage that comes out is 110 volts, but it consists of intermittent spikes of 220 volts.  These spikes will damage a computer or other sensitive equipment, but not less sophisticated items such as heat-producing devices.  Limit use of this type of converter strictly to irons, blow dryers, hotplates, et cetera.

60 HERTZ VERSUS 50 HERTZ

While it is easy to convert voltage, it is virtually impossible to convert frequency.  Fortunately, the latter is of little importance.  The difference in frequency between American and European current is of no concern.  You will not damage any American item by running it on its proper voltage, but at 50 Hertz instead of 60 Hertz.

There is one caveat:  electric clocks and clock radios will not keep proper time.  This is because most electric clocks count cycles to keep time, advancing the second hand one second every time they count 60 cycles.  Since at 50 cycles per second it takes 1.2 seconds to reach a count of 60, any American electric clock, be it electronic (digital) or motor driven (analog), will run slow by exactly four hours per day.  You will not harm your clock, but it will keep terrible time.

For this reason, it is suggested you obtain an inexpensive travel alarm clock that either operates exclusively on batteries or is spring driven and wound manually.  Or you can always use your cellphone's alarm-clock feature (just make sure your cellphone is fully charged and set to the correct British time).  Not to worry about your computerís clock, however:  It keeps time via an internal quartz crystal and not by cycle counting, so it should keep perfect time in Europe.

SAFETY

Do not use curling irons, straightening irons or blow dryers near water.  Think twice before taking the chance.  Itís twice the voltage.

BUYING ELECTRICAL GOODS IN EUROPE

It is, of course, possible to buy items such as electric irons, coffee pots, blow dryers and the like in Europe.  They are designed to run on 220 volts and will be useless on return to America.  Expect to pay more for such things in Europe than you would pay in America.

BUYING AUDIO AND VIDEO RECORDINGS IN EUROPE

CDs and cassette tapes purchased in Europe will work in the United States.  Pre-recorded DVDs and VHS tapes definitely will not!  European DVDs are recorded in a different format that will not work on American computers or DVD players.



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