Will my appliances work in Europe?
May 13, 2013 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Germany in a couple of months and have a few questions about using various 110V US-purchased appliances on the local 220V power. Specifically the 50Hz/60Hz issue - how big of a deal is it? My understanding is that anything with a motor may have a shorter lifespan and run somewhat less efficiently (and of course anything that uses AC for timing will run slow), but any other issues?

I ask because I had flirted with the idea of including a portable A/C unit similar to this one in my household goods. My employer-provided housing, while spacious and centrally-located, is also somewhat dated and lacks A/C. I'm well aware that Germany is not exactly a tropical climate and personally I wouldn't bother with A/C at all, however my SO is somewhat more temperature-sensitive and she is pretty insistent on having it. Normally I would just wait and buy a 220V unit locally, however we will only be living there for a few years, so having a 110V unit for future use might make more sense. Not to mention that my shipping allowance is pretty generous, so throwing in the A/C wouldn't be an issue.

I also have a 3kW step-up/down transformer that I can use with it, which should be plenty - the A/C is rated at 1250W max power consumption. However, I am wondering what effect the 50Hz mains would have. Would it just run somewhat less efficiently, maybe shorting the lifespan a bit or are there other concerns I haven't considered? Given the climate, my guess is that we won't be running it every day, maybe just a few days each summer. Google searching didn't help - some claimed they had used 110V/60Hz appliances (coffee pots, Kitchenaid mixers, even power tools) on 220V/50Hz no problem, and others saying it's not a good idea period.
posted by photo guy to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have lived in Germany. Only if there is a heat wave should you really need AC. The walls are thicker in typical German construction than in the cardboard crap Americans call housing and windows are designed to FULLY open and most homes are designed to arrange a cross breeze. The climate is cooler and the housing is better constructed. My ex is sensitive to heat. It was only a problem the summer we had a heatwave. Otherwise, fans were sufficient.

As for electric: I killed an American stereo by putting on a plug adapter and plugging it into the socket (something I think is okay with lamps?) instead of the transformer thingy cuz I'm an idiot. Do that just once for a nanosecond and you can then buy the 220v AC because your American one will be deader than a doornail.

I think, yes, the transformer tends to shorten lifespan as well.
posted by Michele in California at 3:51 PM on May 13, 2013

When I was in Germany (late '90s), A/C units ran pretty well, but most people I knew didn't bother taking them back to the U.S., so I can't report on long-term damage that might be done. The only issues I ever had with the 50/60Hz difference was with electric clocks, and even then only cheap ones.

However, it looks like these things are about $500, and I'd personally be kinda "Meh" about the idea of risking $500 on it for a few years. There's a good chance you can get a 220/110V unit over there anyway, and if you don't, there are 220-only models that are way cheaper, even if the Euro is strong against the dollar.

Have you talked to anyone at the office you're going to? Someone else might have experience in this -- or, if you're really lucky, someone else might be leaving around the time you're getting there and will sell you their 220V AC unit for $20.
posted by Etrigan at 3:58 PM on May 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks guys. It does seem like an awful lot of money to spend - maybe I'll just look for a used one locally.

Only if there is a heat wave should you really need AC. The walls are thicker in typical German construction than in the cardboard crap Americans call housing and windows are designed to FULLY open and most homes are designed to arrange a cross breeze.

Didn't know that, although I guess the thicker construction would make a lot more sense :)
posted by photo guy at 4:15 PM on May 13, 2013

They're not just thicker, they're (usually) stone or cinder-block type. So a warm day won't make the house miserable as long as you keep the shades drawn and keep the air moving, then air the house out in the evening.

But if you have an extended heat wave....oh brother.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:19 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are fair number of posts on the general topic here (one example) and the general rule is "motors and elements and compressors don't do well."

Give the housing a try without AC; if it proves inhospitable, you can buy a 220V AC unit in Germany, possibly second-hand from another expat, and it'll have resale value. Bring a 110V unit to Germany, and you're stuck with scrapping it -- probably at a cost to you -- or hauling it back with you. (Or perhaps selling it to military heading back to the US, but that's a longer considerably longer shot.)
posted by holgate at 5:23 PM on May 13, 2013

I don't think you will need an AC in Germany. It is not very common there. Expect that you have to buy a washing machine and a fridge/freezer. Both do not normally come with an apartment.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2013

A lot of apartments also don't come with kitchens, people unhook the cabinets and counters and take it with them to their next apartment.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:01 PM on May 13, 2013

DON'T use a 110v 60hz A/C unit on 220v 50hz.
Two reasons:
One, the voltage difference. A transformer capable of handling the required current will be really heavy, expensive, and rare.
Two, the frequency difference. It will cause the fan and compressor to run slow, and the whole unit may well overheat as a result. And converting frequency is really expensive.

What holgate says. You'll be much happier.
posted by drhydro at 9:01 PM on May 13, 2013

I live in Germany, I lived in the US.
Only devices that say, on the back, that they can be run on both 110/220 should be used on 220. I have a printer/scanner that I use (infrequently) on a transformer and have had no problems with.

They have stand-alone Acs here, which you probably won't need. With this caveat - we stayed in a converted attic (very nice apartment) that was really hot in August. Uncomfortably so, during the day. At night it was fine, and now that we live in a 'regular' apartment, we have had no problems with 'heat.' So, buy a unit in Germany, after checking out your housing.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:15 AM on May 14, 2013

Just a note on your transformer. If the transformer is rated at 50Hz, it will work fine powered at 50Hz or 60Hz. However if it's rated for 60Hz, it will run considerably hotter if you power it with 50Hz - regardless of any issues with the stuff you are powering via the transformer.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:14 PM on May 14, 2013

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