Using high-wattage Euro electrical goods in the US
October 10, 2014 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to California from Europe and have a houseful of electrical items rated for 220V, 50Hz. Lamps with incandescent bulbs and things with wall-warts AFAIK just need plug adaptors (I think?). Kettles, toasters, hairdryers, clock radios etc will probably get ditched. The problem is a few expensive, high-wattage items: fancy steam iron with integrated boiler (2200W) - vacuum cleaner (ditto) - coffee machine (1450W) - laser printer (a mere 660W). Is there any way to use these in the US short of buying 4 enormous step-up transformers?

One transformer with a power-strip? Getting the 240V oven outlet, if there is one, rewired to accept a normal plug (is this possible/legal in CA?). Some other electrical wizardry? Or do I in fact need frequency-converting gizmo/s, as I guess these all have electrical motors?

This was recommended in a previous thread but involves multiple extension cords, not so great with a preschooler in the house.

I know the usual advice is to get rid of everything and buy new in the US, but they are all quite new, and high quality, having been bought to last (oops). I won't get much for them secondhand where I live now, and my employer is paying for shipping. Given all this I am willing to spend a reasonable amount (100s) on whatever is needed to make these damn things work!
posted by ogorki to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The printer is probably 100-240v 50-60hz if you check, and just needs a US cord.
posted by wotsac at 3:33 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all check the prices of equivalent US appliances. We found that buying new ones was cheaper than the step up transformer (although we did buy one before we knew better). The step up transformer also: weighed a ton (10-15 lb); took up counter space; hummed all the time (loud enough to be heard everywhere in the kitchen; used electricity at a fair rate, even without the appliance being plugged in or on.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 3:38 PM on October 10, 2014

I feel like it would be much easier in the long run to ask your employer to transfer the offered shipping costs to a payment towards new US appliances. How long do you plan to be in the US? What will you do with the appliances when you return to Europe? Will the shipping costs be covered for the return journey? If not, can you reasonably expect to be able to sell them in the US?
posted by poffin boffin at 3:43 PM on October 10, 2014

I second blue_wardrobe. Stuff is just so much cheaper in US than anywhere that selling whatever you have in Europe and buying new stuff in US is just cheaper. This was certainly true when I moved from Finland and I would think it also applies to Switzerland (if that's where you're moving from per your profile).

Also in Europe (Finland) the secondary market for lot of used stuff is much more active. In Finland I could sell stuff that in US I just throw away or maybe leave at the curb.
posted by zeikka at 4:25 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: fancy steam iron with integrated boiler (2200W) - vacuum cleaner (ditto)

You'll never find an iron or vacuum with that much wattage in the US -- I haven't seen any appliance designed to draw more than 1750 watts from a standard outlet -- and I think you'll find any US replacement for these two items decidedly inferior to what you're used to. And a transformer wouldn't work for them either, because it would have to draw too much power.

I was going to say that you could wire two US extension cords together with an EU cord, and plug each US cord into a different leg of your house supply, though it would be dangerous, but I see that your link has that covered, and in a way that doesn't seem dangerous and is in fact quite sophisticated.

I'd buy at least one of those, and thanks for letting me know they exist.
posted by jamjam at 5:03 PM on October 10, 2014

You've likely done this, but just in case you haven't: you could contact the manufacturers of these few items and see what they say.

If you're going to own a home in the US, you could always have an electrician go into a few rooms and install a pair of dedicated-circuit outlets next to each other, and then use that 220v changerizer you linked to. These would still be useful things you could mention in the ad when/if you go to sell, especially in the kitchen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:39 PM on October 10, 2014

Lamps should be okay with plain prong adapters and new bulbs, as long as the lamps take Edison-style screw-in bulbs. The laser printer almost certainly runs on DC power internally, and it's power supply is likely rated for both 110 and 220v, though you may have to find a voltage switch on the device and set it to 110v. Check your printer's manual; it should note what voltages it supports and have instructions on switching voltages if needed. Everything else will need a 220v power source to work properly.

The biggest problem you will face is that step-up transformers that support 2000w+ appliances are not cheap, though they are at least in your budget (~$100, according to Amazon). You'll need to buy one such adapter for each appliance, or buy an adapter rated for the sum of the combined wattages for all of the appliances you plan to plug into it, plus a few hundred watts of breathing room. The Quick220 system in your link, or getting an electrician to wire up some 220v outlets, would seem to me to be a better option for all the downsides to voltage converters blue_wardrobe mentioned, if you're set on bringing your appliances with you.

Keep in mind that the mains power here runs at 60Hz instead of 50Hz, which could cause problems with some AC motors and some types of electronics designed for a given power frequency.

Frankly, unless the appliances you're planning to bring that need 220v cost more than a few thousand dollars, I'd take this as a sunk cost and buy new ones here.
posted by Aleyn at 5:53 PM on October 10, 2014

Best answer: Oh, also, keep in mind that typical household US circuits use 20 amp circuit breakers for regular outlets, which means a given circuit will only support a load of about 2000-2400 watts in total on any of the outlets on the circuit. Your appliances have a good chance of tripping breakers, especially if you try to load more than one on the same circuit.
posted by Aleyn at 6:06 PM on October 10, 2014

Best answer: Getting the 240V oven outlet, if there is one, rewired to accept a normal plug (is this possible/legal in CA?).

I'm not at all clear what you mean by this. What's a "normal" plug?

Is there any way to use these in the US short of buying 4 enormous step-up transformers?

Voltage conversion like this really is a kind of "brute-force" thing that's best accomplished with a large heavy transformer.

One transformer with a power-strip?

Your problem here is all voltage transformers will have a wattage rating, and if you go over that wattage you'll burn out the transformer. Transformers are basically just two big coils of wire, and trying to draw more power out of the transformer than it's rated for will generate lots of heat, which will eventually melt the insulation on the wire that makes up the coil and cause it to short out.

And of course the higher the wattage rating, the heavier and more expensive the converter is. A quick web search suggests that once you get up into the 2000 watt-plus transformers, you're looking at spending about 90 to 150 US dollars (not too bad), and with a weight of 35 to 45 pounds (about 15 to 20 kilos) - yikes.

So you could safely run any one of these appliances at a time off a 2300-watt transformer (or maybe the coffee machine and the printer simultaneously), but a power strip won't really do you much good since you can't run more than one appliance at a time. You might as well just plug in each appliance as you use it.

[I haven't seen any appliance designed to draw more than 1750 watts from a standard outlet

And you won't, because of the derivative of Ohm's Law that states: Volts times Amps equals Watts. 120 volts (the high side of standard US power) times 15 amps (the standard circuit rating for household outlets) = 1800 watts. ]

This was recommended in a previous thread but involves multiple extension cords, not so great with a preschooler in the house.

Yup, agreed. That thing is doing exactly what jamjam suggested above - "cheating" a 220 line by combining two 110 lines, taking advantage of the fact that in the US 220 volts is what comes into the building and then gets "split in half", so to speak. Recombine the two halves, and you've got 220 again. I will admit to having done something similar, but only in very temporary situations, like one night, and only when I personally am on site the entire time and able to keep an eye on the connections.

Two catches, though:

1) Who knows how your 220 will be divided up inside wherever you live? I don't know if anything in the building codes (laws) addresses this, and even if there is, in practice codes in the US aren't necessarily adhered to or repair/alterations approved by an electrical inspector unless it's a major rebuild. IOW, you could easily be running cables every-which-way, into multiple rooms & down hallways, to find two circuits on separate "legs" of your power.

2) This system absolutely will not work if one or both circuits are connected to a Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (GFCI) which can be either an outlet or a breaker in your breaker box. Not only speaking from personal experience, but it says so right on the webpages that provide details of each Quick220 device. And GFCI outlets are now installed as standard anywhere outlets could possibly get wet, like kitchens & bathrooms. Older buildings might not have them installed, yet, but ROU Xenophobe's idea likely won't work, as any electrician doing work in the kitchen will essentially have to install GFCI outlets.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:30 PM on October 10, 2014

unfortunately, I think the reasonable thing is to, yeah, actually get new things.
You didn't mention if you'll be living in an apartment, rental house or purchasing a house. I would be very very surprised if any landlord would even let you muck about with the wiring enough to get a few non appliance 240 outlets, and if you are buying then the cost of an electrician to do the work will likely be greater than replacement costs .
posted by edgeways at 11:55 PM on October 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, some new things to consider here, e.g. I hadn't thought about tripping breakers even if we do buy the huge transformer/s. It is a rental apartment, yep, so it looks like we'll be leaving the iron and vacuum here and reconciling ourselves to cleaning equipment that runs on max 1750V - the horror!
posted by ogorki at 3:30 PM on October 11, 2014

On the plus side, you'll get to use appliances with much smaller plugs. :)

Keep in mind that many appliances made outside of the U.S. use larger voltages because they can, not because they need to. Appliances in the US work fine at the lower ratings. We don't all have filthy carpets and half-ironed clothes. It's like stepping down to a hybrid after driving an SUV I guess. (I mean, there's a bonus for you - you get a smaller voltage iron, but in exchange you can get a larger, less efficient car. And a huge fridge. International differences are weird.)
posted by caution live frogs at 9:06 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Where was this Magnum Ice Cream commercial filmed?   |   Best earphones I can buy right now Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.