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Topic Title: Northern European Mains plugs
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Created On: 01 August 2011 10:11 AM
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 01 August 2011 10:11 AM
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adrianhill

Posts: 66
Joined: 18 January 2003

Why is it that you can plug the Northern European mains plugs in right way up or upside down? So if I'm using a travel adapter, I can connect live to neutral or vice versa. Can someone help? Thanks
 01 August 2011 10:32 AM
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ArthurHall

Posts: 735
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European practice is to use double pole protection and switching so polarity is not an issue for them. It is Brittish practice to use single pole fusing and switching so we have to observe correct polarity.
You have to be carefull which UK appliances you use in Europe. Either check the polarity or assume it may be wrong.
 01 August 2011 11:53 PM
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alancapon

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The same can apply to supposedly polarized connectors in Europe. As an example, the BS4343 "blue" 16A connectors are polarized, but a lot of European campsites have them wired with reversed polarity. A fair number of UK travellers take along a "socket tester" that will give an indication of polarity, plus a home-made "reversing lead" - a short lead with in-line plug and in-line socket, with the live and neutral swapped, and appropriately labelled! that can be placed inline with their electric hookup cables, such that they receive the correct polarity.

Regards,

Alan.
 02 August 2011 08:44 AM
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adrianhill

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So (correct me if I'm wrong): I can reverse the live/neutral connections in Europe easily. I would have thought some authority should control that for us English. I presume that in Europe reversing polarity is not a problem but why? Connecting live to neutral and neutral to live must be dangerous for some equipment otherwise we (Brits, aussies and whoever) wouldn't take the trouble to ensure we don't do it. Am I missing something here? Thanks for the replies.
 02 August 2011 12:03 PM
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alancapon

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As Arthur posted earlier, european electrical equipment has double pole protection and switching. There is therefore not an issue with reversing polarity on a european appliance. British appliances tend to have single pole protection and switching, therefore reversing polarity can cause a hazard. A means of determining correct polarity for british appliances should be used, together with a means of correcting this. It could be as easy as plugging the adaptor in the other way round (for a standard wall socket), or it could be more difficult with a polarised connector.

Regards,

Alan.
 02 August 2011 01:18 PM
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ectophile

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I would hope that a modern CE-marked electrical appliance would be made to European standards so that it is safe anywhere in Europe.

Our plugs have a fuse in the live terminal, so it is safest if that really is the live. Otherwise a blown fuse leaves the appliance apparently powered off, but still live inside.

Continental plugs do not rely on fuses, instead relying on the circuit breaker at the supply.

-------------------------
S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 03 August 2011 07:50 AM
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ArthurHall

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Modern appliances come with molded on plugs and are CE marked. The problem is the adaptors.
I dont think British plugs with a fuse are much use now as you tend to get petter protection from the MCB/RCD.
The British system was fine when it was developed 70 years ago but is now a bit antiquated compared to European practice.
Their system of 16A radials is I belive better than our system on a number of counts.
 03 August 2011 09:13 AM
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amillar

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I'd never really thought about this before - are European supplies balanced or is one side "earthy" as in UK neutral?

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 03 August 2011 09:54 AM
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adrianhill

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Still I am able to connect live to neutral and neutral to live in Germany. Are we saying that the live/neutral colouring (brown/blue) is now redundant?
 03 August 2011 01:05 PM
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ArthurHall

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European supplies are generaly the same as ours ie one pole is earthed.
However their system of wiring sockets is slightly different. They tend you use radials that have double pole RCBO,s at the DB. All the appliances have double pole switches so polarity is not an issue. It is only British appliances that have single pole switching and fusing so are polarity prone.
Ring continuity is not an issue in Europe either as they dont have rings.
In some countries the maximum domestic MCB size is 16A. They tend not to have electric showers like us, and for cookers they run 2 16A circuits and link the MCB's so that if one trips they both open.
European circuits need less testing, have less to go wrong and are generaly simpler.
British appliances are starting to tend towards European standards as reguard double pole switches and double insulation so can be plugged in either way around, but the fuse may end up in the neutral. I cant think of many appliances I would want to take abroad that this would be an issue for. If an appliance had double pole switching but single pole fusing, cut the plug off and fit a local one.
On the other hand people come to Britain buy an unfused adaptor and plug it into a socket fused at 32A!
The IET fought hard to maintain our ring circuits in face of European pressure, but perhaps this was a mistake? Its easy with 20/20 hindsight.
 03 August 2011 09:21 PM
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adrianhill

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It seems that, given the minute details that the 7671 regulations go into, that this subject is woefully short of regulation.
 04 August 2011 09:05 AM
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ectophile

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Originally posted by: adrianhill

It seems that, given the minute details that the 7671 regulations go into, that this subject is woefully short of regulation.


I think there is much less of a safety issue here than you make out.

European products are designed so that they are equally safe whether the live and neutral are the right way round or switched. The cores in the appliance will be brown and blue, but this makes little difference.

There aren't really any "British" appliances being sold any more - just European ones fitted with British plugs. As a result, reversing the live and neutral isn't really a problem with modern British appliances either. There is a minor issue of the fused live, but in reality the supply breaker will trip in case of a serious fault anyway.

The only safety issue I see is poorly made travel adaptors. Ones for visitors to the UK should be fused (and the one I have is). It also seems common for multi-country adaptors to connect only the live and neutral, and leave the earth un-connected, which seems very poor to me.

-------------------------
S P Barker BSc PhD MIET
 04 August 2011 06:26 PM
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adrianhill

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Thanks to all for very helpful replies
 06 August 2011 05:54 PM
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Legh

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There is, of course, the fact that many smaller appliances are class II, so don't require a cpc and may reflect on the reduced importance of polarity.

Legh

-------------------------
Why do we need Vernier Calipers when we have container ships?

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 08 August 2011 12:05 PM
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rogerbryant

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Today all new installations in Northern Europe have one side of the supply earthed. Begium apparently used to have a system where the socket had 2 phases from a 220V three phase supply so neither pin was linked to earth.

Single pole fusing or circuit breakers are used, sometimes with a simple isolator in the neutral line that can only be opened when the the circuit breaker is opened or the fuse removed.

http://hagergroup.ch/index.php?scr=1024&id=11448

http://hagergroup.ch/index.php?scr=1024&id=887

A three phase supply is used for large appliances such as the hot water heater or cooker. My oven is connected accross two phases with a fuse in each phase and no neutral.

For most appliances it does not matter which is phase and neutral, both are classed as live and insulated accordingly. I think Graham Kenyon has commented on this in other similar threads.

Best regards

Roger
 18 April 2012 09:30 AM
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RobertPattinson

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European products are designed so that they are equally safe whether the live and neutral are the right way round or switched. The cores in the appliance will be brown and blue, but this makes little difference.

-------------------------
thanks
robert
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