Electricity, 220 vs 110

I currently live in Europe where everything is on 220 electricity. To use my electric curlers from the states I have to use a transformer. OK. I have some nice 220 electrical appliances here. If I wanted to take them back to the states with me, such as this really cool lamp, how can I change or gut my lamp to use in the states? Do I always need a transformer both ways?

A simple lamp would be easy and inexpensive to rewire.

No transformers etc needed. Just rewire it for 110V. Easy, and you could find many people who could show you, like Home Depot. Or hire an electrician.

The US has 240 V as well; nearly all residences here have 240 V service, as well as 120 V. We use 240 V for high-wattage appliances such as electric stoves, dryers and large air conditioners. Homes are typically supplied with split-phase voltage, which is a pair of 240 V lines center-tapped to 120 V. You will probably need to have an electrician change the plugs on your appliances, however, since our 240 V plugs are different than yours; he should be made aware that these are European appliances, since the wiring color code is also different.

Can I also easily rewire a sophisticated (and expensive) Nesspresso coffee machine or flat screen television? The plugs are different so the wire has to change but is it possible to easily change those too or do the inner works make a difference?

No. Those have internal elements, such as heating coils and transformers which are designed to work on 240 V. And your TV probably wouldn’t work here, anyway, even neglecting the power issues–signal compatibility would be a problem.

True enough, but in Europe the 240v is on a single leg with neutral (2-wire), whereas in the states it’s two separate 120v phases with neutral (3-wire), no? Which would mean a big bang if one tried to feed a Euro appliance with US 240v.

Lamps are easy: change the plug, put in an American light bulb, problem solved.

The neutral isn’t necessary for a US 240 V circuit. It’s a single, split phase 240 V leg to leg, not two separate phases (in most areas; there are exceptions, such as New York, where two phases of a 3-phase circuit are used for a voltage of 208, but these are the exception rather than the rule.) Electrically, this would be identical to the 240 V phase to neutral of the UK, although I can imagine situations where safety might be compromised, if the design relied upon exposed parts being connected to a 0 V neutral rather than a hot line. Hence the recommendation for an electrican to handle the work.

Hiring an electrician would probably cost more than the lamp is worth. For a simple lamp, the wire is already rated in excess of 110V so the wire itself isn’t a problem. You’ll need to cut the plug off of the end and put on a US type. I don’t know what type of lamp base they use in Europe. You may need to change the bulb base so that it accepts US standard Edison base light bulbs.

If there’s something fancy like a dimmer circuit in the lamp then it gets to be a bit more complicated.

Taking a lamp from the US to Europe is much more of a problem because the insulation on the wires is rated for 110V, which would require the entire lamp to be gutted.

Have someone who really knows about electricity look at the espresso machine. If it happens to be made for both the US and Europe, making it work in the US may be as simple as opening it up and attaching the AC wire to a different set of screws coming off of the transformer inside. The manufacturer may also have a different transformer that you could order and put inside of it. If it’s a really expensive machine or you just really like it, it might be worth it to you to have it modified. It’s possible that the heating elements and such all run off of 220, in which case you won’t be able to easily modify it and you’ll be out of luck.

As QED said, the TV just isn’t going to work. Even if you took care of the power issues, there’s still the signal issues. US is NTSC standard. Europe uses PAL or SECAM depending on where you are at. You need a fairly sophisticated signal converter to get from one to the other. There’s no simple easy adapter you can just plug in.

If it is wired this way, though, it’s a poor design. It’s not uncommon for a house outlet to be wired the wrong way, so that the hot and the neutral are reversed, in which case such an appliance would also be a safety hazard.

More generally, anything more complicated than a heating element or an incandescant light will care about exactly what you’re feeding it (and even a heating element or a light bulb, you’ll have to recalibrate). The voltage will matter for almost everything, and the frequency may also matter. However, I’ve seen a fair number of electrical appliances which have built-in adapters, which allow them to accept a wide range of inputs (110-240 volts at 50-60 Hz, for instance, which I think encompasses everything found in the US or Europe). This information will typically be found printed on the back of the appliance, near the plug. If your appliance is one of these versatile ones, then all you’ll need to change will be the cord.

Actually, for a flat-screen, it may be possible, depending on the model - I believe some TVs use a modular approach where the appropriate tuner card is plugged into a ‘global’ panel, in which case it might be possible to get a replacement card. And even if that isn’t the case, many euro-spec flat panels can take an NTSC signal from an external source - partly to please DVD-importing customers, but more because all the panels (and disc players) are made in the same factories.