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110V vs. 220V Appliances

By: Jonathan Z. Kremer

I make it a habit to spend a bit of time every once in a while surfing the various Aliyah forums, groups and sites, listening to the electrical questions that are being asked. I can't help noticing all the contradicting information, especially concerning the topic of bringing 110v appliances to Israel from North America. There are always some well meaning people who give advice based on their own experiences that may or may not be the norm. Those using 110V appliances under certain conditions may not be aware of possible long term damage they are causing their appliance, yet they are advising others to do the same. Since there are so many factors to consider, I will attempt to separate fact from fiction, and from other personal considerations that each person will have to decide for themselves.

Lets start with some basic facts. In the US and Canada the standard voltage (single phase) is 110 V (volts)/60 Hz (Hertz). The voltage in Israel is 220V /50Hz. The hertz is an expression of AC frequency in cycles per second. Therefore, when we mention electrical "cycles" or "frequency" we are referring to the hertz. This is very important to know, and will affect most appliances in some way. We will discuss this more later.

There are three basic ways that the voltage is commonly changed for use with appliances in a home.

Sample Transformers

1. The transformer, which is made of coils, is quite hefty for it's size. The coils increase or decrease the voltage according to it's specifications. Transformers are rated in VA (volt-ampere). This is not the same as a watt, which is normally what is used to rate your appliances. Therefore you should always buy a transformer with a VA rating that is 30-40% more than the wattage of the appliance that you will run off it.

2. The converter is an electronically made device that doesn't actually lower the voltage. Instead it delays each electrical cycle making the appliance think it is working with the proper voltage (does not produce an output of full sine wave electricity). If you were to measure with a voltmeter the output of the converter, it would actually measure 220V (in Israel). Converters are not for use with electronic devices, and should not be used for an extended period of time. I personally do not recommend using these devices at all. They are known to ruin electrical appliances of all sorts.

Sample Converter

3. The power pack, power blocks, power supply, power cube, are all names that are used for those blocks that you plug into the outlet and have a thin wire that plugs into your walkman, speakers, or other electronic devices. These power supplies do not only lower the voltage, but change it from AC to DC. Once you change the voltage from AC to DC, you no longer have to worry about the cycles (DC current does not have cycles, which is why it's call direct current).

Some Appliances Don't Need Any Help

Some appliances are built today to work within a range of voltage and cycles. Take a look at the specifications on the power pack or the back of the appliance itself and see what it says. If it has something like "INPUT: 110V-240V 60Hz/50Hz " then it will work here in Israel without any additional parts (well...possibly just a plug converter, to be able to plug it into an Israeli outlet).

Sample Power Packs

How Each of The Converting Methods Affect Your Appliances

Lets start with the power pack first because that is the easiest to deal with. If you have an appliance that uses a AC-DC power pack, then it is pretty much certain that the appliance can be used in Israel one way or other. If after reading the specifications on the power pack and deciding that it is for 110V use ONLY (see section above), then bring the power pack with you when you come to Israel, and use it as a sample when you go to buy a new power pack for 220V use. Power packs can be bought relatively cheap here. When buying a new power pack, make sure that the output specifications match the original (voltage, amp, polarity, and the plug that attaches to the appliance). It is not worth running a power pack off a transformer unless your power pack happens to be one that supplies a weird voltage, and a 220V replacement cannot be found.

Like I mentioned above, I do not recommend using the electronic converters. Should you decide to use them anyhow, make sure that you follow the directions - and may G-d be with you.

Transformers are the most common and reliable way of changing the voltage. Because of the work and materials used in building a transformer, they are both more expensive and heavier than converters. Transformers lose about 10% of their power to heat, therefore they inflate your electric bill, especially if left plugged in all the time. Unfortunately, like converters, transformers cannot change the cycles (Hz) of the electricity.

So What's All This About The Cycles?

Like we mentioned above, the electrical cycles in North America and in Israel are different (N. America=60Hz Israel=50Hz). The change in cycles will affect the speed of a motor and cause havoc with a few electronic devices (mainly those that are NOT working through a AC-DC power pack or rectifier). It will cause clocks to lose time rapidly and cause many appliances to run inefficiently. The change in hertz causes motors to heat up and wear out prematurely. Having said that, different appliances react differently to the change in cycles. It is therefore very difficult to make a sweeping statment as to what appliance will function properly with the change of cycles. Each appliance must be examined on it own merit.

Sometimes to lower the ill affects of running an appliance at a different hertz, a special transformer is built which supplies a slightly lower voltage than normal in order to try and compensate for the change in hertz, thus reducing the ill affects somewhat and permitting certain 110V devices to operate with 220V which were not able to do so before (with a regular transformer).

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Now that you have all the electrical facts, it's time for the difficult job of deciding which 110V appliances are worth bringing with you to Israel, and which are not. From this point on I can only give some pointers and advice, both of which could change with time, depending on prices and many other variables.

Generally speaking, buying a 220V appliance to bring to Israel is always better than buying and bringing a 110V appliance. There is less hassle and no bulky transformer to kick around, drop, burn out...etc. As far as the larger 110V used appliances are concerned, if they are a few years old, you may want to consider selling them and buying new 220V appliances. You wouldn't want to go through all the trouble and cost of shipping the appliance here and buying a transformer, just to have the appliance break down a short time after. Most people I've spoken to say that olim are better off buying their appliances in Israel because of high shipping costs. This may or may not be true (and can change with time), but the whole topic of shipping is beyond the scope of this article. I personally would never recommend to anyone to buy a large NEW 110V appliance to bring to Israel. Most of the manufactures warn that using their 110V appliance on a transformer nullifies the warranty. Even if you bought your appliance at a great savings, if you consider shipping charges, delivery charges, cost of a (big) transformer, and all the hassles of using it on a transformer, I think you will agree. Many times the 110V models are not known in Israel, therefore parts are difficult if not impossible to find.

Small electrical appliances can be broken down into a few groups, those with heating elements, those with small motors, and solid state electronics.

Even though 110V appliances with heating elements (toaster, toaster oven, electric kettle, heaters...etc) usually work fine with transformers, I personally think that in most cases it would not be cost efficient to to do so. These high wattage appliances will require a large transformer. I believe that if you weigh the cost of the 110v appliance together with the cost of shipping, and the cost of the transformer, you'd be better off just buying the 220V appliance in Israel (with a warranty) and have no hassles dealing with transformers. Again, if you already have such an appliance and it's still in "like new" condition you may decide to bring it anyhow.

Other small appliances such as mixers, food processors, etc will usually work fine on a transformer. Even though theoretically the change in cycles should cause ill affects on the motors, the change in speed will probably not be felt and the appliance will be used for such a short period of time, that the change in cycles will probably not have much of an affect on the life of the motor. You can always buy one of those special transformers described above.

Much of your solid state equipment may already be built to operate with both 110V/220V and 60Hz/50Hz. Read the specifications or look on the back panel of the appliance for this information. Otherwise, with the exception of those appliances that need to work at a certain speed (tape recorders, DVDs, record players...etc), most of the rest will work well with a transformer (because most have built into them power supplies that not only lower the voltage furthur, but also convert it to DC). Tape recorders, DVDs and other such devices that need to run at a specific speed, may still work with a transformer if there is a built-in rectifier that supplies the whole unit. Always check the specifications to be sure.

As you can see there are a lot of things to consider and decisions to make. Hopefully you are now in a better position to make the right ones.

Jonathan Z. Kremer (better known as Yoni) is the proprietor of "Yoni - Electrical Design and Installations", a Maale Adumim (Israel) based business that has been serving primarily Jerusalem, Maale Adumim, and surrounding areas since 1989. We undertake various forms of electrical work including renovations, maintenance, installations, and repairs - encompassing the domestic (home), industrial and commercial arenas. We believe that our success tomorrow will be determined by how well we serve you today.

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