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Power Technology

Plug vs. Plug — Which Nation's Socket Is Best? 1174

CNETNate writes "Is the American mains socket really so much worse than the Italian design? And does the Italian socket fail at rivaling the sockets in British homes? This feature explores, in a not-at-all-parodic-and-anecdotal fashion, the designs, strengths and weaknesses of Earth's mains adapters. There is only one conclusion, and you're likely not to agree if you live in France. Or Italy. Or in fact most places." (For more plug pics and details, check out Wikipedia's list of the ones in current use.)
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Plug vs. Plug — Which Nation's Socket Is Best?

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  • um no (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:11PM (#29983232)

    8 fucking pages with two small paragraphs on each page? fuck. off.

  • by cabjf ( 710106 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:11PM (#29983250)
    There already is an international standard. The problem is that no one is going to invest a ton of money to scrap their current system (pun?) and switch over to it. []
  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:13PM (#29983296)

    UK plugs are about double the size, have significantly thicker pins and have a fuse built in.

    Other than that, identical.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:14PM (#29983336)

    UK plugs are quite a bit more sturdy -- you can't bend a prong on a UK mains plug with hand strength. They do take up a bit more wall space though.

    The voltage isn't a trivial issue either. More volts to the wall means the house wiring doesn't need to carry as many amps and less fire/electrocution risk.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Brit_in_the_USA ( 936704 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:17PM (#29983426)
    As a British person living in the USA I notice that the majority of my sockets outside kitchen and bathroom are not GFI protected (either at the socket or the fuse panel) and that most appliances do not use an Earth Pin.

    I also am in awe that socket adapters are legally sold that convert non earthed sockets into earthed sockets and light bulb sockets into earthed sockets, the safety implications are huge. I think it is a fair assessment to use 110V non earth sockets as many home have them.

    I also notice that no appliance I own in the USA uses insulation on the live pins of the plug to prevent accidental shocks when the plug is slightly out of the socket, none of the sockets contain safety shutters and that 110V cords to high wattage appliances such as vacuum cleaners get warm and the lights change brightness when I switch such appliances on and off. IMO the British home electrical system is much better than the USA system and I have tried to view it impartially over the years.
  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by adamgundy ( 836997 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:21PM (#29983474)

    and the plastic guards across the power pin sockets that only open when the earth pin is inserted.. prevents little fingers etc.

    oh, and they always (almost always, not on really old sockets) have a switch next to each socket so you can turn them on/off.

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Informative)

    by carvell ( 764574 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:23PM (#29983524) Homepage
    Yes, the British have "really decided" - a long time ago too! Stuff hasn't come with just bare wires for ages. I hesitate to suggest an actual number of years, because someone will come along and prove to me that there's one appliance left that still comes with bare wires for some odd reason or another, but I'll stick my neck out and say it's been well over a decade!
  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by EEDAm ( 808004 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:35PM (#29983782)
    I dunno when you last heard that from someone. Bare wire appliances haven't been sold since the 70's or early 80's in my memory (no doubt there's an exception somewhere). And the 100 plug thing is just bizarre. It's a single UK standard plug and that's it and has been since I can remember (I'm 40).
  • by adamwright ( 536224 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:39PM (#29983872) Homepage

    Min-Kyu Choi's Folding UK style plug. All the goodness of the UK plug, none of the bulky crap. []

  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:39PM (#29983878) Journal

    The 2008 NEC requires shuttering outlets in the US. It's just a matter of time.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by shadow349 ( 1034412 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:42PM (#29983926)

    Features like shuttering and built in fuses. Both of which are optional on American outlets as well

    Thanks to the electrical manufacturers, "shuttering" is no longer optional for residential installations that follow NEC 2008 or later (406.11).

  • Oh yeah? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:43PM (#29983934) Homepage Journal

    Well, the Canada plug is better than the U.S.A. plug!

  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:50PM (#29984078)
    They'll only potentially save you if they are GFCI, standard breakers will let you complete the circuit quite long enough to fry you.
  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:55PM (#29984174) Homepage Journal

    Ungrounded and unpolarized sockets are grandfathered in, but no longer meet code for a new install. The adapters are SUPPOSED to be connected to the screw for grounding, but I have frequently seen that step skipped or the ground wire cut off. Grounded outlets have been the standard for decades now, but there are still a few ancient buildings that haven't updated.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @03:59PM (#29984232) Journal

    "Appliances" that don't use a ground/earth pin are typically things like lamps and small DC wall-wart adapters. National electric code allows for listed and labeled appliances with double insulation "or equivalent" to forgo a grounding pin. (NEC section 250.114 if you care...) This would cover nearly all consumer grade electronics like TVs as well as small counter top kitchen appliances like toasters.

    Basically there is a tradeoff: If the device can be demonstrated to have little or no risk of posing a shock hazard, it does not need to be grounded.

    It is also my understanding that some appliances in the UK are also ungrounded - the earth pin is either not connected to anything or made of plastic.

    It is also against NEC to install new outlets that do not have a ground pin. Essentially any house built since the 1970s or so will have 3-pin outlets. Those adapters (which are recommended against by anyone with half a brain) are for those rare occasions when you're in an old building, and used properly are still fairly safe.

    I've been told the new edition of the NEC also specify Arc-fault interruption (AFCI) outlets for residences - if that's any consolation.

    > I also notice that no appliance I own in the USA uses insulation on the live pins of the plug to prevent accidental shocks when the plug is slightly out of the socket

    I have only ever heard anecdotal evidence of people getting shocked like this. Generally speaking, if the plug is out far enough to get your finger on the pins it's too far out to be making contact. (Maybe I just have fat fingers?) Regardless, few people seem to be in the habit of gripping the plugs in a way that would make this an issue: you only need your thumb and forefinger.

    > IMO the British home electrical system is much better than the USA system and I have tried to view it impartially over the years.

    It strikes me, jokingly, that the UK outlets are all baby-proof because the UK is full of babies. We call it the Nanny State for a reason :)

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:03PM (#29984314) Journal
    A device with a high current plug needs more current than a low current socket can deliver. Allowing the user to plug it in would be(at best) useless and at worst result in firey death.

    A device with a low current plug needs substantially less current than a high current socket can deliver. Allowing the user to plug it in works just fine.

    It's like SAS vs. SATA controllers. SAS controllers can handle SAS or SATA devices and the keying is such that either can be plugged in. SATA controllers can only handle SATA devices, so they are keyed to prevent SAS drives from being plugged in.
  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Maddog Batty ( 112434 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:04PM (#29984344) Homepage

    Non grounded UK plugs are only allowed on items which are doubly insulated. This therefore requires two things to break before someone can be electrocuted.

    If the lights dim when you switch on a 13A device then there is a problem with your wiring. Most likely because it is too thin. There are all sorts of regs here (in the UK) which dictate the losses allowed in the cables / cable thicknesses etc which if followed correctly mean that the lights should not dim as the voltage drop is minimal. Also note that here in the UK, a 13A device draw 3.1kW where as it is only 1.4kW in the US.

    It is very rare for the sockets here to break and the pins on the plugs can't easily be bent unlike the US ones.

    Also in the UK we use ring mains which allows the size of conductors to reduced by 30% or so which makes a considerably saving due to the price of copper.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Skippy_kangaroo ( 850507 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:08PM (#29984432)

    Think about it for just a minute and it might dawn on you - you don't need to be an electrician to get this. A 15A appliance will work in a 30A socket, but a 30A appliance won't work or will cause safety problems in a 15A socket. You don't want people plugging 30A appliances into 15A sockets and the socket design ensures this. It's kind of like backward compatibility - it only works one way and it should only work one way.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:11PM (#29984466) Journal

    To be fair, most houses have 220v as well as 110v (check behind your dryer). 220v requires MUCH more expensive wiring

    No it doesn't. Ordinary Romex can handle 220V fine; the insulation is rated for 600V. New US 220V wiring costs more because it requires four wires rather than three (two hots, a neutral, and a ground), but that's because it's split phase, not because of the voltage. And it's probably still cheaper than what it would take to deliver the same power with 110V.

  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by init100 ( 915886 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:12PM (#29984498)

    Circuit breakers are not fast enough to save any lives, just fast enough to prevent a short.circuit from starting a fire. You need a ground fault circuit interrupter for a cutoff quick enough to save lives.

  • by eric2hill ( 33085 ) <eric.ijack@net> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:13PM (#29984510) Homepage
  • by cshay ( 79326 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:13PM (#29984524)
    One thing that Americans on their first visit to the UK are amazed at is the fact that electric kettles can boil water in about half the time as their American counterparts. The penalty for this convenience of course is that their sockets are huge and their cords are heavy duty, thick and heavy.
  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:14PM (#29984530)

    Is there such a thing as a 220v GFCI outlet?


  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Skippy_kangaroo ( 850507 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:15PM (#29984548)

    They can handle it - it's part of the job description. We have the same thing in Australia and I have yet to have a switch fail anywhere in my house (or houses I have lived in throughout my life). It works on high current kitchen appliances like kettles and toasters and it works on lights.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by hrimhari ( 1241292 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:18PM (#29984600) Journal

    When a socket is for higher current, it doesn't mean that it always provides such high current. It means that it supports it if the device you plug requires it. So when you have a low current plug (and hence a low current device), you might appreciate being able to plug it into a higher current socket.

    The opposite is not true, tho. When you have a low current socket, it can melt and cause fire if you try to use it with high current devices. Of course, your breakers will probably disarm first, but in any case you don't want to try that.

    That's why both directions is not an option, while one direction is.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:19PM (#29984618)
    The bedroom one is not a GFCI (ground fault circuit interruptor). It is AFCI (arc fault circuit interruptor).
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by initdeep ( 1073290 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:20PM (#29984634)

    and you do realize that the National Electric Code in the USA REQUIRES all circuits in Kitchens, Bathrooms, and Rooms which contain Water sources (like utility rooms) to have GFCI grounded circuits, and that a single GFCI outlet can protect all outlets wired in series after it..... right?

    Oh and it has required these for many many moons....

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ircmaxell ( 1117387 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:21PM (#29984658) Homepage
    I think you fail to understand the difference between a fuse and a surge protector. A fuse protects from over current only. It offers very limited protection for over voltage. A surge as you're describing comes from a sharp increase in voltage (from 120 to several hundred or thousand volts). A surge protector typically defeats a surge via a zener diode (One that only lets current flow if the voltage is over a threashold) shorted to ground. So if the voltage rises above the clamping voltage, all current is redirected to ground.

    This also differs from a GFCI in operation. A GFCI detects ground faults. That means current leaking from the primary to the ground pin. In normal operation, this shouldn't happen. But if a circuit is shorted, or becomes damaged, the ground (which is usually connected to the chasis on metal items) can be connected to the primary lead. So the GFCI detects this leakage, and kills power. Surge protectors, GCFI and fuses are very different systems, each designed to protect from a specific hazard.

    Now, a circuit breaker is a fuse. Their very nature only protects against excess current only. There are two important differences however. A breaker is a lot faster at disconnecting current than a fuse (it's designed to be fast), and it's resettable. So to say that the UK version is better because it has a fuse shows me a lack of understanding of practicality or safety. Fuses are designed to protect the wiring. That's it. Nothing else. A fuse prevents a short circuit from melting the wiring in the house and causing a fire. With the excess current required to trip a fuse, the damage to the equipment is likely damaged already. And it will be more than enough current to kill a person (It only takes about 0.015 amps to kill someone, regardless of voltage).
  • by A Friendly Troll ( 1017492 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:24PM (#29984700)

    Sorry, what?,39029552,49303764-4,00.htm []

    These cables can only carry currents of up to 2.5A

    WHAT? Where the hell did the author get this information?!

    Here's a random picture that I found through Google, for those of you who don't know how European wall sockets look like: []

    Here's the miserable excuse for the British wall socket: []

    1) The European socket has a plastic outside cone for insulation. If the cable is partially unplugged, you cannot touch it with your fingers. The British version has nothing.

    2) The European socket allows you to plug the cables upside down (which is extremely helpful in certain situations).

    3) Contrary to how it's portrayed in the article, the European socket *does* have grounding. In fact, it has two grounding pins, top and bottom.

    4) Some people have mentioned the size of the plugs themselves. Here's the one with the grounding [] and here's the one used for small appliances and gadgets []

    What a stupid article... Stupid British arrogance.

  • by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:29PM (#29984814)

    FWIW the US also has a 20A receptacle with one blade rotated 90 degrees as a key. It's rarely used because there are few applications that need that current at the lower voltage. The 15A receptacles and heavier duty 15A rated plugs (not the cheap sheet metal ones) are the same construction and can readily handle 20A as well. In the case of 120V welders it is advisable to connect them to 20A circuits to minimize wire heating regardless of the type of receptacle in place. The receptacle isn't what you should be worried about.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:30PM (#29984830) Homepage

    Technically, the IEC power connector, as found on the back of most computers, is one of the best. You usually see a chassis-mount IEC male connector and a cord-mount female connector, but the reverse forms are available. [] IEC "wall sockets" [] are sometimes found in rackmount server outlet strips. The plug is shrouded, and the socket has an enclosing slot for the shroud, so at no time are energized pins exposed. The shroud engages the enclosing slot before the pins make contact. That's a key safety feature. It allows a smaller plug; if exposed pins are energized while the plug is being plugged in, the plug has to be made larger to keep fingers away from the pins.

    IEC is a flat-pin design, which is good. Getting a large contact area on round pins is hard, so round-pin connectors of a given size usually carry less current. Flat-pin contacts just slide between two flat spring-loaded blades, which can accommodate wear on both surfaces. The split-cylinder contacts of round-pin female connectors have to match closely, so as they wear, the inside radius of the cylinder increases and no longer properly matches the pin. Round pins vs. flat contact blades are sometimes used; they wear better, but the the contact area is small.

    The older round-pin European connectors are only rated for 10A, sometimes only 7.5A. At 240V, this is adequate. IEC connectors are rated for 15A, and there's a 20A form.

    Today we expect connectors to just work, but it took considerable engineering to get to that point. As late as 1980, computers had serious problems with connector unreliability.

  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:32PM (#29984858) Homepage

    The simple fact of the matter is that the pins on the US plug are so short that by the point it is far enough out of the socket to expose enough of the pins to touch them with your fingers, it's unplugged.

    I have shocked the everlovingshit out of myself while plugging in a US plug. I was a child. I was doing it wrong, but your statement is still false.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:32PM (#29984864)
    That's not entirely true. The neutral has a current running through it and therefore is at an elevated voltage. The independant ground should have no current running through it and should be at ground potential. You can't rely on the neutral for safety. I have seen them floating as high as 8 volts due to IR drop in the system. Relying on the neutral to be a ground, you could easily become the return path for all the current.
  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:34PM (#29984898)

    Brittish: hate it. It's enormous, makes it impractical to fork one outlet into many.

    Nonsense. Pretty much everyone in Britain has at least some of their power sockets that they use with a 3/4 or more way splitter.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:37PM (#29984932)

    Nowdays the code is requiring Arc Fault Circuit Interceptors, (AFCI) which are even more sensitive to sparking.

    GFCI sense current to ground. AFCI can detect short circuits between two hots (on opposite legs of the 240 volt entrance), or one leg and neutral.

    Neutral tends to be tied to ground at the main panel, which is why GFCI works for most cases.

  • objective my ass... (Score:5, Informative)

    by MoFoQ ( 584566 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:37PM (#29984936)

    there's no "objectivity" in that article.
    Shoot...just look at the Dutch plug (no pun intended): Two paragraphs, one sentence each. The UK one, it's like reading a biography.

    That and there were some facts missing.
    Japan uses 100V [] not 110V
    GFCI sockets exist in the US
    The British mains (aka 230V mains) are much more potent so they needed shutters 'cuz it was killing kids (oh will someone think of the children!)
    Besides, the shutters are in the socket not the plug and guess what, shutters exist for other types OTHER than the British type (aka Type G).

    Here's another kicker: just because there's a fuse in the plug [], doesn't make it safer. A 13A fuse (the max) can fit in a 3A cord. In order for the fuse to cut the power, it has to melt but in this case, the cord will melt and catch on fire before the fuse does. FAIL
    A GFCI socket (which is fair to claim as the article brings in shutters on the Type G socket) will detect current even small amounts leaking to ground (a fault) and shut the power off immediately. There are even sockets that have other kinds of resettable circuit breakers as well.
    And some appliances have a fuse box on the back that's connected directly to the cord.

    Now as far as shuttering goes, guess what...they have 'em for Type B too, known as tamper resistant [] meant to protect children from shock!

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:39PM (#29984974) Homepage Journal

    The U.S. plugs are generally pretty solid unless your connectors are bent. Normally, the only time you bend pins is if you A. step on the plug, or B. yank the thing out of the outlet in a dangerous way. I'd rather have the cord come OUT of the outlet when I trip on it than stay in, though, making the U.S. plug actually safer than the British plug precisely because of its lack of robustness. The British plugs are too big, too cumbersome, too heavy duty for normal consumer electronics. It's like they were designed for air conditioners. The outlet adapter for British power takes up the same space in my luggage as three of the two-pin European adapters that I use for 99% of my electronic devices.

    Also, this article mistakenly claims that the British plug is the only one that guarantees you put the right pins in the right holes. That's not true. The U.S. has both three-prong versions that do this and polarized two-prong versions that also do this. Similarly, the Denmark plug also does this, as does the French three prong plug (the one with the ground pin sticking out of the socket), though apparently there aren't any standards for which pin should be neutral versus hot in the socket itself, making this superfluous....

    The absolute worst ones, though, I do agree, are the European standard, but not for the reasons they give. They're awful because there are at least two or three different pin spacings that look identical until you realize that you brought the wrong one and it won't fit into the socket. And there are half a dozen different standards for the third grounding pin, which is why we have such a huge rash of travel converters that don't provide the third pin. (Go ahead. Try to find a travel converter with a ground pin. Why is it that way? Because of the lack of standards in European power connectors, primarily.)

    The U.S. power connector should ideally have thicker prongs for the two main prongs, and I wouldn't object to reversing the design, using round prongs for hot and neutral with a thick, flat bar for ground so that you could potentially have greater surface area for the ground contact, and thus better grounding. That said, it's still a lot better than the British connector because it doesn't weigh half a pound just for the connector.... :-D

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:39PM (#29984976)
    I have never in my 28 years seen a British plug fall out of a socket, no matter how old. The pins, as mentioned, are very chunky and do not bend.
  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by quickOnTheUptake ( 1450889 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:45PM (#29985110)
    The article also alleges that our (US) mains are only 110V, but in fact, IIRC, we typically have a 220V main (two 110's 180 degrees off) which can be run together to get 220V.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:48PM (#29985180)

    Grounded North American plugs generally don't bend that easily.

    Some bending is designed in, so that a sharp sideways yank on the cord will bend the blades and allow the cord to disengage the outlet without tearing out the outlet and potentially shorting it.

    The sooner we outlaw two prong plugs in North America the better.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:5, Informative)

    by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:54PM (#29985300)

    US plugs are safer because they only carry 110v. That, in and of itself, makes US wiring safer. 220v is much more deadly than 110v. Since all of my appliances work just fine on 110v, in what way is 220v better?

    From the stats I can find, UK deaths by electrical outlets are .486 per 100,000 and US rates are .015 per 100,000, more than an order of magnitude safer, even without massive numbers of safety features. I have grabbed live wires at a plug a few times in my life, and it just jolts your arm a little bit. I suppose it's possible to die that way, but I don't know anyone who has personally. I've never even heard of it in the US but I guess it does happen (faulty wiring in the home or workplace was included in the stats above). Bottom line, I am seriously not worried one bit about grabbing live outlet lines. It hurts a little, so I don't do it for fun, but I'm really not worried about dying or anything.

    I like having very small (polarized) plugs for small appliances. Who wants to carry around a ginormous brick in your bag just to plug something in? For serious appliances like microwaves, there are serious 3-pronged grounded plugs. This gives options based on the appliance rather than a one-size-fits all system of massive plugs.

    If my pins get bent, I just bend them back. This happens so infrequently, it's amazing that someone even mentioned it. Also, I have NEVER had a plug "fall out". Seriously? Fall out? If someone kicks it, I would RATHER it come out of the wall so they don't go flying head over heels and really injure themselves. I have lived in the US for almost 40 years now, and I can count on one hand the times a plug was kicked out or bent.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by MooUK ( 905450 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @04:59PM (#29985402)

    The intention is that you *always* use the switch before unplugging anything. I've seen plenty of sockets where the wall around it has deteriorated to the point where the socket assembly isn't secure, but the switch and socket still function perfectly.

  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:00PM (#29985426) Journal

    The first centimetre of the base of the connector of non-grounded plugs is covered with plastic. If you pull the plug enough to expose the conductor, it's not touching the connector inside the female plug.

    Grounded plugs are fully exposed; but wall plugs accepting them are recessed at least 1cm, to the same effect.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:3, Informative)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:00PM (#29985432)
    Actually, there was kind of a national vote on plugs; a democratically elected government decided that this would be the standard plug design. And frankly, it is something to be proud of; an engineering problem was solved nationwide and that solution has lasted us decades without any real hiccups.
  • Re:No. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Eponymous Coward ( 6097 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:04PM (#29985506)

    They put these in my home (in Texas) and I don't like them. Makes it way more difficult to insert the plug and it always feels like the little plastic shutters are going to break.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:07PM (#29985582)

    What I find amusing with all of his boasting about "safety features" is that the real motivation behind the British outlet had little to do with safety in the first place - it had to do with economy.

    Much of the electrical infrastructure in the UK was damaged during WWII and had to be rebuilt. Since there was a shortage of copper at the time, they decided that they could save wiring by putting the fuse in the plug and daisy chaining the outlets rather than connecting all of the outlets to a common fusebox. That also explains the mandatory covers: you really don't want to be shorting the outlet when there isn't a fuse to cut off the juice...

  • Re:No. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:09PM (#29985606)

    Because GFCI outlets cost $17, standard outlets cost $1, and code allowed that when my house was built in 1980. A GFCI outlet in my garage continues on to protect one outdoor outlet and three bathroom outlets.

    Today, the bathroom outlets have to be on their own circuit, so if my house were built today, there'd be at least one GFCI outlet in one of the bathrooms.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by armanox ( 826486 ) <> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:12PM (#29985702) Homepage Journal
    I don't think any of the circuits in my house are > 15A (excluding the huge AC unit, which is 30A on its own circuit).
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:18PM (#29985818)

    And to clarify what fiery death means, the wire running to the outlet will try to deliver the demanded current, and it's typically too small a gauge to supply it without heating internally. The wire heats up, and either a breaker trips (or fuse blows), or a fire starts, somewhere in the home walls where you can't see it at first.
          You can get this with a typical room heater, drawing about 1750 Watts. at 110 volts, that's nearly 17 Amps, just a smidge more than the standard 15 Amp circuit is rated for. Put a couple of 150 Watt bulbs on the same circuit, and the circuit wiring will heat up. A 20 amp fuse or breaker on line only graded for 15 can be quite enough to let that heat get serious.
          There are tolerances built into the ratings - if you're not an electrician (or an EE who actually has some practical experience), please forget I said that, and believe there are NO tolerances built into the ratings.
            Don't get me started on aluminum wiring in mobile homes, and various other criminal practices still within the older codes.

  • Re:Price of safety (Score:5, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @05:38PM (#29986206) Journal
    How many lives do the more dangerous smaller plugs cost? I'm having trouble finding any solid statistics; but most of the literature I have been able to dig up suggests that electrocution deaths are not all that common, and are heavily concentrated in occupational contexts(electricians and their minions, people coming into unexpected contact with overhead lines in agricultural and construction situations, and some industrial/mining incidents) rather than end user scenarios, where the shrouds and shutters might make a difference.

    The classic "baby sticking a fork in the socket and dying a sizzly death" scenario seems remarkably thin on the ground.
  • by Idaho ( 12907 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:06PM (#29986674)

    220V is too much for everyday electronics. Why does your vacuum cleaner or table lamp need 220V? I do understand that the amperage is lower (half) for the same wattage. However, if there's a fault in an appliance, and the current carrying lead is exposed, you can touch the conductor without anything more than severe discomfort (wouldn't even call it pain - this has happened to me with a bad light socket). I doubt you could pull this off with 220V.

    Unfortunately, you'd be wrong on both accounts.

    First of all, current kills, not potential difference (=voltage). Both 110 and 220V are plenty to overcome the resistance of the human body so from that perspective there's hardly a difference.

    Secondly, many appliances can *really* do with 220V (actually, it's even 230V). For example: tumble dryer, oven (electrical), washing machine, dish washer, electrical stoves and basically anything that needs to heat water. Nearly all of those are manufactured to draw about 2000-2500W maximum, which makes for a current of about 10A (at 230V). Ovens and stoves may even draw much more - induction stoves can often draw about 7000W. Good luck doing that at 110V...

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gogogoch ( 663730 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:32PM (#29987022)

    > I actually doubt most British circuits are GFI protected
    They all are. All houses have a central ground-fault trip system.

    > one of the legs IS earthed
    It's the other one that gets you.

    > If they get misused and a fire starts, it's the owner's fault.
    You could say the same about guns.

    >Both are available, just not mandated. If you don't have kids, why do you need the safety shutters?
    That's not very imaginative. Come on - you have no kids now, but are there scenarios between now and 2200AD where kids might be at risk - not to mention careless adults?

    > Ohm's law, I think. Warm? BFD - so does British wiring, just not as much.
    Heating in UK power cords is imperceptible. You just never notice it. Perhaps below perception level. In North America I was appalled to find vacuum and iron leads getting warm, and plugs getting hot.

    >" and the lights change brightness when I switch such appliances on and off."
    > That's the house wiring, not the system wiring.
    It is the system design. At 110/120V you have double the current compared to 240V, and so double the voltage loss in wiring due to resistance (and 4x the heating due to Ohm's law as you say, since heating is prop. to I*I/R). So fluctuations are much more noticeable in 110V systems.

    >The British took the Nanny state route. I'm not shedding any tears.
    Not really, just good/better engineering standards (for once).

    North American wiring standards talk about avoiding sharp bends in wires to reduce fire hazards. Probably due to high currents required of 110V systems.

    I'd love to know the real reason, if there is one, but I've always assumed that the US went for 110V because:

    1. Choice of voltage affects copper losses, combated by having more copper to carry current, so in a country with ample copper resources, why not have lower voltage and more copper?

    2. Most US homes have timber construction more at risk from electrical shorting. So why not use a lower voltage to lower shorting risks? Whereas most UK homes are brick construction (used to be anyway) and a little more tolerant in this respect.

    TFA is completely jingoistic, sure. It's great to read if you're a Brit but the style would get up your nose if you were from just about anywhere else, but there is some truth that the UK system is better engineered - not just for safety, but for other reasons. Perhaps it is over-engineered. UK plugs really are huge, after all. UK police are generally good too. Hmm... I'm having trouble thinking of things after that. Oh yes - pay-as-you-go minutes that don't expire - that's good.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:37PM (#29987094) Homepage

    Oh, don't get me started on 120V. It's a huge waste of copper and power that we only went with because it's easier to make a 120V incandescent lightbulb than a 240V. :P

    Anyway, you won't find a 120V 30A outlet in your average US home because we run most higher power devices at (the more reasonable) 240V (although we do it in a weird way -- split phase). But even in that case, it'd still be useful. Homes usually have both 30A and 50A 240V sockets. But you can't plug a 30A into a 50A without an adapter, even though there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to. And you should also be able to plug a 120V plug into one phase of your 240V/30A or 50A sockets, but you can't do that without an adapter, either.

    OTOH 110v 20A is a lot more common, and you can plug a 110v 15A plug into a 110v 20A outlet;

    Only if you have a special 15A/20A hybrid outlet. The standard NEMA 5-20R doesn't have a T-shaped slot; it only has the horizontal on that side. This is the US trying to correct a weakness in our outlet system after it was discovered; it's a bandaid on the problem of having entirely different pin layouts on each socket. The Australian standard of having different pin *sizes* deals with this problem automatically.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:40PM (#29987146)

    There are such things ar high impedance faults. Think of a motor, intsead of a fault happening at the terminals of the motor, it happened half why through the winding. That means half the resistance, and twice the current, but nowhere near a true short circuit.

  • Re:US vs UK... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:46PM (#29987256)

    Yeah agreed. Good thing Apple doesn't show the size of the plug in their Air adverts. Fucking plug has about twice the internal volume of the laptop. You can't fit that monster in any laptop bag without defacing something valuable.

    I wouldn't mind having the monster socket for monster permanent appliances (stove, water heater, escalator, arc welder) but for anything you want to transport it's nice if the weight of the socket is a negligible fraction. Look at USB wall chargers. They are larger than most any chargeable device!

    Smaller plugs please! Especially for modern day portable low-power devices.

  • by dr00g911 ( 531736 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:48PM (#29987270)

    Going to have to politely disagree here. Appliances such as coffee makers, toasters and electric kettles most certainly benefit from 220.

    There's a reason you don't see many electric kettles in the U.S... they take longer than the stove to almost boil a pot of water, compared to the 20 seconds or so you get in the UK for a rolling boil.

    I also quite like the switches on UK outlets, although the size of the sockets is somewhat ridiculous.

    I'll never forget my first trip to London (about 15 years ago)... the flat I stayed in was in a 150 year old building. Switches on all the outlets, and a central touchscreen that controlled the AC, heat and scheduled the water heater to kick on and off. Hot water in the kitchen sink was on-demand (much like the "electric showers" you see in small flats now).

    At the time, it was absolute magic to my teenage American brain, and I began wondering why we don't do more in the U.S. to curtail wasted power.

    Then there was the ubiquitous gas broiler on every stove I came across...

    But the combo washer-dryer deals that take 5 hours for a load suck. And they're generally in the kitchen for some reason.

  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @06:54PM (#29987382)

    "GFCI sense current to ground"

    Nope, it's a toroid which generates current to trip a switch when there's a difference in the current between the hot and the neutral. It works just fine with no ground at all. The only time you'd have a difference between these at the outlet, is if current escapes the system through a path other than the outlet.

    I looked into it when the electrical code forced me to replace the illegally retrofitted three conductor grounded outlets in my house with ground-fault circuits. It didn't make any sense to me without a ground... but lo and behold, they do indeed work with no ground at all.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by jcochran ( 309950 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:07PM (#29987608)

    Nope. The electrician didn't fuck up.

    If you take a look at the electrical code, and at the 15 amp outlets you're talking about you'll notice two things.

    1. That 15 amp outlet is rated for 20 amps pass thru current.
    2. The electrical code permits a 20 amp circuit to have multiple 15 amp outlets.

    So if you want to see if the electrician did things correctly, check
    1. Is the 20 amp circuit wired with 12 gauge copper wire or heavier?
    2. Are there multiple 15 amp outlets on the circuit?

    If both answers are "yes", he did things according to code.

  • by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <slashdot3@juGINS ... minus poet> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:10PM (#29987648)

    Yes, I said that in my post. It's not hiding:

    Other appliances, generally those with electric heating elements (such as a range, water heater, furnace, machines such as a tablesaw) run off dedicated 220V circuits.

    Every appliance you mention, with the exception of the washer (which receives hot water from the water heater) runs on 220V in the US.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by hattig ( 47930 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:17PM (#29987758) Journal

    The shutters on UK plug sockets are built out of distilled Chuck Norris.

    That's why the metal bits on the plugs are so fat and butch.

    You can kill someone with a UK plug, and not only by leaving it lying around for someone to step on barefoot.

    However it is a big plug, and a big socket. Someone did design a thin version though.

    I liked Denmark's happy face design myself.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:38PM (#29988042)

    Wow, someone got a dictionary of logical fallacies for Christmas didn't they! How cute that you presume to pick me up on supposed instances of them.

    Ad hominem (thats what us grow ups call a 'personal attack) only applies if an attack is part of your argument. If it isn't, it is logically irrelevant and just included to poke fun at those who deserve it.

    As for the laughable claim of a strawman, its up to the one who presented his argument to claim I misrepresented it, not some pre-pubescent thread sniper whose got the notion he is intelligent and capable of taking part in a grown up debate.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:45PM (#29988094)
    House circuit breakers are designed to trip in the region of many amps. Trip time is dependent upon the degree of overload; 100 A trhu a 10 A breaker will trip in a few milliseconds. Where the current is flowing through your body determines how much current is requires to kill you quickly (by heart failure). I've read that currents of an amp or more won't stop your heart from beating if the current is removed promptly. (It'll be painful as hell, may do some sort of permanent damage, and there's no guarantee the heart won't stop in particular instances.) Current figures like 5 mA, 50 mA are generally quite dangerous if they take a route through your body that includes your heart. These low currents can set your heart into fibrillation. Ground Fault Interrupters can trip at 5 mA in 25 ms, which should be quick enough.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xugumad ( 39311 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:49PM (#29988162)

    > Well, he also thinks that a country that loses many times more people to cancer than the USA-- and has people with life-threatening conditions on waiting lists for months-- has a great health system.

    Well, it's better than your free healthcare!

    Seriously though, the really fantastic thing about the UK system is that it provides a baseline that you can't fall past. However bad things are, it's always there. Want better? Get medical insurance. For example, I pay Bupa ( [] ) £35-ish/month, which covers any tests I need done, and any surgery. That's not after an employer contribution, that's £35/month all in.

  • Re:Price of safety (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @08:00PM (#29988300)

    My (Scottish) roommate stuck a knife in a toaster and flipped the circuit breaker for our entire (English) flat. I thought that scenario was pretty unlikely too until a Cambridge graduate did it right in front of me.

    However, it seems it wasn't the fuse and socket but rather the circuit breaker that prevented injury. He didn't even get shocked. The circuit breaker is apparently very fast.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by anon mouse-cow-aard ( 443646 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @08:55PM (#29988970) Journal
    but Kernighan and Pike are Canadians, so you're about half-right...

    in other news, Canadians invented basketball, the minivan, the donut, and perfected bacon. Where would y'all be without us!

  • Re:Better idea (Score:4, Informative)

    by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:10PM (#29989124) Journal

    Only if you generate three phase power.

    Practically all generators on the grid are three phase. In most urban areas the lines outside your house are three phase so it's not that much of a stretch to bring it into the house. The electric utilities would be much happier because they wouldn't need to worry about phase imbalances any more.

    There is nothing special about the number three. We could use 16 phase power if we wanted to.

    We could use 16 phase, but it doesn't really give you any advantages over 3 phases and it makes you use a lot more wires.

    Three is special because it is the lowest number that provides all the benefits [] that you get from going polyphase.

  • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:21PM (#29989814)

    Dryers and ovens are run at either 208 or 240V in the US; we use a center neutral, so residential services still have 240V power available for large appliances.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @11:20PM (#29990324)

    > Because it's not to code. A bathrooms outlets must be on a circuit unto themselves.

    It depends. My house was built in 1982, and it had a single GFCI breaker that fed the outlets in both bathrooms, the garbage disposal, and the outdoor power outlets. However, when I gutted it to the studs & concrete, I redid all the bathroom's wiring, so they're now on a separate circuit. I even ran an extra neutral, so I could could make the two other second-floor circuits AFCI-protected. For the record, the biggest problem people run into when trying to retrofit AFCI breakers is the fact that every AFCI-protected 'hot' wire needs its own neutral, but most 20th century American homes run circuits with a single neutral wire shared by a pair of 'hot' wires between the circuit breaker panel and some outlet or switch box on the other side of the house where the two circuits diverge. It worked, because the two 'hot' wires come from opposite legs of the transformer, and it ironically decreases the current carried by the neutral wire to the panel (the two hot wires are always opposite in polarity, besides the brief moment every ~1/30 second when they're both at the zero crossing and equal). Unfortunately, if you share a neutral between two circuits, the AFCI breakers can't work.

  • Re:You Moron! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @02:09AM (#29991506)

    Ugh. Don't go calling people morons in a subject you don't know anything about.

    1. This house was built long before ground wires were used.
    2. The ground is nowhere near as protective as you think it is.
    3. This is perfectly legal, perfectly safe, and was a REQUIREMENT of my inspection.

    If you're in North America, go read the local electrical code before commenting on house wiring. I can't comment if you're in an area with 240VAC, they're more strict about electrocution hazards.

    Also do some thinking about your imaginary computer power supply malfunction on a non-GFIC protected outlet. All case-grounded appliances on the circuit are now case-live. Somebody leans on a radiator to plug in a fully functional case-ground vacuum cleaner. Now there's a secondary path from live on the computer, through the shared ground, into the case of the vacuum, through the right arm, through the chest, down the left arm and through the radiator going to ground.

    Current doesn't travel the path of least resistance, it shares the paths. Your ground wires are not super-conductors, so while they'll create a secondary path to ground, they won't negate a third path.

    That said, ungrounded outlets are not desirable. They're not safe for (unless they have a working GFIC), and they mess up shielding for devices like guitar amplifiers. They also don't have a discharge path for static electricity.

    And BTW, if you short live to ground, you *will* blow the breaker unless your ground is installed improperly.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @07:02AM (#29992958) Homepage

    Do you have different plugs for the different voltages?


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