A shameless plug for your two-pin plug comments

by , Conversation Editor Energy & Home 31 January 2013
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Two-pin plugs. Who would have thought such a topic would inspire so many comments. It seems being sent an electrical item without a UK plug turns most people off. Let’s have a look at some of your comments.

Two-pin EU plug

Most electricals should be delivered with a UK three-pin plug (some are exempt, like shavers and toothbrushes). The fact that some online retailers don’t do this started a lively debate.

There were loads of comments to choose from (more than 300 in fact), so I’m sorry if I’ve missed any of you out. Anyway, here’s Socketman to launch this comment round-up:

‘It is quite appalling that online sellers think it is OK to ignore UK law. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Trading Standards is organised on a local basis and find it difficult to tackle multi-national companies like Amazon.’

Amazon – let’s socket to them

Amazon was mentioned in a number of your comments, with third-party Amazon Marketplace sellers often posting out electricals with EU plugs. Alan bought a wireless adapter:

‘It came with a two-pin plug and extra adapter to connect up to a UK socket. Quite a cumbersome bit of kit. When I queried it with the supplier they said these were imported from Europe and they added the adapter for UK markets.’

It’s important to note that sending out an adapter isn’t good enough – any two-pin plugged appliance must be fitted with a conversion plug. Boglost bought a scanner:

‘It had a two-pin plug transformer on its cable. I didn’t realise that this type of plug was illegal in the UK and just considered it an inconvenience to use a two-pin adapter.’

Philip123 was also delivered a scanner with the wrong plug, but had a better experience:

‘I ordered a scanner in the summer and, finding it had a two-pin plug I returned it at [Amazon’s] request, for a refund. After a number of emails between us, in which they specifically claimed their stock had been checked at the warehouse and was now UK, not EU, I re-ordered. Same problem. As I really wanted the scanner I suggested they send me a £5 adapter or a credit note towards one. To my surprise they decided to give me 15% discount to keep the scanner and obtain my own adapter.’

Pulling the plug on two-pin plugs

Goodfoodie has had a bit of trouble with Argos:

‘I was bought a Kodak printer as a Christmas present, only to find the cable had a two-pin plug attached. Contacted Argos who offered to send me an adapter, which I declined stating that they had illegally supplied an item. I declined a refund as I want the item. Eventually I was put through to a supervisor and after several conversations […] they are posting me a correct cable.’

Not everyone was critical of two-pin plugged appliances. Sumbloke just fits UK plugs himself:

‘I buy most of my aquarium equipment online as there are massive savings to be had compared to buying from local aquatic dealers. Most of the equipment – heaters, filters and lighting come with two-pin plugs attached and a three-pin adapter is supplied for UK plug sockets. I just chop off the two-pin plug and install a three-pin plug. This is not an issue for me and I will certainly continue to support my favourite online dealers.’

If you, like Sumbloke, are happy to replace a two-pin plug with a its three-pinned cousin, make sure you know how to change a plug safely. But, of course, you really shouldn’t have to. Have you ever ordered electrical goods online just for it to arrive with a two-pin plug?

170 comments

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wavechange

I had not expected another discussion on these confounded things. Is there any chance that Which? could push for push for compliance with the regulations, because there are safety as well as convenience issues. Taking on Amazon would be a good test case because their name keeps cropping up.

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rarrar

I volunteer in a charity shop which sells electricals, on a few occasions recently on cutting off a 2-pin european plug to replace it with a 3 pin one have found that the cable colours were NOT brown & blue which is mandatory.
I wonder how common illegal cable colours are on 2 pinned products.

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wavechange

I guess the colours are black and white, plus green if there was an earth wire. Some of the lab equipment I used to buy came with the wrong plug and unfamiliar wiring, but that was quite a few years ago. I have not seen any odd colours on domestic items except for the old black/red/green colours that were phased out years ago.

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BrianAC

If the colours (colors) are black and white then it is an American standard cable, in this case the live wire is the black one (black for death). You will probably find all American based equipment will use black, white and green wires, but 2 pin or 3 pin, you will have to cut the plugs off to find out. You may also see black and white mains wires inside the equipment from the socket terminals to the PCB or whatever.

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rarrar

Thanks for the info on the flex/cable colours – identifying them isnt a problem – but it is illegal to sell items ( even 2nd hand ones) without the correct cable colours and a 3 pin 13amp plug fitted and rewiring except for vintage HiFi is not usually a realistic option.

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wavechange

Rarrar – The items with the wrong plugs and unusual cable colours may never have been intended for domestic use in the UK, even if they are given to a charity shop.

A local charity shop was desperate for mains cables so I delivered a box of redundant ones from work after discarding ones with 2-pin plugs and testing those with 13 amp plugs.

Everyone working in a charity shop needs to be aware of their obligations concerning electrical equipment.

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socketman

It is not uncommon for counterfeit/substandard power leads with UK type plugs (including some supplied from Amazon) to have strangly coloured (illegal) internal insulation. On that basis I am not surprised that the problem also exists with substandard non-UK power leads and appliances.

I wish that the Continent had consistency with its plugs. I have had one or two adaptors bought in Germany that I had to mutilate to fit in French sockets due to the earthing pin.

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BrianAC

I could not agree more with you on this one Jonathan.
The problem is no matter what the continent (Europe, EU) proposses the UK will cry foul and virtually the whole nation, media (including Which? readers) will say we don’t want control from Brussels.
Nice one I am with you 110% on this one.

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BrianAC

But then, reading the posts I guess you mean the continent and the rest of the world so long as UK can keep those awful 13 A things.

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socketman

The idea that any developed country will throw out its existing electrical infrastructure to make life easier for travellers at great inconvenience and cost to its own population is a complete non-starter!

Jonathan, you did NOT have to mutilate the adaptor, that is a reckless thing to do. What you needed to do is purchase the appropriate adaptor (or, if possible, an alternative power cord with the correct plug for your destination).

The UK uses the safest plug in the world. It is also the only truly post-war design in use in “the West” (by which I mean Europe, North American, Australia and New Zealand). We would be mad to revert to an inferior system.

The IEC60906-1 plug was developed as a potential world standard for those countries who use 200 – 250 V ac systems, but it has only been adopted in Brazil and South Africa, and is used alongside older standards in both of those countries – so no consistency.

If some future UK government had a brainstorm and decided to switch to IEC60906-1 here it would not be possible to simply replace all of our sockets (although the cost of just that would be unconscionable), but to completely rewire all homes and business premises to remove our existing ring circuits as these require a fuse to be fitted into the plug and IEC60906-1 does not support that. Any government proposing such a move would be out on its ear before it had a chance to implement such lunacy.

You can read more about the history of standardization at:
http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs/history.htm

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Scott

I agree with socketman. The UK system has to be the best, for a number of reasons. All the sockets are earthed, removing the temptation to plug metal appliances into two pin sockets (as I have seen in Denmark). Use of a three pin socket preserves polarity (I believe this is not the correct term for AC but you know what I mean) which ensures the switch in the appliance is switching the live feed not the neutral. The plugs and sockets are more secure than some, so will stay in the wall and make good contact. Most UK sockets are switched, which I think is safer. The fuse system allows choice of a fuse appropriate to the appliance. I think the (virtual) ban on sockets in the bathroom is well justified. I have seen ordinary sockets close to the sink (again in Denmark). I am also a fan of RCDs (RCBOs are much better though as you can have one for each circuit). I agree with socketman that our system should not be changed though there must be a good argument for bringing the rest of Europe into line.

PS My great aunt believed that if you left a socket switched on with nothing plugged in, the electricity would escape through the holes and increase the electricity bill but I was never wholly convinced on this one.

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greg miles

I agree entirely. The EU forces us to accept directives on all sorts of nonsense trivia and yet cannot standardise simple things like plugs and telephone sockets. If we are going to be part of the EU we should standardise as much as possible.
I would go further and suggest that standardisation could include doing distances and speeds in kph like every other country in the world too.

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socketman

Greg Miles (or should that be Greg Kilometers?) You appear to be in favour of standardisation for standardization’s sake, why is that? If we go down that road do we have to switch to driving on the right? That would have even greater infrastructure costs than standardizing on someone elses sockets! (Just think of the costs of realigning roads, completely renewing the bus fleet so that people could continue to get out on the pavement rather than into the road, etc etc!) Did you actually stop to think about the implications of what you just wrote? Shall we standardize on the French language (there is no way the French will adopt English)?

And do you really believe that every other country uses kilometers rather than miles? Have you heard of a country called the USA? They do not use the metric system in everyday life.

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greg miles

You make my point exactly. I was stopped for speeding once in a former British colony for doing 50 mph in a 50 kph zone and when I told the cop that I thought it was miles per hour he started to write out the ticket with my name and then was laughing so much he let me off.
As for the Americans they ceased all development when they went their own way. The gallon that they use is actually a Queen Anne Gallon, 231 cubic inches. Good to remind them sometimes that they use an old system that we discarded years ago.
Yes, I do believe in standardisation as I worked in an industry where it was critical to safety.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallon

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Scott

Socketman: Ideally I believe we should be standardising, but unfortunately I think the cost of upgrading electrical systems in 25 or so countries to bring them into line with the UK and Ireland might prove prohibitive.

‘Mutilation’ is a strong word, but it was a surprise to get to the middle of the countryside and find that the ‘European’ adaptor from Germany didn’t properly fit into a French socket.

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PhilipII

The entire world bar the UK and USA uses the worldwide SI and km signs are now in place on UK motorways plus all the signs prepared for conversion as 1/3, 2/3 mile are 500 m and 1 km respectively just as 1/2 mile is 800 m plus all the other distance signs are based on km therefore readily convertible. Do you realise that the USA uses weights and measures abandoned many years ago in Britain plus for anyone old enough to have been educated in gallons the US version is 3.8 litres! They may use similar-sounding units but capacity and measurement are different.

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Dave d

Ummmm ….. Sorry if I’ve missed something but I don’t see what Philpll’s comment has to do with plugs and wiring?

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Scott

Maybe these are illuminated signs imported from another EU country?

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Gerard Phelan

There are no standards for electrical systems in the world. See http://kropla.com/electric2.htm

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wavechange

This document refers to the possibility of opening the shutters of a UK socket with a screwdriver, to allow insertion of a 2-pin plug. Although it is mentioned that doing this will mean that there is no fuse, the significance is not mentioned. UK ring circuits are generally protected by a 30 amp fuse or 32 amp circuit breaker, which means that it is ESSENTIAL to use a plug or adaptor with a smaller fuse.

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Scott

I could not find this reference but I agree this would be unwise to say the least. Personally, I would either change the plug to a UK 13 amp plug with appropriate fuse fitted or use a converter plug with a suitable fuse. One other option might be a Schuko extension lead with a UK 13 amp plug fitted. The question then would be the fuse but if the appliances are all low draw a 3 amp fuse might suffice. Any comments on that?

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wavechange

Scott – To quote from the document:
The Type G plug is commonly known as the 13-amp plug, and technically known as the BS 1363 (British 13 A/230-240 V 50 Hz earthed and fused). For safety reasons, UK wiring regulations require home sockets to have shutters over the live and neutral connections. These shutters are opened by the insertion of the longer earth pin. The shutters also help prevent the use of incompatible plugs made to other standards. It is sometimes possible to open the shutters with a screwdriver in order to insert Type C or other plugs, but this is not advised, as such plugs will not have a fuse.
It does say ‘not advised’ but to mention poking shutters with a screwdriver is not very clever and there is no indication of why the lack of a fuse is particularly hazardous with a UK ring circuit.

Obviously it is possible to make up extension leads but the majority of home-made ones I have seen have not been safe. Lack of strain relief is a common mistake, so need a socket designed for use on an extension cable. The regulations for supply of equipment do not apply here, so I would fit a 1 amp fuse if that was adequate for the application.

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Scott

Wavechange – I would agree that ‘not advised’ is an understatement.

I was not thinking of making up an extension lead but buying an approved ‘off the shelf’ one then changing the plug to a UK plug but with as low a fuse as possible. But you need to beware that some are unearthed and limited to 10 amps so they would really only be suitable for low draw appliances with two pin plugs.

With extension leads, provided the cable is long enough so that the powerstrip is sitting on the floor, I would have thought the strain would be less that imposed by (eg) a vacuum cleaner. I don’t like strain which is why I avoid traditional adaptors. I am also a bit uneasy about the heavyweight transformer units but you tend not to see them much now.

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wavechange

Scott – Sorry, I did not read your message carefully and had assumed that you were referring to having a single Schuko socket. Adapting an existing extension lead is a sensible approach and my comments are obviously not relevant.

I very much agree about the problem of heavy transformers and recently found one with two pins held on to an unfused adapter with blue sticky tape. :-( Power supplies with heavy transformers are disappearing fast, in favour of smaller lightweight electronic units.

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BrianAC

The IEC connector is a defacto world wide standard.
The problem with that is it is only rated at 6 amps. Maybe a larger 15 amp version would be close enough to home for most people to accept as standard.

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socketman

There are very many “IEC connectors”, do you have a particular one in mind?

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Ian Hazell

It would be much simpler for everything to be sold without a plug as it used to be. It would then be up to the buyer to take responsibility for the safety of the plug they fitted or pay a nominal fee to have one fitted by a professional if they really did not feel competent to fit a plug! Why we ever went down the route of insisting on British Standard plugs being fitted to everything escapes me now, but we have to accept that we are a small non-conformist island off Europe and if we want to buy electricals at mass European market prices then we are going to have problems

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wavechange

When people did fit their own plugs, many did not do a very good job. In my experience the majority of 13 amp plugs fitted by users has been unsatisfactory for one or more reasons. Over Christmas I had a look at some plugs when staying with family. The worst plug had the wires connected wrongly (blue and brown swapped), a screw out of a terminal because it had been used on a wire tinned with solder, the earth lead would have detached first rather than last if the cable had been pulled and there was a 13 amp fuse despite the cable being thin. It was a great step forward when manufacturers started fitting plugs and then providing moulded plugs.

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Dave D

I agree with Ian and WC here.

I lament the advent of fitted plugs and I abhor them. I cut them all off and replace them with QUALITY plugs fitted with the lowest possible rating of fuse. I do this because the quality of the fitted plugs is often very poor and I really cannot believe that they pass the safety standards, and also because they are often fitted with INappropriate fuses.

HOWEVER …… I also agree entirely with WC – these days (and indeed at times in the past too) few people seem capable of fitting a plug safely and correctly, so a fitted plug, even poor quality and with a 13Amp fuse when a 7, 5, 3 or 1 would be safer, is the lesser of two evils by a long way.

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Malcolm R

Dave D, on what do you base the assertion that most people don’t know how to wire a plug – just out of interest, is it fact or anecdotal? Presumably you are talking about most people who try to wire a plug? Not everyone!

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Dave D

@Malcolm R – bit of both really.

With my electrician’s hat (now non-practising) on I have seen more incorrectly wired plugs than correctly wired ones on jobs I’ve done.

With my I.T. Technicians trainer’s hat on I am astonished and horrified by the number of trainee technician’s who have not he slightest idea of how to wire a plug, how to select the correct fuse, what the colour codes are, what the Earth conductor is for, how to identify the correct rating of cable / connector to avoid overloading or the potential consequences of incorrectly fitted plugs / wrong fuses / under-rated leads, etc. It’s certainly over 80% of the trainees I have trained in the last 16 years.

And then there is anecdotal evidence and casual observation.

It’s not limited just to “most people who try to wire a plug” though, as you ask at the end of your message, because most of the trainees I deal with have never tried to wire one until they come on a course I’m delivering and many of them openly state that they don’t believe they’ll ever need to try to do so and intend to pass the job to someone else if they find they need it done …. and that’s after I’ve taught them, assessed them and they’ve passed the relevant examinations.

It’s quite frightening really: my late grandmother, born 1902 and died 1978, was capable of wiring BS545 plugs and BS1363 ones, she knew how to change fuses and select the correct fuse wire to do so and she was also fantastic at many other things in the home like cake making, bread baking, hat making, being a seamstress …. not to mention holding down a full time job until 1971. All skills she had learned either during the war when grandfather was away or after his death in 1959 because she was determine dto be independent. Now even people who are employed in industries where this knowledge is essential don’t have it and are reluctant to learn it.

Where did we go wrong?

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wavechange

Dave – The reason I am keen on moulded plugs is that I have not encountered many poor ones (though I have seen examples) and the majority of DIY fitted plugs that I’ve seen have been unsatisfactory, except where people have been trained to do the job or they have been supplied fitted to new equipment. It is disappointing that there is not a decent video showing how to wire a plug online. I have asked for photos and videos showing poor practice to be removed from websites.

I assume that your grandmother was wiring BS 546 round-pin plugs. I use them for 12 volt appliances on boats that have no mains voltage supply). They provide good low resistance connections compared with many low voltage connectors.

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Dave D

I agree with you WC – far too many lethally badly fitted rewireable plugs to take the risk these days. Chicken and egg ….. have people become so bad at wiring plugs because they don’t often need to, or did fitted plugs fill a gap in the market for safe plugs because os many people got it wrong?

Yes, Grandma was au fait with round pin plugs – 15A (Power) and both 5 and 2 A (lighting). Still had all round pin sockets in the house until a few years after she died when we had it rewired. I still use BS545 15A plugs and sockets in the workshop, on proper radial circuits, to prevent anything else being plugged into the machine sockets out there as they are not on an RCD supply (yet).

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Malcolm R

wavechange, this doesn’t seem a bad guide
http://plugwiring.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/how-to-wire-a-plug9.jpg
I worry about scoring the sheath with a craft knife – one of the problem areas is removing the sheath without damaging the cable, and removing insulation without removing wire strands. However, not bad – sorry it’s not a movie.
I was never taught how to wire a plug, but I like to think I am reasonbly practical – same as teaching myself to design and install cental heating, plumbing, house wiring, bricklaying. Night school, books, and get expert help when you need it, particularly to finally pass your electrics. My children have the same skills, so somewhere in the genes. Someone could make some money running a distance learning course for Householder Skills?

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wavechange

Malcolm

Looking at the photo, I think the earth wire will be too short. It needs to be sufficiently long to be certain that it is the last to break free if the sheath is yanked and slips through the cord grip.

My recommendation for removing the sheath from 3-core cable without damaging the insulation on the individual conductors is one of the cheap devices that allow you to set the depth of cut. With 2-core cable, cut between the conductors, strip back the sheath and snip it off neatly. Something like a Plasplugs Handy Wire Stripper will do the job, though I prefer the earlier version I bought many years ago.

There are many options for stripping the ends of the coloured wires without damaging the conductors, and some of the cheap tools work as well as well as professional items, though they would not be durable enough for routine use.

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wavechange

The final photo in the sequence does show that the earth conductor is too short:
http://plugwiring.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/how-to-wire-a-plug10.jpg

Here is a video showing a plug that is wired to provide plenty of slack in the earth conductor, though the need for this is not pointed out. The amount of sheath on the inside of the cord grip is barely enough. Compare it with the next part where the guy wires a plug without an earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KhBcX_x28A

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Seares

My mother taught me how to wire plugs, and lampholders, back in 1938. ( I was 7). All round pin and no earth in those days. Our house was supplied with DC at nominally 250 volts from the local mill which had turbines on the river driving dynamos outputting 270 volts- needed to charge the room full of lead-acid batteries, supposedly the standby and voltage ‘stabilisation’ system.. The overhead supply wires to the village were rather thin and if you lived some distance away the voltage had dropped considerably, except at times of low demand like 2 o’clock in the morning, when turning on a light would cause it to be very bright and short-lived. (The local electrical shop always asked where you lived when purchasing bulbs and supplied what was supposed to be the appropriate voltage bulb). However, DC did have the advantage that you could charge the wireless accumulator by running some of the house supply through it, with dire warnings to my mother not to use more than 100 watts. I find it hard to believe that some folk nowadays can’t even wire a plug! But then, you’re not even supposed to add extra socket outlets to a ring main without a Part P qualification. I thought we lived in a high-tech world… I was obviously mistaken.

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Malcolm R

wavechange – I also cut up the sheath from the end – not difficult with 13A cable, but not so easy on the smaller cable for a light pendant unless you have small cutters. For preparing the ends I have a pair of plier-type wire strippers with an adjustable cutting aperture – cheap and effective. The wiring diagrams fitted to many plugs can be a good way of getting the cable lengths right.

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wavechange

I use plier-type strippers too. They are ideal, but there are cheaper alternatives that work well (and others that are fairly useless). I suggest making the earth a bit longer than suggested in most wiring diagrams. I have seen quite a number of plugs where the earth connection has pulled out when the appliance was still working.

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Malcolm R

3 pin UK plugs with earth-pin operated shutters and integral fuse are a sensible safe solution, from a common-sense island. We don’t really want to have this standard plug fitted to every appliance as an extra do we? It’s far safer to have it factory-fitted, and more cost effective. Just put up with the penalty of having to change the plug on a grey import, providing the product meets EN standards otherwise (as should all UK sourced products). Just make sure you are competent to do it.

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socketman

But there is no need to put up with being supplied with the wrong plug as the law prohibits that. Why be masochistic about it?

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David k

I have on two occasions, recieved products from pixmania which had two pin plugs.. Each time, adapters were provided, but on one occasion the product was localised to France, all the menus were in French, and the phone connection wouldn’t work. I had to return it at my own expense, really irritating, I hate using adapters, as I always feel they arent very safe.

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wavechange

Pixmania was mentioned in the previous Conversation about two pin plugs. Have a look at online comments relating to customer service and I would be surprised if you use the company again. Some adapters are not very safe, as has been pointed in earlier discussions.

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Malcolm R

Socketman, I was principally replying to the post about not having any plugs fitted at all. I don’t disagree with the legal issue; I presume the reseller (marketplace) suppliers are not as reliable as they should be but if you buy through Amazon for example they should act responsibly.
Incidentally, I don’t appreciate the relevance of the masochistic comment.

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greg miles

It is not just Amazon. Liebherr sell their Fridges and Freezers with German plugs on and then give you a horrible bulky adaptor. They should be made to comply with the law. Germany would not allow us to export goods fitted with our plugs to them so why should we accept theirs ?

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socketman

Greg, Is this a converter plug which encloses the Schuko plug? If so, AND it is supplied fitted, then they are in compliance with the law. If, on the other hand, they are supplying something loose in the box (either a converter plug or a travel adaptor) then they are breaking the law. If the latter, can you provide further details of what they provide, and where the appliance(s) were purchased from?

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Figgerty

I purchased a Liebherr fridge/freezer recently and it had a standard 3 pin plug fitted. I bought it in John lewis, where did you buy yours?

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Troika

While the UK 13A plug has advantages such as its firm fit in the socket, and not being usable plugged in the wrong way round, for safety it does rely on the wall socket and any extension cable having been wired correctly and the plug having been wired correctly, as most UK electrical designs rely on only the LIVE side of the circuit in the appliance being switched, and any error in wiring is potentially fatal, with the item possibly being live with the switch in the off position.
The reversible two-pin design relies for safety on BOTH sides of the circuit being isolated with a double-pole switch on the appliance, so whichever way the plug is inserted, off means off, completely.
Because of these different approaches, the use of adaptors is best avoided, especially if using UK appliances abroad, in which case a 13A-style test plug with display should be used to ensure that the two-pin part of the adaptor has been inserted the safe way round.
Not all adaptors have adequate earth connections – another reason to be careful to ensure full protection.

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rarrar

The mains switching requirements on appliances does not depend on what plug is fitted, for domestic equipment it usually only requires switching of one pole this is a EU wide standard.

Most double insulated appliances use a removable “Fig8″ mains lead which is in any case reversible so the appliance could be switching either Live or Neutral.

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BrianAC

In France, unlike UK, double pole isolators are used exclusively, if not mandatory in the main distribution boxes.
At least when you turn off the power, or a breaker trips, off is off, and isolated no matter what.

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BrianAC

If double pole switching were to be applied to all equipment (and a lot of it already is) the live and neutral reversal would not be much of an issue.
Note in UK regs gas CH boilers require double pole isolation switch and must NOT be connected via a switched 13 amp socket, if fed from a 13 amp socket it must not be a switched socket. Perversely though, it seems ok to have the CH fed from a single pole isolator at the distribution board.

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deepestbluetoo

Isolators are also required to be double pole in the UK as opposed to a control switch has should control the phase (live) supply.

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Malcolm R

wavechange – the BS1363 plug should be equipped with a fuse that is rated to protect the cable connecting the appliance to the socket (the ring main protection is of course too high a rating for this). Generally these are 3A (red) or 13A (brown) cartridge fuses to BS1362. These fuses have specified characteristics that relate the current they carry to the time they take to “blow”.

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wavechange

The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 (which specify 3 or 13 amp fuses in the absence of guidance by the product manufacturer) are mainly intended for suppliers of electrical equipment. Using the smallest fuse that will do the job will give greater protection against fire and equipment damage in the event of a fault. Fuses complying with BS 1362 rated at 1 and 2 amp (and various other sizes) are still available from specialist suppliers. When I buy a new electrical item I check it works, check the rating and often put in a smaller fuse.

Interestingly, shaver adaptors containing a 1 amp BS 646 fuse have survived.

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BrianAC

If UK was to adopt a european solution of relocating the plugtop fuse with one located in the wall socket then this problem of the fused plug would go away (as long as 13 amp is ok). The sockets are big enough to house a circuit breaker even.

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wavechange

Circuit breakers do respond faster than fuses. However, many low power items currently use 3 amp fuses, so safety could be compromised by what you suggest. In addition, householders might not be happy at the cost of having new sockets fitted. Best to stick with our current 3j-pin plug, in my view.

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Malcolm R

The fuse protects the appliance lead, so needs to be in the plug.

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Chris Gloucester

Bought a really good electric pizza pan in Spain last year. Checked the voltage etc. was compatible with UK supply of course. Now this pan obviously came with a two pin plug but that got cut off and a standard UK three pin fitted (not difficult) and the thing works a treat. The thing is big enough to cook a good breakfast for two even three in one go (not everyday of course that would be a bit unhealthy) or for making pizza, or a host of other uses.
Best part is you can buy these in the UK for around £95 and they come with an adaptor, I paid €24 and about £1 for a three pin plug.
So don’t be put off by the plug, no big deal and easy to remedy, but do check voltage.

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deepestbluetoo

I assume that this portable appliance is double insulated.

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TP

From time to time I’ve actually wanted to buy equipment (e.g. wifi) for use on the continent so I can’t say I object to being able to buy properly plugged kit – without having to use a bulky adaptor on those laughable English plugs.

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Chris Gloucester

Tp,
Well yes if you want to use the appliance on the continent then a two pin is ideal, and always better than an adaptor. However probably better to buy the appliance on the continent if that’s where you’re going to use it.

Now, those “laughable English plugs” as you refer to them as are surely a more robust, solid and safer item than those flimsy little two pin efforts without an earth. They never seem really good enough to do the job properly to me.
I don’t like continental two pin into a UK three pin adaptor either for essentially the same reason. Much better to change to a proper plug.

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wavechange

TP
Many mock the UK plug because it is large, but it fits the socket securely and the inclusion of a fuse gives valuable protection against fire and equipment damage. Those who laugh would do well to understand why the UK plug is the safest product on the market.

There are a couple of compact folding plugs that meet the appropriate standard (BS 1363). See one of Socketman’s postings on the earlier Conversation.

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wavechange

Patrick

Any chance of an update about what happened when Which? contacted Amazon about UK customers being supplied with goods with 2-pin plugs in breach of the regulations?

Hi Wavechange, I’ll look into this and get back to you.

Hi Wavechange,

I’ve been looking into this with out legal team. We’ve been working to gather evidence that this is still happening currently and all the member comments we’ve received in these conversations have been a great help in doing so.

We now want to go back to Amazon and ask what they’re going to do to prevent such incidents occurring in the future, pointing out that it is not good enough simply to offer a return/refund as sending them out in the first place does not comply with our regulations.

We’ll keep you updated as we work on this.

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wavechange

Thanks very much for the update, Amy. Please impress on Amazon that this is a safety issue and not just a matter of convenience.

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BobC

Amy, just to let you know it is still happening I bought the EPSON Expression Premium XP-600 printer through Amazon Marketplace sellers GSM-Fonz and it came with a European 2 pin plug. Wondered if there was any update from your side?

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Scott

http://www.epson.co.uk/gb/en/viewcon/corporatesite/products/mainunits/specs/11941

It looks from the Tech Specs that it comes with a separate power cable. I would be very surprised were this not a standard design. Do you not have an existing cable you could use, perhaps from your previous printer?

The problem with all this complaining is that it may end up pushing up the cost to UK customers.

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wavechange

The regulations are there for a purpose, Scott. Shall we get rid of food safety regulations because they add to the cost of food?

I wonder how long it will be before online suppliers start selling those inexpensive devices that hold open the shutters of a BS1363 socket and allow a two-pin Europlug to be inserted. Most people are unlikely to appreciate the danger and could see this as a cheap an convenient solution, whereas it is a serious fire risk.

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Scott

Here’s a thought: do the regulations require a lead to be supplied at all, or just require that any lead that is supplied is fitted with a UK plug? Maybe the solution is to supply appliances without leads and sell the lead separately. The customer could then select the appropriate lead. This would also be ‘greener’ as existing leads could be reused instead of being consigned to landfill. I assume all leads for computer equipment are made to a common standard. If not, they should be to allow them to be exchanged.

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wavechange

This has its merits and has frequently been suggested. There are practical problems, not least the fact that many electrical items do not come with detachable power leads. There is also the risk of choosing a lead without bothering to check what fuse is in the plug or that the lead is still in good condition.

Some years ago it became normal to supply printers without a printer cable, so there might be a case for doing the same with detachable leads.

Alternatively, we could just pay attention to the regulations.

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Scott

I recognise this would only work with detachable leads but this would cover a lot of appliances, particularly computer equipment.

Does the fuse vary? I understood that in practice only 3 amp and 13 amp fuses are used nowadays, and assumed pretty much anything other than heating equipment would have a 3 amp fuse. I accept the lead needs to be in good condition but in my experience they are very robust and tend to outlast the appliances.

I understand that the eventual aim is to supply mobile phones without chargers, on the basis that the chargers are being standardised, again for environmental reasons. I expect most people have one or more spare leads in their home. I have several (including controversially two Schuko leads) and would be perfectly happy to receive a product without a lead.

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wavechange

I have seen many ‘kettle plug’-style leads fitted with 13 amp or 5 amp fuses. If we want to protect the environment we should have longer manufacturers’ warranties, which would focus their minds on producing better quality electrical goods.

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Scott

Should they be fitted with 13 amp fuses? Is the problem not that these fuses are over-rated? How can you be confident that a new lead is any more likely to have the correct fuse than an old one? I note that you refer to ‘kettle style’ leads. I agree but a kettle would require a 13 amp fuse but do many kettles nowadays have a detachable lead? They mostly seem to be cordless kettles.

I’m not sure that duration of warranty is as much of a problem as the public desire to promote the throw-away society. How may mobile phones are discarded because they do not work and how many because people want to have the latest model?

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wavechange

The leads are often referred to as kettle plug leads, though the plug is rated at 6 amps, compared with 10 amps for a proper kettle plug – which, as you say, is now rarely used on kettles. In public and commercial buildings, detachable leads are PAT tested at the same time as the equipment they are attached to. At the university I worked with, they were recorded together on an inventory. I never got involved with this tedious job, so I don’t know the rules.

I never subscribed to the throw-away society and with the exception of electrical items that become obsolete, I usually hold onto things that are working well.

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Seares

The problem is that we have this silly system of square pin plugs with sockets on a 30 amp ring main. The plugs have to contain the fuse, which can vary from 3 A to 13 A. (So the plugs should not be called ’13 amp plugs!’) depending on the appliance. This makes them more expensive to produce, and they are also more liable to poor contact with the fuse and so overheating, particularly the rubberised plugs. The contact area is also less than with continental round pins. European plugs, with either the thick 16A or thin 6A pins, will fit into any sockets, and if they need an earth connection it’s via a HOLE (as in France) or an edge strip on the plug. The square pin system arose to replace the myriad of plugs/sockets that existed here before the war, but ,of course, we devised something different to everyone else!

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wavechange

It is common practice to refer to plugs by their maximum current rating, though I agree that the term 13 amp plug is not helpful. I have not seen any evidence of overheating of BS 1363 approve plugs/sockets unless the brass pins have been allowed to become tarnished through storage in a damp environment.

Fuse caps can blacken in rubber plugs (due to the sulphur content of the rubber) but the contact regions are protected and a high resistance connection is unlikely to develop unless the fuse is disturbed. There are plenty of BS 1363/A plugs made of modern impact-resistant plastics, so I see no benefit of rubber plugs.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of ring circuits, they are here to stay for some time to come. Even if you are not convinced, UK square pin plugs are frequently said to be the safest in the world, mainly because of the inclusion of a fuse.

In my view, the benefit of the fused plug has been debased by the regulation requiring supply of goods with 3 or 13 amp fuses (with 5 amp permitted at the discretion of the manufacturer). All my electrical items are protected by an appropriate fuse (1 amp is sufficient in many cases) because a very small amount of effort could help avoid a fire if a fault occurred.

I would be interested to know the contact resistance and current carrying capacity of the earth side contacts of Schuko plugs and their variants. I know that the large earth pin on the UK plug works fine as long as it’s not tarnished or partially sleeved (sadly, there are some dangerous counterfeits out there).

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tonyp

It is actually very difficult to make a good contact with a round pin. What usually happens is that contact is via narrow contact lands where the socket and plug pins happen to touch. Smiths Industries came up with a system for aerospace applications called, if my memory serves me correct, hypertac but this was expensive to produce and hence not really suitable for domestic use. Making good contact with a flat surface is much easier!

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wavechange

The splashproof blue plugs used on caravan sites and the 110 volt yellow plugs used on construction sites use round pins. I have never seen a problem except where the connection has got wet. The large red plugs used to connect 3-phase equipment also have round pins.

I think the Hypertac products are expensive because they are high quality specialist items.

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Dave D

I’ve never researched the mechanics of this but I always understood and believe that round pin connectors make a better contact than square pin ones. Certainly if you look at a great many BS545 plugs and sockets – especially MK – “Multi Kontact” (TM) – you will find that the sockets contain machined brass sleeves into which the plug pins fitted so snugly that it was often hard to withdraw the plug!

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wavechange

I agree, Dave. Good quality round pin plugs and sockets are also great for 12 volt electrical systems, where it is important to avoid voltage drop.

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tonyp

I think there is an element of missing the point here! I am not saying that it is difficult to make adequate contact with a round pin but rather that it is easier to make good contact with a flat pin such as those in the UK sockets. My comment was in response to the original post which implied the opposite.

Out of interest, in the aerospace industry many, if not most, of the NFF (No Fault Found) reports relating to equipment removed from aircraft turn out to be associated with poor contacts in the interface connectors. A frequent cure is simply to unplug the equipment and then re-connect it. Unfortunately, flat pin arrangements are not practicable owing to the pin density of the connectors.

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Scottcuk1

Two months later…is there an update??

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Figgerty

If you fit your own plug, will the warranty be invalidated. If the appliance causes a fire, is the manufacturer liable even if you changed the plug.

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wavechange

So sent electrical goods with the wrong plug back, making sure that the retailer pays the carriage costs. :-)

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Scott

I don’t see why the warranty would be invalidated. In my experience most instructions have a section on how to change the plug if required (with a description of the different colours of wires and an instruction to throw away the plug cut off). I can’t see that changing the plug would affect liability for fault in the appliance. If the plug goes on fire because it was not fitted correctly that would be a different matter of course.

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Figgerty

I gave up changing plugs about 25 years ago. I didn’t like doing it then because I did not have the right tools to strip the wires. The only thing I was confident of was fitting the correct fuse as most plugs came with 13amp fuses. I avoided buying electrical goods, apart from toothbrushes, correct 2 pin plug, from most websites in the past and will be wary of doing so in the future.

By reading Which? Conversations, I find out about such problems.

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Scott

Moving totally off topic, has anyone encountered voltage optimisation? We had electricians at work and, being inquisitive by nature, I asked them what they were doing. They said they were fitting a transformer to reduce the supply voltage as part of an exercise to reduce energy consumption. I Googled and found there is a technique known as voltage optimisation. The idea is that reducing the voltage to the bottom end of the permitted range (about 220 volts) can cut electricity consumption (by up to 12%) and extend the life of appliances. Apparently it is available for domestic use. Has anyone tried this?

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Malcolm R

European electrical appliances are designed to work at a nominal 230V, and allow for supply voltage variations from 216 to 253V (-6%/+10% allowable for the supply generation companies, including the voltage drop in the supply line). Reducing your basic supply voltage further with a transformer could take the minimum voltage below the lower limit, and cause problems with some devices.
Industry can use voltage stabilisers for some sensitive equipment – these limit the voltage variation from nominal – but are expensive and not necessary for domestic stuff.

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wavechange

Malcolm is right about the need to keep within acceptable tolerances for mains voltage. A fridge or freezer compressor may fail to start up and some motors can actually burn out under these conditions.

Many small electrical items with electronic power supplies are designed to operate from 110 – 230 V, so voltage optimisation would not have any effect.

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Em

I certainly haven’t, as the vast majority of my domestic load is resistive heating – storage heating, water heating, cooking, washing machine, dishwasher, tumble drier, and even the occasional incandescent light bulb.

VO does not save any energy on resistive loads, so the equipment will never pay for itself. In fact, VO reduces the efficiency of incandescent lighting by reducing the amount of light output for a given input.

I can think of better ways to get a return on investment – like heat pumps.

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Scott

Em – I don’t follow your explanation. Surely Ohms Law means if the voltage is reduced so too is the current? (*) A reduction in current will reduce power (with a squaring involved as well if I recall physics correctly). Also, if heat or light output is reduced, energy input will be reduced also given that energy cannot be created or destroyed (nuclear reactions excepted). That said, where there is a thermostat involved or a job to be done – such as boiling the water in a kettle – the equipment will cancel any savings.

What about the argument that appliance life is extended?

(*) I appreciate that Ohms Law relates to DC and things may be a bit different with AC.

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Em

You are absolutely right. If there is a heating job to be done, the appliance will just run longer, cancelling any benefit.

You might be interested to read an Ofgem report on the VPhase VX1 trial – you will have to Google this but it should come up on the first page. The manufacturer was particularly keen to avoid any property with closed-loop (i.e. thermostatic) electric heating installed as:

i) there is no saving for this type of load,

ii) the VX1 is bypassed during periods of high demand to avoid overheating the unit,

iii) the percentage saving on consumption is much reduced, although the absolute saving is the same.

The average saving during the trial was around 5% or less than 1kWH per day – about 10p. In spite of this controlled trial, the VPhase website seems to be promoting unrealistic savings of double this amount.

The VPhase will cost around £200 and probably another £200 to install = £400. As the payback period is over 10 years, it is off my radar at the moment. I’m all in favour of energy savings and CO2 reduction, but I would rather reduce my space heating load by improvements in insulation, heat pumps (already have two), and spending money on “A”-rated appliances.

As to extended appliance life, I can’t think of a single appliance that has “burnt out” due to over-voltage. Usually cracked cabinets, leaks, safety risk, worn motor brushes and bearings, obsolete, wear and tear.

Still, it may be the best solution for others.

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tonyp

An additional problem with voltage optimisation systems is that most, if not all, electronic appliances – TVs, computers, microwave ovens etc – use switch mode power supplies. These are essentially constant input power devices so as the supply voltage reduces the current taken from the supply increases and vice versa. The result is there is no power saving available by simply reducing the supply voltage.

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Scott

It may be pertinent to point out that Which? recommends against:
http://www.which.co.uk/energy/energy-saving-products/guides/10-eco-products-you-dont-need/

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Em

Thank you, I didn’t know that.

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Scott

Em – I looked at the Ofgem report and also the manufacturer’s specifications. The specifications persuaded me against. So far as I can see, the basic model only handles 8 amps continuously and 20 amps for 10 minutes. Beyond that it will go into bypass mode. It would not be difficult to exceed 8 amps in a household. A decent kettle could consume more than 8 amps. So at times of sustained high load the equipment would stop working! I also wonder what would happen to appliances in use when it goes into bypass mode and unexpectedly ramps up the voltage. I cannot image this is an ideal situation.

On top of that, the so-called ‘closed loop’ appliances (where a thermostat is involved to achieve a desired temperature) will not show any energy savings. Nor as I understand it will appliances with built-in power supplies. And the unit consumes power itself.

All in all, this seems to be a gimmick well worth avoiding.

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John Ward

I have read this and the original conversation with great interest, my particular concern not being the offence of supplying non-compliant plugs into the UK market, but – as the conversation unfolded – the problems for UK visitors abroad who need to use a UK plug in a foreign socket. A few decades ago this hardly ever arose as [with the possible exception of heated hair rollers for the bouffant effect] we did not wish to use or recharge appliances when on holiday. Now with shavers, toothbrushes, depilators, laptops, phones, cameras, and other appurtenances all needing a shot of juice, it is essential to have either the correct plug on the power lead or, more usually, the correct adaptor. There have been various references to the different plug types in Germany, France and some other countries – actually, and dangerously, so similar that people try to force the adaptors or use the wrong type so exposing hazards or failing to make an earth connexion – so I was surprised on a recent stay in Italy to find they had sockets with three round pins in a row, the middle one being the earth. No fuses in the plugs so presumably the circuits are double-pole protected and isolated. However, the plug pins were invariably a bit loose in the socket holes, the sockets were not shuttered, and there was even an open socket in the hotel bathroom just above the wash basin. The bedroom kettle itself had a German-type plug which was fitted into an adaptor to suit the Italian system. This adaptor proved to be very useful since the “universal” continental adaptor we took with us did not fit the hotel sockets. So by sticking our UK plugs into our travel adaptor, putting that into the Italian adaptor, and then plugging the whole ensemble into the wall socket [not the one in the bathroom I hasten to add] we were able to recharge our phones. The combined weight of all these connectors made for a very floppy hold in the socket and the potential for shock was considerable, especially since the socket was unswitched so permanently live. In the unlikelihood of any harmonisation [for all the reasons already given], and apart from anything else, there really is a case for an easy-to-read-and-understand handbook for travellers on the use of electrical gadgets abroad and Europe-wide standards of information given with adaptors so that people are not misled into thinking that one type fits all. Better control of imported adaptors to ensure electrical and mechanical compliance would help as well; people trust things they can buy in Boots or the Post Office, but how do they know they are compliant? Even less chance on line!

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Seares

Those three-in-a-line sockets are common in Spain too- or were. They often run from a lighting circuit. We have some in our apartment. The UK to continental adaptor you get in Boots or on the ferry will fit them (unearthed- but not so many bits of equipment need an earth nowadays) provided you get an adapter with the thinner pins (7.5A) and not the thicker pins (16A). OK, it’s not ideal, but not many people need to take their own kettle to a holiday hotel.
One big weakness of old continental wall sockets is that they’re held in their box by a couple of little metal teeth which are supposed to keep the socket in its wall box when you pull out the plug. They don’t! So my advice is to hold the socket down to the wall as you pull out the plug!

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Scott

I got caught that way in a European nation which I shall not name. Guests were asked to vacuum the hotel room before leaving and I accidentally did not uncoil enough flex and the plug pulled the socket from the wall. I managed to get it back in again before leaving. It seemed very flimsy compared to our system.

I raised the point about use abroad. This is why I have argued (against the tide here) that two pin devices should be fitted with Europlugs for compatibility with European sockets as well as with the so-called universal shaver points and adapters used in the UK. I make a point of buying abroad (or from Amazon in Germany) for this reason.

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Seares

This is worth a read!
http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs
there’s a link to ‘brief history’ which ends by saying that there IS a world standard but only Brazil and South Africa have adopted it.

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socketman

And if you look into this further you will find that although the South African standard is very close to the standard referred to, IEC 60906-1, the most common sockets in actual use in that country are still those based on the older British round pin BS 546. In the case of Brazil, they too use more than one standard, and both 115V (with US style sockets) and 230V are in use. For 230V they use the Brazilian NBR 14136 standard which is a variation of IEC 60906-1. Whereas the actual IEC 60906-1 is a 16A rating having 4.5 mm pins, the Brazilian standard has two versions, a 10 A version with 4 mm pins and a 20 A version with 4.8 mm pins! So, not much of a success for standardization.

In practice, adopting IEC 60906-1 only makes sense for developing nations which have no major burden of existing infrastructure, it can never make sense for any major nation to attempt to completely change its wiring standards (just as it would make no sense for us to start driving on the right) – which is why the political (but impractical) attempts at standardizing on IEC 60906 were doomed to failure, as described in the ‘brief history’.

There is one aspect of that ‘brief history’ which is very misleading, although not an error unique to this IEC page. It includes a description of Harvey Hubbell’s “Separable Attachment Plug” (patented in 1904) as if it had some special significance, but,outside of America, it does not! When Hubbell patented his arrangement, which is simply a method of connecting to a lamp socket, proper two-pin plugs had already been in use in Britain since 1885, they were the forerunners of modern plugs and sockets, not Hubbell’s much later attempt.

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eclat

Hi – I came across this discussion while i was searching for an explaination about the purpose of an appliances with 2 core lead having a 3 pin plug, such as a vaccum cleaner.( Let’s ignore the point about being more convenient to plug the 3 pin into the socket and concentrate on the safety issues here, please).

Is the fuse in the 3 pin plug doing anything since there is no earth wire from the applianace lead ?
Have I been wrong all these 50 odd years thinking that the earth wire from the appliance with a 3 core lead is ONLY to protect the user from getting an electrical shock if the appliance develop a fault as a result of a lose wire ?
Or is there some other safety issues that I am not aware of to have a 3 pin fused plug even when the appliance lead is only 2 core ?

The only explaination I found so far is that there is no need for a earth wire from an appliance and only a 2 core lead is used becuase the appliance is all plastic and theefore if there is a fault, the user will not get an electrical shock. Is that all there is and a fuse in the 3 pin plug attached to it is becuase the wall socket is 3 pin ?

Any simple explaination of other safety aspects un using a 3 pin fused plug on an appliance with a 2 core lead will be greatly appreciated. Many thanks in advanced.

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wavechange

Eclat

The purpose of a fuse in a plug is to protect the lead and appliance if there is a fault, which can include overloading of motorised appliances. It helps decrease the risk of fire and damage to the appliance. UK plugs contain a fuse because the fuse or circuit breaker at the distribution board (fuse box) will not give sufficient protection.

An appliance with a two-core lead is ‘double-insulated’ to help ensure that metal parts do not become live, which could cause electric shock. In modern houses and older ones that have been updated there will be a protective switch, often referred to as an RCD, to switch off the mains supply if a person touches a live wire or faulty appliance to help provide protection from electrocution.

If a plug fuse blows, check for damage or moisture before replacing the fuse and always replace a fuse with one of the same rating, most commonly 3 or 13 amp. Ask for professional help if you are not sure.

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eclat

Thanks Wavechange for your explaination. So am I correct to think that a fuse in a 3 pin plug is uselss on a double insulated appliance ? This is what i am trying to find out – assuming the house mains ciccuit is all modern and updated.

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wavechange

The plug fuse is essential for a double-insulated appliance, as I tried to explain. :-)

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Scott

Why is the fuse useless? If the plug contains a 3 amp fuse and the appliance develops a fault that causes it to draw more than 3 amps, the fuse will blow. Sounds a useful safety feature to me!

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eclat

Yes Scott – that is what will happen if the appliance have a 3 core lead. But how does that work if the fuse connector pin in the 3 pin plug is not connected by a earth wire to the appliance ?

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Scott

éclat – maybe this is now overtaken by events but the following explanation might assist. Warning – I am not an electrician and I appreciate AC and DC are not the same. However, from my O Grade Physics I remember V/I=R where V = voltage, I = current and R = resistance. V is constant. That means if a fault occurs, such as a short-circuit, that reduces the resistance the current will then increase. If the current exceeds the fuse rating the fuse should blow. The existence or otherwise of a path to earth wire plays no part in this.

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Malcolm R

eclat, the “false” earth pin opens the shutters in the socket to allow line and neutral pins to enter and make contact. An electrical earth is not needed when the appliance is double-insulated – there is extra protection in its construction to prevent contact between you and and live parts.
The fuse is in the plug between the line pin (into the socket) and the line wire to the appliance to protect against overcurrent (e.g. from a short circuit) and is not related to the lack of an electrical earth.

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eclat

Hello Malcolm R and thanks for your swift reply/ I am not too sure I undersatnd what you mean when you said……..The fuse is in the plug between the line pin (into the socket) and the line wire to the appliance to protect against overcurrent….
Are you saying that the fuse is there to protect an over current from the house hold mains ?

Another question althogih I think I aready know the answer….so if I use the wires with the 3 pin that came with it and from an old faulty vaccum machine and use the wires to rewire a extension lead that is made of plastics (usually are these days), is that safe ? I am just rying to get the hang of 2 core wires. it used to be 3 core all those years gone by.

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Dave D

There seems to be some confusion going on between the matter of Earthing and the purpose of the Fuse … the two things are absolutely and utterly different both in connection and in operation.

The FUSE is connected in the line (live) wire on ANY circuit, regardless of whether two or three core cable is used.

The EARTH wire is exactly as Wavechange has described it and is in now way connected with the LIVE (line) wire, EVER ……. if the two were ever to come into contact then that would be a serious and dangerous fault situation (and should, if all is wired correctly and fused appropriately, cause the fuse to blow and any RCD that is installed to trip.)

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Malcolm R

eclat – yes, the fuse will blow (break the circuit) if the appliance develops a fault that allows it to draw excess current – it protects the appliance wiring from overheating and possibly causing a fire. It is in series (in line) with the house mains line (as opposed to neutral) wiring and the appliance line wiring.
You can re-use a 3 pin plug with its three core cable (check the fuse rating is OK to protect the cable and the cable is undamaged and the plug connections are tight). If using it to feed an extension socket strip then it must be three wires (i.e. including an earth). It is the appliance (e.g. drill or hedgeclippers) that have 2 wires (line and neutral) if they are “double insulated”, not the extension lead – that may well be used to power appliances that are not double insulated and require earth protection. Be sure you know what you are doing if rewiring though. If in doubt I’d buy a new extension lead.

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wavechange

eclat

I did not understand your question about extension leads, but an extension lead fitted with a 13 amp fuse should always have a 3-core lead. It would be very dangerous to have an extension with a 2-core lead because someone could plug in an appliance that was designed to be earthed.

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wavechange

Sorry that should say ‘…an extension lead fitted with a 13 amp PLUG should always have a 3-core lead’.

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Scott

I thought this Conversation had been closed! Interesting point, Malcolm. Does this mean that an RCD will provide no protection in the event of a fault in a double insulated appliance?

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wavechange

If a metal part of a double-insulated appliance became live or if you touched a bare live wire in a damaged cable, an RCD could save your life.

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Malcolm R

Scott, as far as I know the RCD monitors the current difference between line and neutral to detect if a fault current flows to earth due, for example, to you touching a live part. So it should not be affected by a line-neutral short – this would be detected by the appliance fuse or the consumer unit circuit breaker.

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Scott

Wavechange – I understand the function of the RCD (residual current device) in detecting leakage to earth. I was really thinking of appliances made of non-conductive materials, which is I think the case with most double insulated appliances. My question (which I think Malcolm has answered) was whether the RCD would have any role to play in a routine electrical fault such as overheating that did not involve any path to earth. The reason I ask is that I think some people believe that an RCD replaces the need for fuses.

PS (Don’t try this at home) it you touched the live wire would the RCD operate fast enough to stop you getting an electric shock?

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wavechange

Scott

Many appliances without an earth conductor don’t have metal parts but some do. For example, I have today been given a couple of desk lamps to get PAT-tested. The current from the transformer in the base runs up a couple of telescopic metal tubes to the lamp unit. If the insulation breaks down in the transformer, the metal tubes could become live. On the basis that many houses don’t have RCDs, this design is very poor, especially since any metal object bridging the tubes will overload and overheat the transformer. Most RCDs operate at 30 mA, which is intended to give a good chance of survival without nuisance tripping. Whether a 30 mA RCD will save you depends on how the current flows through your body and other factors.

For greater safety, 10 mA RCDs are available. I prefer these when using mains power outdoors, especially for mains supplies to boats.

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Em

Some RCDs include Overcurrent protection as well as earth leakage. Hence the term RCBO. Trouble is they cost about £30 each per circuit, so a complete consumer unit with RCBOs can be 2-4 times the cost of a dual split load consumer unit (2 RCDs + MCBs for each circuit).

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wavechange

MCBs and RCDs were quite expensive before they became popular, so perhaps RCBOs will become more affordable soon. Unless things have changed, many homes have neither except perhaps on outdoor appliances and extension leads.

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tonyp

An additional problem is this area is that all modern build houses are wired to the PME (Protective Multiple Earth) system. In this there is no local earth for a property and the earth shield and neutral wire are bonded together at the point where the supply enters the property. All metal items in the house, radiators, water pipes etc, are also bonded to this combined earth/neutral wire. Earthing is achieved by means of multiple connexions to the earth shield in the external supply system.

This is all very well, but there are possible failure modes where the voltage on the combined earth/neutral line in a house can become very high, even to lethal levels, albeit transiently. This does not actually matter within the house because all metal items are at the same voltage so there is no shock potential. It is a different matter, though, if electrical items are taken outside because the user will be standing on ‘real’ earth so if contact is made with the house earth it is possible to receive a shock under these failure conditions. It is not obvious whether an RCD offers any protection under these circumstances. PME cannot be used in some hazardous areas, such as petrol stations, because of this potential problem.

I was interested to see that a group of local new build houses, wired to PME standards, were fitted with a hefty green/yellow earth wire to ‘real’ earth some months later!

By the way, it is possible to check whether a house has been wired to PME standards because there should be a notice to this effect adjacent to the consumer unit.

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Seares

That was interesting. I have an apartment in Spain. Originally 120 v live and neutral earth,
Then the mains was upped to 230 v, and at the time the earth to the whole block was connected somewhere in the street to one of the lives. (True) . Earth was supposed to be central between the two power carrying leads so both were at 120 v to earth). Except one wasn’t! You could light a neon indicator by touching the earth inlet in the meter room and even measure 120 v. The temporary answer to avoid shocks from the shower was to disconnect OUR earth at the apartment’s breaker box, as the RCD didn’t trip. “Yes”, said a builder friend “It’s happened before in your street.” Now the situation has been normalised but the question is- is a 30 ma RCD suitable- assuming the resistance of one’s body stays much the same? This hasn’t much to do with plugs but is quite interesting.

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eclat

hi Dave D – you are absolutely correct. sorry, my confusion in mixing up these tow. What was I thinking ???!!! Thanks.

Malcolm R – thanks for your patient and your explaination admist my confusion between the fubction of the fuse and the earth wire. Oouch !!! Sorry.
I’ve alwatys use 3 core to change the lead in an extension lead if I need to use the extension far from a mains socket. I was just wondering if it would be safe to use a 2 core instead and wondering if modern technology has progress to this far. But sadly……. Guess I got my answer here, thought not what I had hope :) . Thanks.

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eclat

wavechange – thanks for your explaination. Message understood loud and clear. guess it’s my wishful thinking. Thank you for your time and patient in answering. All the best.

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wavechange

Some of us are rather passionate about electrical safety, éclat. We are happy to help if we can, but do get expert help if you are not certain about what you are doing.

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wavechange

I offered to get some items PAT tested because I get this done for anything I use when giving lectures and setting up displays in public. He gave me a box with two extension leads and two lamps to get tested. Surprisingly, all four plugs are wired-on rather than moulded. In these four items I have found one unsatisfactory cord grip, a fuse that is too large for the cable, and two earth conductors that could break before the live conductor if the cable was pulled past the cord grip. All the items look virtually new and look cheap, but even cheap electrical goods should be safe.

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eclat

wavechange – I am also very aware of electrical safety. That is why I always find out and ask if there’s something I am not certain. The old rule still holds good…If you are not sure, DON”T do it !!

I am not sure if it ‘s still happening. But long time ago, they use to sell 3 pin plug fuses in a blister pack and each fuse – 3A, 5 A and 13A ion it and the max electrical rating is stated at the back of the blishter pack cardboard for each fuse. That was vey useful in deciding which appliance whould take which fuse.

The only problem I have is always trying to deetermine what is the max rating a cable lead can take if there is no max rating stated on the insulation. Any pointers on how to check this ?

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wavechange

The size of fuse needed depends on the type of load and not just the normal current consumption. Some appliances, particularly those with motors (including fridges and freezers) have a high starting current. Check the instruction booklet or leaflet for advice.

Usually it is sufficient to replace a blown fuse with one of the same rating. If the fuse is missing and you have no manufacturer’s information, then assume that the fuse will handle 230 watts per amp, so that a 3 amp fuse will suffice for a 700 watt item, except of course if there is a starting surge.

I suggest avoiding cheap shops and unheard of Internet retailers when buying fuses, extension leads and small electrical items.

It is difficult to decide on the rating of a cable, since the thickness of the insulation varies and you really need to count the number and diameter of the strands. With appliances that take a lot of power, such as heaters, washing machines and kettles, it is good practice to periodically feel the temperature of the cable where it enters the plug and the appliance. If it feels warm or the plug or pins become warm, the problem should be investigated promptly.

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eclat

Thanks for your comments. I still have a blister pack for the fuse I boguht back in the late 1970s from Woolworth and at the back of the card, it says:

“HERE IS A GUIDE TO FITTING THE RIGHT FUSE.
THE LOADING OF APPLIANCES CAN VARY ACCORDING TO DESIGN.

IF IN DOUBT, CONSULT A QUALIFIED ELECTRICIAN.

13 AMP BROWN
1260 to 3000 watts max. at 220v-240v AC

5 AMP BLACK
760 to 1250 watts max. at 220v -240v AC

3AMP RED
Up to 750 watts max. at 220v -240v AC

1 AMP GREEN
Suitable for shave adaptors.

Pretty useful general guide, I think. :)

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wavechange

Indeed. The shaver adaptor fuses are smaller (20 mm length) and often coloured black. They were also used for electric clock plugs, but you won’t see many plug-in clocks these days. :-)

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John Ward

Too right, unfortunately.

I had to rewire my 1940′s Smith’s Sectric electric desk clock to a standard 3-pin plug with a 3A fuse in 1968 when I bought a flat that had no suitable sockets or fused connexion points. It still gives reliable service and keeps time synchronously with my [slightly] more modern computer.

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Dave D

I’ve got over 20 Smiths and Metamec Mains electric Clocks, plus a few Gents ones. All wired to proper clock points too :-)

Oddly they all keep perfect time … that’s the beauty of Synchronous motors ;-)

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wavechange

Welcome to the nostalgia section of Which? Conversation. :-)

I have my parents’ kitchen clock somewhere in the house. It’s not original because I replaced the 2-core fabric-covered cable (complete with 2-pin plug) with a 3-core plastic flex and did some earth bonding when I was a teenager. Unfortunately, the brown bakelite has lost its shine and looks tatty. It would be interesting to make a new case with one of these new-fangled ’3D printers’.

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Scott

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Seares

Oh horror! That’s completely ruined it as an antique. I have friend who has a museum of electrical items, and they all have to have the original plugs…. he also has a vast collection of plugs and sockets. (it’s been on TV). To alter anything is sacrilege- I offered him a Smith’s Bakelite alarm clock to which I’d fitted an extension socket outlet (to switch on the radio) and he nearly fainted. Be careful!

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Scott

Dave D – do synchronous clocks keep perfect time? I thought the mains frequency varied during the day depending on demand. See http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/. As I understand it, the frequency determines the speed of a synchronous motor.

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wavechange

I confess to ‘ruining’ lots of antique electrical products, just to make them safe to use. I’ve put new mains leads and three-pin plugs on many valve radios, some with a chassis that could be live, depending on which way the original two-pin plug was inserted.

Some restorers will make vintage electricals safe to use and include the original plugs, leads, etc. they have replaced.

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Dave D

Well, I guess it depends what you judge against, but all of mine never vary at all from each other (not surprising even if the mains frequency varies) and they are all always bang on in agreement with the Radio 4 pips (analogue not digital delay), Big Ben (again via Radio 4 analogue), several battery operated Radio Controlled clocks governed by the Atomic clock and Apple’s Time Servers.

I guess that the pips, Big Ben and Apple’s servers could be queried for absolute accuracy but I would hope that the atomic clock is pretty spot on.

So, not sure really, but I’m pretty confident that they (and the mains frequency) is right.

You are right though, I recall, even as a very small child in the early 1970′s, reading (in a Ladybird book would you believe) that mains frequency varies and that overnight, when there is low demand, generators were speeded up to put electric clocks right. I doubt very much if that happens now, but clearly it was a recognised issue then.

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Dave D

I’ve found that you can now buy silk covered twisted flex again, with PVC inner insulation and EU colours. I have used that for several valve wirelesses and old standard and table lamps.

I’ve also got several Hoovers which still have the old rubber 2 pin plugs and bayonet adapters for plugging into light fittings … I use the two pin plugs via a proper convertor adapter with 2 amp fuse …but even I fight shy of plugging the Hoover into a light fitting!!!!

One good thing about my old valve wireless is that the on/off switch is double pole (and it’s original) so no matter which polarity the flex or plug, off is off. Shame most modern equipment is not as safe as this.

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Malcolm R

The supply frequency is allowed to vary by about +/-0.1 Hertz. The National Grid monitor this to help them achieve balancing between supply and load. This will alter the speed of syncronous clocks which is no doubt why time sometimes appear to drag.
Real-time frequency is shown on http://www2.nationalgrid.com/UK/Industry-information/Electricity-transmission-operational-data/

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wavechange

When I was a teenager I remember visiting a school friend’s home and the valve wireless was connected to a kitchen light pendant with a bayonet plug, and there was a switched adaptor so that the radio could be used with the light switched off. Apparently this was common in my parents’ generation. What was more surprising was that the radio lead was used as a resistance to drop the mains voltage, and not surprisingly it got warm when in use. I agree about the benefits of proper switches, especially two-pole ones, but some old equipment was decidedly dodgy.

I know about the modern variety of silk-covered flex but that was not available when I used to play with old radios etc.

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Seares

The radio would have been an American one, imported, I had one, 3 valve trf. medium wave, white Bakelite case, intended to run off 120 v AC/DC so it had that resistance flex, known as ‘resistance line cord’.to lower the mains voltage. You could buy it by the foot and had to calculate the right length. (It also could be used to make an electric blanket!)

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John Ward

Thanks Scott [way up there somewhere!]. It would be just what I needed if I wanted to put the clock permanently on the mantelpiece and could have it wired into the ring circuit without too much disturbance. I am not surprised MK still manufacture these fittings; I think the original ones in our first house were MK fittings.

And Dave, . . . I am in awe.

And Seares, . . . I don’t have the clock as an antique: it’s a precision timepiece and it has moved with me via several phases of my life and career. I kept it in my office at work for a period [until I moved to a different building of 1937 vintage which had elegant 'slave' wall clocks in every room]. I am glad there are a number of electric clock enthusiasts around keeping the excellent instruments in working order [notwithstanding the odd battering of the bakelite].

And back to Scott again, . . . and the issue of clocks fluctuating according to the current frequency: Two or three decades ago the power supplies for stations on the London Underground system came from the same source as the traction current which had to cope with more trains in the rush hour and the frequent stopping and starting of the trains plus the extra loads on lifts and escalators. The very large clock inside Wood Green Underground Station [and many others no doubt] would rarely show the absolutely correct time being either a minute or so fast or slow. This hardly mattered for commuters because with thirty trains an hour, I believe, approximate time was sufficient.

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jonas

I have recently purchased a fridge which came with a two-pin plug. The retailer offered to send an adapter, but I would prefer to have a BS plug properly fitted by an electrician. Both for safety and warranty reasons. Where do I stand with this? In my reading of the relevant regulation, such an appliance should be fitted with a BS plug or a conversion plug which sounds more firm than a flimsy adapter. Many thanks for any advice.

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Ivan

Hello,

It is indeed a challenging topic, with already a lot of comments, but still I don’t find an answer onto the initial question

“ Are European two-pin plugs legal to UK? “

And what if your product has a AC current consumption above 13 Amp.?

Here my own findings from the internet.;

Within UK you have the 1994 N°1768 “the plugs and sockets regulation”
Indicating under regulation 4 an exclusion:

4. Any non–UK plug supplied loose which is manufactured to comply with the safety provisions
of IEC 884–1 and which is marked with or accompanied by a warning that it is not suitable for
connection to a mains socket in the United Kingdom.

I suppose than non-UK plugs needs to comply with SI 1994/3260 which is the Low Voltage Directive.

Within European harmonized standards for example EN 60065 special national conditions are listed under annex ZB

example IEC60065 Ed7 under 15.1.1 note 1

NOTE 1 In Australia, Denmark, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, special national conditions are valid for plugs and socket-outlets.

Reference into this standard is made to the IEC/TR3 60083:1997, Plugs and socket-outlets for domestic and similar general use standardized in member countries of IEC

and into IEC /TR 60083 references are made to BS 1363 for mains cable upto 13 A – see IEC TR 60083 see page 169
and to BS546 for mains cable upto 15 A – see IEC TR 60083 see page 172

Currently there is a final draft amendment of IEC 60065 (Dec. 2012) stating:

United Kingdom
15.1.1 Apparatus which is fitted with a flexible cable or cord and is designed to be connected to a mains socket conforming to BS 1363 by means of that flexible cable or cord and plug shall be fitted with a “standard plug” in accordance with Statutory Instrument 1768: 1994: The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994,
unless exempted by those Regulations.
NOTE “Standard plug” is defined in SI 1768:1994 and essentially means an approved plug conforming to BS 1363 or an approved conversion plug.

As conclusion I think “ European two pin plugs are legal” when it is in compliance with 1994/3260 regulation, and which is marked or accompanied by a warning that it is not suitable for connection to a mains socket.

Looking foreward for valuable comments

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wavechange

Please can we have an update on Amazon et al. selling products with two-pin plugs instead of approved three-pin plugs. I don’t believe we have heard anything from the Which? team for a year. :-(

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malcolm r

A few of these conversations fizzle out without any action being taken, seemingly, despite a lot of interest and input and where it is clear more could be done. Kindle screens? Faulty goods and Sale of Goods Act? Freezers in garages? On this topic one of the major issues seems to be the role of suppliers, such as Amazon, in this – providing links to suppliers, taking money, but then sidestepping any responsibility because of their “marketplace”. It’s time this situation was clarified – it is an uncontrolled route into the UK for all manner of unsafe goods – electrical, chemical, etc- to customers who, presumably, are unaware of the lack of protection they would normally expect to get from a UK retailer. This is, it seems to me, a job for the “authorities” – whoever they might be. Trading Standards? Consumer Affairs Jo Swinson? Have Which taken this up with anyone? It worries me about the priorities being set in sorting out consumers’ problems

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John Ward

I agree with you and wish there was more urgency on what are in fact serious safety concerns.

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wavechange

That is why I am trying to revive this issue, John. I don’t believe that the majority of the public understand the safety issues, though the main points can be explained easily.

As a veteran Which? member you will recall what Which? has done to help remove goods from sale where they are electrically unsafe or present other dangers. We need prompt action before sale of goods with two-pin plugs becomes commonplace.

As Malcolm says, we are desperately short of feedback on some important issues.

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malcolm r

Perhaps Which? would like to respond?

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John Ward

I’m glad you’ve brought it back into the limelight because it covers a number of linked concerns affecting not just electrical appliances although they may have the greatest safety hazard potential. There is a combination of questions including anonymous manufacture, specification compliance, product testing, quality asurance, CE marking, third party supply, and retailer responsibility, that need seriousattention. Looking at this from the wider economic viewpoint for a moment rather than purely from a consumer protection angle, rightly or wrongly we are part of a single European market which has spent many billions of pounds setting standards which, as a secondary objective, protect European manufacturers from unfair competition. The importation of dodgy products therefore directly and adversely affects our economic well-being, and the market penetration of such goods [through the erosion of margins] reduces Europe’s capacity to manufacture and export safe and reliable products. I had hoped that the risk to life would have been enough to see action taken on non-compliant electrical fittings notwithstanding the economic and commercial arguments.

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wavechange

One of the problems is that some of the offending goods come from within the EU, and we are supposed to have free trade. I believe that because of the domestic power distribution system used in the UK, there is a valid case for insisting that electrical goods supplied to the UK have the proper plug, as specified in the Plugs & Sockets Regulations.

Though the EU has produced some valuable regulation, perhaps they should tackle fewer issues and do a better job. CE marking is not a very useful assurance of compliance with standards in my view.

Maybe I am old fashioned but I hesitate to buy unbranded goods from unfamiliar websites. I have seen too many poor quality and possibly unsafe electrical products bought by others.

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John Ward

I agree entirely. The problem here is that people are buying under the Amazon umbrella and the distinction of whether it is from Amazon or through Amazon is probably lost on many. Indeed, Amazon is not “an unfamiliar website”. For many products Amazon is not the seller, and they do in fact make that evident. The reality is that the Amazon umbrella, rather than sheltering the customer, can be used to shelter people who trade in uncompliant imports. I am hoping that Patrick will shortly break the silence and apprise us of the latest position.

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socketman

Let us not forget that in many of these transactions where Amazon is allowing other traders to offer goods through the Amazon Marketplace (with Amazon providing the ordering and payment facilities), Amazon is also the shipper of the goods! In this case the warehousing facilities are supplied by Amazon and it is Amazon which fulfils the order on behalf of the seller. This means that Amazon has full access to the goods and could easily ensure that the goods are as described, and conform to UK regulations, but there is no evidence that they do this.

When there is a (long overdue) formal Which? update on this issue I hope that we are told what actions Which? have taken in their submissions to the UK Government on the Consumer Rights Bill which is currently before Parliament.

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wavechange

I will happily admit to failing to see the significance of buying through Amazon Marketplace traders. I was aware that I was purchasing from a separate company but wrongly assumed that Amazon would take action if I suspected that a company was selling an unsafe product. That assumption is probably based on the fact that to make a purchase I am logged into the Amazon website and not transferred to the trader’s website.

If I go to Tesco I am confident that they are responsible for any purchases in their store, cafe or filling station, but not Timpson kiosks in their store. The distinction is clear because I pay Timpson rather than pay at the Tesco checkouts.

Conscious that one or two posts mentioning Amazon have attracted the attention of our moderators I will say no more. I don’t want to bring Patrick here for the wrong reasons. :-)

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tonyp

My belief has been that since my payment is made to Amazon then this is the organisation with which I have a contract. That Amazon might decide to ‘sub-contract’ the supply to another organisation is an internal matter. If this is not so then I have obviously been under a misapprehension and will be more careful about purchase in the future. It does, though, beg the question about how an organisation which advertises products on its web site, invites purchases and accepts payments for them can escape responsibility for what is being sold.

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socketman

Wavechange, good point about being aware that buying from a Timpson kiosk in a Tesco store you are not dealing with Tesco. But, would you be equally aware when shopping on line at Tesco Direct that many of the products on sale there are from non – Tesco sellers? It works in a similar fashion to Amazon Marketplace.

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wavechange

I did not know about this, Socketman. Thanks very much for pointing this out.

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Stephen Hopkins

It’s your choice of voltage which scares us North Americans. We use 240vAC only for monster appliances like ovens. All else runs at 110v which, yes, will make you jump if you touch it, but it won’t cook you. We find it terrifying that you lot attach electric toothbrushes to plugs better suited to powering washing machines. The continental Euro plugs are less visually intimidating but still pack the same scary voltage.

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wavechange

If you visit the UK you may find that our electrical systems are not quite as dangerous as you fear, Stephen.

An electric toothbrush is one of the few items that comes with a two-pin plug in the UK. That plug has partially sleeved pins to make it impossible for the smallest finger to make contact with our high voltage. The options are to charge it in a bathroom shaver socket with an isolation transformer or to use an adapter with a 1 amp fuse and charge it elsewhere – well away from water.

Although 110V mains is less of a danger that our 230V system and absolutely fine for small appliances, there are practical problems with high power appliances – generally ones that incorporate heaters. The current requirement is doubled and there is more of a problem with voltage drop, so cables have to be substantially heavier. With the exception of electric showers and cookers, almost everything else can be plugged in to ordinary UK 230V sockets, which is very convenient. Our sockets have shutters to prevent inquisitive children from electrocution. Our large plugs have sleeved pins and are fitted with an appropriate fuse, depending on how much power an item uses.

To help protect us from the dangers of 230V, many homes are fitted with an RCD to shut of the power promptly if someone does come into contact with mains voltage, for example by touching a faulty appliance. In homes without RCDs, it is common to use a portable one for hedge clippers and electric mowers. This may not help if you were to touch both L and N conductors simultaneously, but that is not likely to happen unless you dismantle something.

Incidentally, power tools used on UK construction sites are 110V because they may get wet when used outdoors and there is danger of cable damage or other abuse.

I don’t know much about North American plugs and sockets but I believe that a child’s fingers could touch plug pins that are not sleeved.

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malcolm r

Stephen, fear not! It is safe to visit Europe and use our electrical appliances – our systems are well designed and protected to keep the user safe. Most of the world (80%) get by on 220-240V. A 110-120V system will take twice the current of a 230V one. As the power absorbed in a resistance depends upon the square of the current, the heat generated by your current at a fault such as a poor connection will be, potentially, considerably more than in a 230v system I suspect the additional fire risk may be more than the risk of electrocution.

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Seares

Not only twice the current for the same transfer of power when using 120v but twice the amount of copper needed to carry it. Or suffer voltage drop in the line.

(Aside: In the 1940s our local mill on the river supplied the electricity for the village. It was generated by turbines in the river at 270v DC in order to charge up the big room full lead-acid batteries, which then were nominally 250v off charge and provided some sort of stability. What you actually got depended on how far from the mill you lived, and how many people were using electricity at the time. When purchasing lamp bulbs you were always asked ‘How many watts?’and ‘Where do you live? You then got the right voltage bulb. Trouble was, when only a few were ‘using light’ the bulbs were very bright but didn’t last long! And the electricity cost 8d -old pence- per unit. Expensive) Oh yes, back on subject, all 2-pin plugs and sockets of various sizes. Happy days!

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Seares

Not only twice the current for the same transfer of power when using 120v but twice the amount of copper needed to carry it. Or suffer voltage drop in the line.

(Aside: In the 1940s our local mill supplied the electricity for the village. It was generated by turbines in the river at 270v DC in order to charge up the big room full lead-acid batteries, which then were nominally 250v off charge and provided some sort of stability. What you actually got depended on how far from the mill you lived, and how many people were using electricity at the time. When purchasing lamp bulbs you were always asked ‘How many watts?’and ‘Where do you live? You then got the right voltage bulb. Trouble was, when only a few were ‘using light’ the bulbs were very bright but didn’t last long! And the electricity cost 8d -old pence- per unit. Expensive) Oh yes, back on subject, all 2-pin plugs and sockets of various sizes.

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Seares

Sorry about that double entry folks.Must be a voltage doubler somewhere. BTW, don’t American homes have to have both a 110v AND a 230 volt supply?.

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wavechange

I suspect that you have told us this interesting story before, Seares.

Technology has provided products that cope well with variations in voltage. Laptop and phone chargers work equally well on 110 and 230V mains, which is convenient for travellers and avoids expensive mistakes. I have been using shavers that will charge on 12V DC and 110/230V AC (sing the same plug) since the 80s.

Those living off-grid and storing electricity in batteries are much better catered for these days. Battery voltage can typically vary from 24V off charge to approaching 30V on charge. Efficient LED lamps that can cope with voltages between 10 and 30V are a popular choice. A good inverter will provide reasonably stable mains voltage irrespective of load and DC input voltage.

One of the problems with DC supplies is the lack of decent plugs and sockets. Two-pin plugs are not satisfactory because of the need to maintain the correct polarity for most purposes. Three-pin BS546 round pin plugs and sockets (2A, 5A and 13A) are commonly used and are capable of handling larger currents than their ratings due to good low resistance connections. I recently encountered a 2A plug and socket used to supply 24V DC to a stairlift.

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Stephen Hopkins

I’m not sure whether we’re compelled to, but most Canada/US homes do have sockets of both 110v and 220v. The feed coming into the house is composed of two live leads, 220v apart, plus a third lead in the middle of the voltage range. Pair the middle lead with either live lead and you get 110v. Pair the two live leads and you get 220v. These pairs are defined in the fuse box on the wall just inside where the feed comes into the house. From there, the circuit pairs fan out in a star pattern behind the walls.

By count of sockets, though, the 110s vastly outnumber the 220s. In my apartment, for example, I have a 220v socket behind my stove/oven/cooker. My washing machine runs on 110v (I should have looked before posting above) but my clothes dryer runs on 220v… through a differently shaped 220v socket. That definitely confirms the heat advantage of higher voltages. Also, the cables coming out of both appliances are thicker than my thumb. I admire them from a distance. The furnace appears to be wired directly without a plug/socket. I’ll assume 220v, though since it’s natural gas it might be just 110v.

Those few aside, though, all other electrical circuits in my apartment are 110v. The wall sockets are 3-prong, about half the size of UK standard and with a round ground pin. There are no shutters behind the live and neutral windows, although the openings are narrow. A child’s finger cannot get in there. A wet tongue just might make a connection, though, as could a paperclip or screwdriver blade. A popular sale item for families with young children is plastic inserts which fill and cover the socket. Also, sockets can be bought with spring-loaded faces which receive a plug using the same motion as that of putting a key into an automobile ignition lock. Still, the likeliest time for a person of any age to get shocked at a wall socket is when he lets a finger drift in between and touch a partially inserted prong. The prongs are less than 2cm long, though, so big fingers are at much less risk than younger. I like the partial insulation idea, but haven’t yet seen it on American plugs. Again, part of that I think comes from the 110 rather than 220.

Lightbulb receptacles, whether in plugged-in lamps or in wired-in ceiling fixtures, are screw-in with lots of metal contact area inside. I grew up when 2-prong nonpolarized wall sockets/plugs were the norm, so I grew up knowing never to trust either part of the inside of a lamp socket. Hold the bulb solely by its glass, however, and you won’t get shocked. Not by the bulb, anyway. Lamps made of metal, however, can on occasion cut into the insulation of the wire running up within them and become energized. They function perfectly well so long as you don’t touch them. I recall an expensive and delicate antique floor lamp at my grandparents’ house which stung my fingertips every time I touched it. From forty years distance, I suspect that my grandfather left it that way to dissuade me from touching it.

With 110v, if you’re standing on a wooden floor when you make contact, it’ll tingle enough to make you yank away but certainly won’t burn you. It won’t even bite hard. If, however, you’re up a metal ladder resting on moist soil and you touch a 110v lead for an outside light fixture (I speak from experience), yes that’ll make you yodel. Every muscle fiber in your body begins vibrating at 60Hz. It doesn’t feel good. But the quivering usually makes you break the connection. After I disconnected, I lay there on the ladder feeling as if I’d just run a marathon. Okay, new number 1 item on the list of Things Never To Do Again, but I was uncooked and otherwise undamaged. I couldn’t even tell which part of my hand had made contact.

Flash forward to 2005 on the second floor (first floor?) (bedroom, anyway) of The Star pub in Woodstock. I had just finished shaving using my American 110v plugged through a voltage-dropper then through a plug converter into a UK standard wall socket. I drew the unit smoothly and properly away from the wall. Most of it came with me. Half of the plug converter, however, remained in the socket, bare metal still securely energized by 240v. It and I began a staring match, neither of us making a move for the longest time. Once I was confident that no fire was imminent, my thoughts turned to, “How do I get that out of there without killing myself?” I found a piece of hard plastic which could be used to pry the remains of the plug from the socket. I then squatted in front of my adversary. I knew that much about electricity: if you have time to plan ahead, pose your muscles so that they will hurl you away from the connection; if you’re sitting down when you make contact, you’re dead. Two breathless minutes later, I had managed to pry the plug out the socket without incident. It was only then that I paused to wonder what those on-off switches were mounted above each socket.

So anyway, I have so far managed not to let 240v course through my body, but I can’t help wondering what would have happened had I made contact. I was squatting on a woolen carpet over a wood floor.

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