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I live in the US and own a few appliances (mostly audio) that are European, designed for 220V and don't have a built-in converter to deal with 110V. I'd like to find a way to use these in my condo, for which all regular sockets are on 110V.

My understanding is that heavy appliances like heaters (and ovens, etc.) are wired on 220V and that my condo already has 220V. I have two rough plans.

First plan:

  • the heating is forced air -- it must be running on 220V
  • as such, there must be a live wire with 220V running to the heating vent
  • I should be able to pop the cover, find the 220V wires, and expose right next to the vent a 220V socket, with schuko to avoid mistakes
  • this will be more efficient than having a 110/220 converter running constantly.

Second plan:

  • I have a socket that I'm happy to flip to 220V + schuko, also standing fairly close to the electrical panel
  • there must be a guide wire running from the electrical panel to that socket
  • I should be able to pull a wire for that socket that is on 220V.

Question 1: does any of the plans make sense, and if so, which would be easier? (I may be missing assumptions on US wiring, quality of current, etc.)

Question 2: my panel says "circuit directory: 120V/208V". I'm surprised by the latter (208V instead of 220V). Can I still run audio appliances off of that? This seems on the low end of the tolerance spectrum.

It goes without saying that I would contract a professional electrician to do that; but before, I'd like to know if any of this makes sense. Thanks!

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    A professional electrician would probably answer this question for free, and come over and give you an estimate for the job, also for free. Whether you can do this at all is somewhat conditioned by what's legal in your state or town, so local expertise is needed. – TimWescott Dec 2 '18 at 16:10
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    Read and understand en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-leg_delta You have 120V on L1–N, 120V on L2–N, 208V on L3–N, 240V between any of two L1–L2, L2–L3, L3–L1 – Janka Dec 2 '18 at 16:19
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    Why would you assume that there is 220V at the air vent? The air handler may be quite far from the vent. Also, if you added a 220V socket you would need an additional 220V circuit breaker...does your box have room for that? Does your condo agreement allow you to violate local electrical codes? – Elliot Alderson Dec 2 '18 at 16:41
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    @Janka: 208V is found only with 208Y systems, not with hi-leg delta. – Charles Cowie Dec 2 '18 at 17:01
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    @Janko: You are correct, the high leg is 208V to neutral, but that system is way less common than 208Y. I guess it can not be ruled out, but I don't think it is used at all for residential units. – Charles Cowie Dec 2 '18 at 17:18
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Power service to your building includes a 3-phase, 208-volt, wye (or star) distribution system. That provides 208 volts between any two of three phase terminals and 120 volts between any phase terminal and the neutral terminal. Any one condo in the building would be served by two phase conductors and a neutral conductor plus a protective earth (ground) conductor that is connected to neutral at the service entrance. This system is used in some commercial and multi-unit buildings in the US, but it is somewhat uncommon.

If you have loads that rated to operate on 208 V, 60 Hz, it makes sense to install 208-volt receptacles for those loads if it is not too expensive. The equipment should be marked with a voltage range and frequency. If is says something like 200-240V, 50/60 Hz or 47-63 Hz, the equipment is ok for 208V, 60Hz. You can probably not use any existing wiring, because it is likely protected by larger circuit breakers than would be permissible for lower current receptacles and loads. In addition, the existing circuits are intended to serve certain loads. An electrician can tell you what is involved and the cost of the wiring. In addition to that cost, there may be repair of plaster and painting required for any openings made by the electrician. An electrician would not usually do that repair.

Read you condo association documents, wiring may be owned in common, not owned by the unit owner. Your individual ownership may be only the paint on the walls inward. In addition, any wiring must conform to the local electrical code and all receptacles are more than likely required to conform to Underwriters Laboratory (UL) standards. Code may not allow a schuko receptacle.

  • Thanks, this was a very helpful response. I was not aware of the existence of this three-phase (high-leg delta, as mentioned above) setup -- the condo is an old building, so that might explain it. I was also blissfully unaware of the fact that i) this could be covered by the local code and ii) that this might even be covered by the condo association regulations. I'll look into both. Thanks again for a very helpful answer. – Jonathan Protzenko Dec 3 '18 at 0:40
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When I moved from Michigan to Belgium to live for two years on a work assignment, I brought along several transformers in order to use our 110v computers, printer, appliances, even the vacuum cleaner.

A simple plug-in 1500w transformer to convert 110 to 220v will cost $50, not including shipping.

Be aware that if the equipment has a clock in it because it will be off because of the frequency difference, if that matters to you.

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    A turntable will often run at the wrong speed - synchronous motor and although it looked like it would work (had 4 bands for strobe speed checking) there no way to change the speed. My tape player, cd player & amplifier all worked when I was in the US. I even had a UK TV & VCR. These transformers are often autotransformers and give no electrical isolation. Handy if you buy ones with your "home" plug style so you don't need a plug adapter. – D Duck Dec 2 '18 at 16:41
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    Voltage-and-frequency converters are available for small wattage appliances. See: ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=60hz+to+50+hz+converter – rdtsc Dec 2 '18 at 16:51
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    Some modern equipement has a switch mode power supply and an IEC C14 inlet and your can connect directly to a socket. It would say something like Vac 85 to 250 V 50 to 60 Hz on the device. You'll just need to by the appropriate lead. – D Duck Dec 2 '18 at 16:51
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You likely don't have 220V, but 240V available. Condos (and houses) typically do not have three phases available, unless specifically supplied for a workshop etc. What you have is a single phase from the three in the neighborhood feeding a transformer, either on a pole or a kerbside box, that produces 240V center tapped to ground, which then can be split up into two sets of circuits that have 120V relative to the neutral - and ground (which are commoned, usually inside the breaker box). The breaker box then has two live busbars, a neutral bar , and a ground bar, with the commoning jumper between the latter two.

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The live bars are interleaved down the center, so that positioning on a double breaker anywhere connects to both of them, giving the 240V L-L supply to the heavy loads - water heater, HVAC and stove. Single breakers alternate between the two to divie the load up between the two phases.

You can add a double breaker if you still have space, and connect the same wires that feed a specific circuit to convert it to a 240V supply, and replace the sockets with the appropriate NEMA 6 socket, and mark the white wire as live by sleeving it black, so an electrician could fairly quickly do this if you're willing to change one circuit over, otherwise it'd mean running a new wire.

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