In this video, at time 11:35, (and in other places), there is a very vague claim about a common impression that European wiring is safer than (North) American, with an equally vague refutation of that claim. What are the details of this commonly expressed idea?

  • Because it actually is: no 'bare copper' wires, differential switches on almost all circuits (but in Britain) so less risk of fire and risk or to gett shocked while drilling a hole in wall, a colour scheme (not only B&W) that helps identifying various circuits, no wires rinning directly trough wood, just few arguments, lower currents (10A circuit can held about 2400W) -> lower heating on conductor -> lower risk of fire, active outlet contacts are shutter-protected, almost all the breakers interrupt both live and neutral, so if neutral gets lost whole circuit is still isulated. Just Better – DDS Jan 8 at 8:53
  • The wiring isn't really safer, but the outlets (esp UK) are, esp in comparison to older US plugs (non-grounded, non-polarized). That said, the outlets are huge; you're not putting 6 plugs in a power strip tucked behind your computer monitor. I mentioned that i have 100s of things that plug in, and a British friend just couldn't believe it... – dandavis Jan 8 at 20:22

A few things that immediately strike me.

  1. American plugs have no protection against people or items touching the live pin(s) if the plug is partially withdrawn from the socket. Most European plugs protect against this either through pain insulation or through having the socket at the bottom of the recessed cavity.
  2. Until relatively recently the Americans used combined neutral and Earth connections in some domestic wiring (IIRC subpanels, ranges and clothes driers). If a combined Neutral and Earth conductor breaks you can easily develop dangerous voltages on exposed metalwork.
  3. While the lower voltage does reduce the risks posed by electric shocks it also means increased currents which can lead to increase fire risks.
  4. Lots more exposed metal inside enclosures, americans don't sleeve their earth wires and their sockets have exposed live screws, it seems the only thing stopping them touching is the neatness with which the wiring is inserted into the box. You can take the lid off a modern European DB and you would still have to go out of your way to touch live parts while the American breaker panels I have seen pictures of have lots of live metal exposed to direct touch.

Of course there are issues on the European side too.

  1. Earthed plugs will often fit in non-earthed sockets or sockets using a different earthing system in such a way that the appliance receives live and Neutral connections but not an Earth connection.
  2. Accessories are often designed in such a way that they are mounted to the plate, so you can't see what is happening to the wiring as you push it into the box.

A lot of other stuff depends on exactly where in Europe you are comparing to, for example here in the UK a socket without a proper earth would be considered virtually unthinkable, but from what I can gather in both mainland Europe and north America they are relatively common.

  • OTOH -- BS1363 earths often get defeated by improper plug configurations, something that simply doesn't happen in earthed NEMA plugs and sockets – ThreePhaseEel Jan 8 at 12:44
  • True, either through manually opening the shutters and forcing the plug in (highly unadvisable) or through the use of incorrect adapters. Unfortunately for german/french plugs in the UK it's often much easier to buy incorrect adapters than correct adapters. – Peter Green Jan 8 at 13:04
  • I was actually referring to the presence of plugs that fit BS1363 sockets, but have an insulating sleeve on the earth pin, which defeats the way the BS1363 socket's earth contact works, AIUI – ThreePhaseEel Jan 8 at 23:19
  • Ah plugs with partially insulated earth pins that may or may not make contact with the earth contact on the socket (which is located further forward than the other contacts so it makes first and breaks last). Often seen in combination with missing or non-compliant fuses and with cables that lie about their conductor size on dodgy electrical goods sold direct from China. Still at least in the UK (the situation may well be different in places that use BS1363 plugs but have a weaker attitude to electrical safety) I think such plugs are fairly uncommon, I think I have only ever seen one in person. – Peter Green Jan 9 at 7:16
  • (note: a pin in the earth position that is completely made of insulating material is allowed by the standard for non-rewirable plugs for class 2 devices) – Peter Green Jan 9 at 7:18

The remark in the video seems to answer comments made on other videos from European viewers who thought the Canadian system lacks earthing / grounding; the people in the video are explaining that that's not the case for new or recent construction.

(Their other remark is just a little humor, in Canada they have LOTS of earth - that is, Canada covers a lot of ground, it's a big country.)

The National Electrical Code (NEC) and Canadian Electrical Code (CEC), which are adopted in various forms throughout the US and Canada, are rule sets that generally ensure a reasonably safe electrical system.

The bare wire they are screwing to the box in the video - part of what the NEC and CEC call the "equipment grounding system" - was not always required in the US, and many older systems still in service do not have that safety ground. So the people in the video are just correcting a misunderstanding that came up in the comments.

It's fair to say that in some respects the north American systems are less safe than European systems, but in others the north American systems are safer. For example, in the North American systems, much more of the system is at 120V to ground, where the UK system is at 230V to ground.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.