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Spanish Wiring of Sockets!

Discussion in 'Electrics Outside of the UK' started by Astra99, 1 Feb 2011.

  1. Astra99

    Astra99

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    Hi Everyone

    Thought I should share my experiences with you. We own a 10-year-old flat on the Costa Blanca. For obvious reasons I took some 4-way trailing sockets with me, and bought Shuko plugs to go on the end of the flying cable - safer than the 99p adapters you can buy. I also took a cheap (3-neon) UK-style socket tester. As far as I am concerned, as you look at the socket, the right hand is Phase, the left Neutral. Socket 1 was OK, but socket 2 had reverse polarity. So I went to the distribution board and switched off the "power" breaker in order to reverse the cables supplying the socket. Back at the socket, my test plug was still alight! So I went back to the dis board and isolated the lighting circuit. Off went my test plug! So I tested each socket in turn. All the sockets, except those in the kitchen, are fed from the 10A lighting circuit. What the.......!
    The potential (no pun intended) danger here is clear, so when we go back over in a few months time, I will be marking up each socket with the breaker from which it is supplied, and putting a large sticker in the distribution board warning that some sockets are supplied from the lighting breaker. Hopefully marking the sockets will help prevent the lighting circuit being overloaded by portable room heaters/coolers!

    Talking to "the locals" it appears that this is common practice in Spain! We in the UK gave that up in the 1960s. But even before that we identified low-power sockets by making them 2-pin and 5A (Power in those days was 3-pin 15A) Harmonisation? What harmonisation? Oh, and btw, all circuit breakers in my dis board are double pole!!!!!!

    Please bear this in mind if you are doing any electrical work in Spain, or even plugging in a heater/cooler. One saving grace was that all sockets were earthed - or earthed sufficiently to light a neon!
     
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  3. Paul_C

    Paul_C

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    This was using the U.K. neon tester in a BS1363 extension strip which was plugged into a Schuko socket? You would have no way of guaranteeing which way round you had the extension connected, because Schuko plugs and sockets are not polarized. Pull the plug, rotate it 180 degrees, plug in again, and the polarity at your BS1363 outlets would then be reversed.

    There is no "correct" way round to wire one of these, so long as you have the earth in the right place, because all the plugs which will fit it are reversible:

    [​IMG]


    On the issue of socket outlets sharing circuits with fixed lighting points, that's really not at all unusual outside the U.K. So long as the estimated loading is satisfactory, there's nothing at all wrong with it. A single 10A circuit for everything outside the kitchen sounds like very poor design though, unless it's a very small flat.
     
  4. Astra99

    Astra99

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    Hi Paul_C

    Yes, I agree that the Schuko sockets are not polarised as the plug can be inserted either way up. The point I was trying to make was that surely there should be *consistency* in the fixed wiring - i.e. as you look into the socket, phase is always on the right. To wire some with phase right and others phase left is to my mind malpractice, verging on the dangerous. Don't forget many Schuko sockets have cable side entry, and to "correctly polarise" this could result in the cable going upwards, not the usual downwards.

    I am convinced that in the late 1990s/early 2000s regulations were not being enforced adequately in many European countries, and poorly trained installers were being left to "get on with it". As far as I am concerned the UK wiring system and our regulations are the safest in Europe. Anyone care to comment?
     
  5. winston1

    winston1

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    There is no rule saying the phase is always on the right and there would be no point. With French version of Schuko maybe as they are polarised, but not with the standard ones. Do the plugs with side entry have any consistency as to which pin is phase, I doubt it.

    The UK wiring system has it's good points but but many people dislike ring mains as a heavy load at one end sends all the current one way and could in theory overload the cable.
     
  6. Paul_C

    Paul_C

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    What would such consistency achieve when the plugs can be inserted either way round?

    But because Schuko sockets can be wired either way, there is no need for consistency in the way the plugs are wired either. And although most people will probably insert right-angle plugs with the cord downward, there's nothing to stop them being inserted the other way. And what about extension socket strips, where such plugs can just as easily be inserted so the cord emerges from either side, or from a mixture of both sides if more convenient?

    Even with French sockets which when used with grounding attachment plugs are polarized, there is no standard for connection. There is a sort of convention in France of putting the grounded circuit conductor on the left (with earth pin uppermost), but it isn't an official standard.

    Cordsets with a CEE 7/7 plug (the type which will fit French and Schuko sockets) can be found with the brown wire connected to the left-hand prong when the plug is correctly inserted into a French socket, so even the French convention, such as it is, doesn't really achieve much when many of the plugs molded onto cords don't follow the same convention.

    Reversible plugs are just an inherent shortcoming in the Schuko system. For most appliances it really doesn't matter which way they're connected anyway, but when polarity is important for some reason, then it simply can't be guaranteed with Schuko plugs & sockets.
     
  7. solair

    solair

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    Be careful that you do not apply British wiring methodology and ideas to a very different system.

    The CEE 7/X system i.e. "Schuko" and the French 16A plug/socket system is never polarised. Live and neutral are randomly assigned depending on which way the plug is inserted.

    Polarity on a 230V A/C single phase system does not actually matter in almost any instances. The only circumstances where it is particular necessary would be if you were using an ancient appliance with a live chassis neutral e.g.. some very old valve radio and television sets used the internal chassis of the appliance to carry the neutral. This was a potentially lethal practice, if you were servicing the appliance or the outer casing was open. It disappeared by the 1950s/60s.


    Modern appliances that are made to European standards e.g. that carry the CE mark, are designed to be used with non-polarised AC supplies. They do not care which is the live and which is the neutral and operate perfectly safely in either polarity. Remember, you are using alternating current, so it moves back and forth 50 times per second. Polarity is more of an issue with DC systems for motors. DC power systems in buildings are LONG LONG gone.

    Even European ES (screw-type) lamps are designed so that you cannot touch the screw of the bulb when you are inserting a new light bulb into a holder.

    Obviously, when servicing an appliance, it is ALWAYS important to remove the plug from the wall socket. This applies in every country, regardless of whether the system is polarised or not as there's always the potential for live internal parts even when the switch is off.

    The main reason that polarity is such a big issue in the UK and Ireland is because of the use of the fused BS1363 plug.

    The British and Irish regulations allow the use of ring circuits. These are 32A circuits fed from both ends. The over current protection for the plug, cord and appliance are not on the distribution board, rather they are in the plugtop itself. So it is absolutely vital that the plug is inserted in the correct direction because otherwise you risk plugging an appliance directly into a 32amp circuit with the fuse on the neutral !

    On the continent, a 10 or 16A fuse or MCB is always on the live, because it is on the distribution board and professionally installed on the live (or, in some installations it's often a double pole MCB that cuts both live and neutral when off).

    When you use a UK/Irish plug with an adaptor on the continent, it still doesn't matter about the polarity because you are never connected to a ring circuit. You'll be protected by a 16 or 10A breaker, so even if the fuse is on the neutral, you're still relatively safe.

    Even in Ireland and Britain some appliances have random polarity. For example, any appliance that you connect using a figure of 8 connector e.g. your Sky box, most small radios/audio equipment etc.

    Likewise, if you use any appliance with a continental plug and a converter plug e.g. many sony televisions are sold that way.

    However, it does not matter provided that the BS1363 plug or adaptor and wall socket are correctly polarised as then you are definitely not plugged into a ring via a plug with a fused neutral.

    Finally, regarding your 10A mixed socket and lighting circuit. That is not unusual in Spain and in many countries and there's nothing particularly dangerous about it either. However, it is becoming much less common as people want to be able to plug heavier appliances into circuits these days.

    Normally, in older Spanish wiring you've got flat 2-pin sockets which are only meant for light appliances and then you'll have recessed Schuko (earthed) sockets which are meant for up to 16Amp appliances.

    Spanish light fittings are rated to cope with at least 10Amps and are protected by an RCD too. They're not the same as in the UK where they're usually 6amp circuits and are often not protected by an RCD.

    So, they're perfectly OK to use for sockets where the planned load is low.

    In more modern installations the sockets are all 16A schuko and are on 16amp radial circuits.

    I would suggest that you should consider calling an electrician and having some extra circuits installed if you are short of schuko sockets in some rooms.

    The wiring must be 1960s/70s?






    [/u][/b]
     
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  8. Paul_C

    Paul_C

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    In a 10-year-old flat? ;)

    Live-chassis TV sets were being made into the 1970's. In the days of D.C. mains supplies, the chassis had be connected to the "hot" side of the supply in about half the houses in the supply area in order for it to work, as the chassis always had to be on the negative side of the supply.

    In many later sets the switched-mode power supplies employed are wired in such a way that the chassis is at half supply potential regardless of which way round the set is connected, so the chassis will always be live at about 120V.

    It's also worth pointing out that in some European countries Schuko and similar types of sockets have been used on 220V domestic supplies which are provided as two phases from a 127/220V three-phase system. In these cases, it's not going to make any difference whatsoever which way round the appliance is connected, as both legs are always at 127V with respect to neutral/earth.
     
  9. Astra99

    Astra99

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    Thank you everyone who contributed. Just to clarify, all the sockets, whether connected to "Alumbrado" (lighting) or "Otros Usos" (lit. "other uses" or power) are identical. The whole point of my post was to warn non-technical users of potential dangers, problems, call it what you like, which they could find by assuming that all sockets are on the power breaker, as is (usually) the case in the UK and Ireland. The most common problem as I see it is unintentional overload of the lighting circuit - it's fused at 10A but the sockets are rated at 16A, so as I said, plugging in heavy loads e.g. a 3kW heater (or two!) will soon throw the lighting trip, and you can guarantee it will trip just as all the lighting in the communal areas goes off, leaving everyone in the dark.

    Following the suggestion from Solair to call an electrician to install more sockets, my answer would be thanks, but no thanks. Silk purses and sow's ears come to mind! I'll mark up all the sockets and the dis board and leave it at that. Oh btw, the electricty company's circuit breaker is currently rated at 15A. The higher the rating, the higher Iberdrola's monthly standing charge. (who can remember these in the UK?)
     
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  11. Paul_C

    Paul_C

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    And that's a problem with some European systems when you start plugging in those two 3kW loads. Unless they are on different phases, you're going to risk tripping the main breaker even if the individual branch circuits can take each load individually.

    Load balancing across phases with these sort of 15A supplies is always going to be a very tricky juggling act as soon as anything more than minimal amounts of power are involved. It's ridiculous that they're still installing 3-phase supplies for residential use at such relatively low power levels.
     
  12. Astra99

    Astra99

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    Sorry forgot to mention Paul_C that this is single-phase 230 (nominal) supply. Prod L-N 227v L-E 227v N-E 0v Thus I suspect this is PME.

    The 127/220 single/3-phase reminds me of when I was in France in the late 1960s, but in a slightly different way. In the city (Bordeaux) the houses were 110v. Out in the countryside it was 220. For those with properties in both areas, they used to have a 2:1 transformer with euro-style 2-pin sockets at both ends. An F-M gender changer was plugged in to the end which had to be connected to the supply! Earthing, what earthing?
     
  13. Paul_C

    Paul_C

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    Single-phase at 15 amps?! :eek: That probably explains the single 10A circuit for most lights and outlets outside the kitchen then - Not much point in providing any more when the incoming supply is so limited.

    You can still find similar transformers from the Far East today - Typically with a "universal" 2-pin socket on both sides which will accept European round-pin and American flat-pin plugs, and a connection cord which has a plug of each of those types at each end. No earthing provision, and you'd better be careful not to pull out the wrong end of that cord first!
     
  14. Astra99

    Astra99

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    Hi Paul_C

    Yes, the minumum that Iberdrola will supply is 15A, but the cabling from the meter to the apartment must be at least 16mm as a supply of 63A can be obtained - if you are prepared to pay the swingeing standing charge. Most of the apartments in the block which are used as holiday homes run on the minimum supply to keep costs low. Many of those in permanent occupation have 45, 50 or 63A supplies depending on whether they have aircon.
     
  15. danechip

    danechip

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    Why is this please?
     
  16. Paul_C

    Paul_C

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    Because there is a plug at both ends of the connection cord.

    The units I had in mind are generally autotransformers, fitted with a "universal" 2-pin socket on both the 115 and 230V sides which will accept both flat-pin and round-pin plugs. The cord then has a flat-pin plug at one end and a round-pin plug at the other, allowing all permutations of 115 or 230V input from an American-type or European-type outlet by swapping the cord around.

    And in addition to the male-to-male cord hazard, as the connectors are unpolarized and it's an autotransformer, when using it in step-down configuration there's a 50% chance when connecting that the output on the 115V socket will actually have one side at 230V to earth (assuming that one side of the 230V supply is earthed, of course).
     
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