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Author Topic: Electricity 101 - A Beginners Guide to Travel and Power  (Read 36044 times)

Offline Steve_YYZ

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Electricity 101 - A Beginners Guide to Travel and Power
« on: January 05, 2008, 01:24:20 PM »
Electrical Info for Cuba.

While most people travel to experience the sights and sounds of exotic, far-away lands, they also want to take along some of the comforts of home. Hair dryers, shavers, radios, and other small appliances all make the journey more pleasant, and connecting a laptop computer is also becoming an important part of modern travel.

Cuba is a unique destination because while the country's power system is 110 volt, 60 Hz, the same as here at home in North America, many of the hotels have been built by European based Hotel Chains. Thus many hotels use 220 volt, 50 Hz power and plugs. Some hotels even have both! One additional problem with Cuba is that their Electrical Code / Standards are somewhat lax and not everything can be as it seems. So a little knowledge and preparation can go a long way to your comfort, convenience and protection of your electrical items.

If you're planning to plug into a Cuban socket you need to do a few things. First off, take a carefull look at the power supply / charger  that came with your electrical item or the label on the applicance. You especially need to read the label and find out if your supply / charger is a dual voltage type or not.

Look for the area on the label that says Input or similar. If it says 110-220V 50-60 Hz or similar then it is dual voltage. Some might even say 110-240V, 50-60 Hz. If that is the case, then you only need a plug adaptor to allow you to physically plug in the item's power supply/charger. With many of today's modern electrical items, the odds are actually highly in your favour that this will be the case.

Here's what a label might look like. This is from the power supply for my laptop. Notice the INPUT line. It gives the range of voltage required, the amps required (something you normally don't have to worry about) and the Hz or cycles. This IS a Dual Voltage, Dual Cycle power supply.

The next line down is what the power supply OUTPUTs and it also shows the Pos or Neg orientation of the supply plug. Again, more info than you need but that's what the line means.

Note that if you're taking an iron, hair dryer, curling iron etc., you should also check what the Wattage is for the item. Generally, these type of "hot" items will require 1200w to 1500w. If you are buying or using a voltage converter for these items, you'll need to know the wattage requirements.

If your item is a dual voltage item, then relax, all you might need is a plug adaptor of one type or another.

If not, then you will need both a plug adaptor and a voltage converter.

So let's look at Plugs and Plug Adaptors first.

If you need a plug adaptor in a resort, it will generally be of the European / North American type plug adaptor. It will look something like this. This type of plug almost always means that it is a 220 volt circuit.

Now while we're on plug adaptors, most 110 volt plugs in Cuba (especially off the resorts) are the old two pin type plugs. The problem is that almost all of our modern electronic devices require either a 3 prong plug, or a polarized plug (one tang wider than the other). So if you carry a 3 prong adaptor that will fix that problem. It looks like this.

Now lets look at Voltage Converters

There are two types of Voltage Converters you can get. One if for "hot" type items such as irons, hair and curling irons, etc. and the other is for electrical items such as battery and camera chargers or items with small electric motors. Now why the two types you might wonder. Well it basically boils down to how "clean" the power output from the Converter is. Electrical items need much cleaner power, with a round sine wave, while heater type items need more amperage, but can easily work with a square sine-wave type power. Forget the technical stuff, just think clean or dirty power.

The clean electricity round sine-wave type Converters generally cost more and weigh more, but will ONLY provide 30 to 50 watts of power output. The dirty electricity square sine-wave type Converters are cheaper, offer lots of amperage to drive high wattage items like hair dryers, but should  NOT be used for electrical items that require clean power.

Now I know you just have to know what will happen if you plug a clean electricity item such as a CD player or Camera charger into a dirty type cheap power Converter. Well it's VERY HARD on the item and you risk serious and permanent damage to your electronic device. Yes, it will work for very short periods and MAYBE you can get away with it, but it's your expensive item that is at risk. It's not worth the chance.

Here's a photo of a Clean Converter (left) and a dirty type converter (right) and as you can see, they look the same. So it's imperative that you also read what your converter is recommended for.


Now many Cuban hotels offer a "free" voltage converter for their guests use. Honestly, without carefull reading of the label and a bit of luck, there's no way to tell whether it is providing clean or dirty electricty. One guide is to look at how much wattage the item will output. If it's the high wattage converter, it's likely that it's outputting dirty power. If it's low wattage, it's probably clean. Yes, high wattage and high quality electricity converters are available, but they are quite expensive.

One other thing you can do is to check in your hotel room and check see if there is a 110 volt plug in the bathroom. Often you'll see it noted as "razors" only and this is actually a good guide that it offers clean electrical power. It's also the reason it's marked razors only as it most likely only outputs 30-50 watts. You'd fry the plug and blow the breaker if you plugged in a hair dryer, or it simply wouldn't work. Another place where there is often a 110 volt plug in your hotel room is where the room bar-fridge is plugged into. But again, sometimes its 220 volt, sometimes 110 volt.

So how do you be sure? Well, another item I never leave home without is this little voltage tester.

As you can see, it is no larger than a disposable lighter and you simply plug the pigtails into a socket and one of two diodes lights up. Either 110V or 220V. Absolutely takes the guesswork out of plugging in and it costs less than $4.00 at any Home Depot. Because one problem in Cuba is that some hotels (Breezes Jibacoa and Sol Club Cayo Largo come to mind) have wall sockets that will accept a North-American style 2 prong flat plug. BUT the darn socket outputs 220 Volts! This cost me one battery charger fried before I started carrying this little voltage tester. So remember, the style of the wall socket does NOT guarantee the voltage. Sad but true.

One other item that's usefull to carry is a Cube-Tap. This little item converts a single socket into 3, 4 or 5 sockets. Usefull for plugging multiple items into a single voltage converter. Here's what one looks like. Small but real helpfull when I move a fridge to tap onto the plug, but still need my beer kept cold. ;D ;D

The last thing you might want to consider carrying to Cuba is a small Surge Protector which considering the brownouts, low voltage and other problems with the Cuban electric system can provide good insurance for your electronics.

So you're now ready to go. Check your electrical items first, grab a plug adaptor, a cube tap, and the small voltage tester and you're ready to go almost anywhere.

Happy travels,

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