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Ask VMW: Which electronics to I take overseas (and ALL your electricity questions answered)

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Ask VMW: Which electronics to I take overseas (and ALL your electricity questions answered)

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ask VMW: Which electronics to I take overseas (and ALL your electricity questions answered)

Many times, we realize we should have more information before making an informed decision.  Here is one wife who wants a definitive answer:

"I've attended our PCS briefing, and I am still confused.  They told us not to bring alarm clocks overseas.  I think I understand the difference between 220 and 110 but then I talked to this other lady, and she told me she was not going to bring her standmixer and then couldn't explain to me exactly why?  Can you?"

I am absolutely no technical expert, but I will try to explain the best I can.  I think most overseas assignments in Germany have both 110 volt and 220 volt electricity ON POST.  Off post it is still 220 volt as before (and will stay that way as Europeans will tell you it is the superior system).  In government housing you'll see your familiar 110 wall outlets (usually one or two sets per room) and then a few more of the 220 version.

The first thing you have to do is look at your appliance....either on the bottom or if it's an electronic item (and not an appliance) it'll be written on the converter halfway down your least I think it's called a converter.  If it gives a range up to 240 volt, then you can use it in Europe.  All you need is an adapter plug to plug it into the round outlet holes.  Pay attention to that outlet...the newer ones will have two holes and a prong to handle the grounding.  Older adapter plugs (which are made out of plastic) will only have two holes and no room for that prong in the outlet.  Sometimes, when you buy them second hand (like the thrift shop on base), they will have the older ones, and then they won't fit in the wall outlet.  You can always make a hole with whatever tool, like my husband did....but you're better off buying the newer ones.  I just feel safer that way!

If your appliance or electric item says up to 120 volt, then you cannot plug it directly into the wall, even with an adapter plug!  You will permanently fry it and ruin it.  You'll hear a loud pop, spark and then some smoke and your thing will be history.  If you have a desktop computer, many of the older ones will have a 110/220 switch on the back.  Make sure it is switched to 220 first!  Rest assured, if you do fry your computer, your hard drive in most instances will still be safe.  I took my hard drive out of a fried computer and used it in this.

  I could've also bought a new computer powersource with a plug for it, but the computer was so old, I just wanted to start over.

Now what about the standmixer?  It has something to do with the cycles...something about the megahertz....even though a transformer will step down the voltage for you to plug in your appliance or electronic item, it still cycles at a different rate.  This could cause your appliance motor to run hotter or less efficient, damaging it in the long run.  You may not notice any problems at first but only later.  This is also why a 110 volt alarm clock will not keep time, even on a transformer.

As a sidenote, I once asked an electrician who was working on something in our government quarters, how they do the 110 outlets, and he said something about actual transformers....obviously larger and more powerful, in our housing...inside the walls or technically, anything plugged in there is running on a transformer too....just a much bigger one than you are used to.

If you need to buy transformers, which you probably will if you are off post, be sure to check local wanted ads on post as well as your thrift shop.  People are always moving, and there are always transformers as well as 220 volt appliances to be had.

Yes, the PX has them as well, but you will pay a premium for them there.  They also have all the plugs and such.  Local stores such as Media Markt (like a Best Germany and Belgium too) has TONS of different appliances and electronics too and everything to go with it.  Many times items are on sale there.  I like to get my European surge protectors there (I would get them for your computers, TVs and expensive electronics)...yes, the PX has usually one model (European style)...but I like choices.  Also remember that European surge protectors protect at a much higher level than the American ones, so don't just interchange plugs and use your American surge protectors.  They are not strong enough.

I also mentioned in one of my other blogposts, that if you have a USB cord for your item, you can charge it through your computer or laptop.  We do that for all our MP3 players, Kindles, handheld gaming systems and such....a few are not 220 volt adaptable, and it's cheaper (although takes longer) than charging them through transformers.  Transformers take a lot of juice, so when you are not actively using one, actively UNPLUG it completely or else it will still drain electricity.  Electricity is much more expensive in Europe, so I try to cut it down where I can!  I believe the charge through a USB connection is something like 5 volts, so it is safe for just about anything you can find a plug for!

I am sure I have left something out.  If you think of anything else regarding electronics, please add below.

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Anonymous Damsel said...

Thank you for the information!

March 12, 2011 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger MooAtU2 said...

If your electronics have an AC adapter (black box that gets warm) attached to the power cord, that's the transformer. Pretty sure all laptop chargers have this box. Also, my printer has one too. All you need to do is get a plug adapter and you're good to go.

And like you said before, all lamps need are a German light bulb and the plug adapter.

Our FMO (furniture management office) gave us two transformer to borrow during our three years. Also, I've seen them for decent prices at the on-post thrift shop.

March 13, 2011 at 12:22 AM  
Anonymous This is Belgium said...

Hi, you mentioned Edith mean facebook ?

March 13, 2011 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Naw...I think I saw you post on Edith's blog...what's in her head:-)) She also blogs about Belgium and takes great pics...or her hubby does!

March 13, 2011 at 9:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to make sure I understood it. My american coffee maker and toaster can go in the 110 volt outlets (if I live on post), no switch or transformer needed. Or do I still need to make sure it reads "up to 240 volts". Items that have 110/220 switch, I'll just switch and use a adapter plug to fit the round outlet. So, all my items that only take 110 i just have to use in "our" outlets and everything else I will just get an adapter switch for with the exception of an alarm clock and mixer, they do not work period. Is that correct? LOL

March 18, 2011 at 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about my washer and dryer? Can I take those?

March 18, 2011 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Absolutely DO NOT take a washer/dryer with you! If you are military,you will be issued one. If you are contractor/civilian, there are so many second hand I don't know if the American ones will work over here...never checked the voltages, and I think they have different safety plugs over here too. I know someone who runs their American freezer on a transformer...just wait til they get their 1,000 euro overage bill for electricity at the end of the year...or more!

March 18, 2011 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Yes on the American coffeemaker and toaster (although you see TONS of 220 ones for sale from people leaving all the time). You can plug a 110 volt appliance into a 110 volt outlet, which you will only find in on-base housing (and some hotels have the electric razor 110 outlet in the bathroom). You probably won't find switches on appliances anymore from 110/220 volt...that was "old school"...they switch automatically if the appliance says up to 240 volts. Don't get me wrong...your mixer and alarm clock (and anything with a motor) that is 110 volt will STILL work plugged into a transformer, but because the cycles are off, your American electric alarm clock won't keep the correct time and your mixer could get potential long-term damage to its motor.

March 18, 2011 at 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your fast repy. If I understood correctly from your previous entries, long term storage is available for active duty soldiers going overseas at their last stateside duty station. (Like a big warehouse type, right?) I guess I am now debating, should I just try to sell what I can and use that money to buy new appliances in Germany or should I just put it in long term storage....hmmm... WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

March 18, 2011 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

To answer what we right or wrong answer...we knew we'd be in housing in Germany, so we left ALL our lawnstuff in storage to include lawnmower and weedwhacker, 110 expensive vacuum we never should've bought..mostly furniture beyond the basic floorplan stuff....we only have a courtyard with plants/trees, etc in Belgium so don't need our lawnstuff here either off post. I bought a brand new toaster cheap at, my favorite electronics store (I have a certain ick factor about others' toasters)...micro second hand from thrift shop (and sold cause our house has one here)...I'd say the cheaper appliances, just sell them...isn't worth it to put them in storage.

Yes, it's a big warehouse and sometimes your things can get mixed up w/others...stuff is mostly roped off...but I've heard it happen second hand. Warehouse is at your last duty station...military contracted thru a civilian company...make sure you have insurance as sometimes there are these darn warehouse fires. We had one in Stuttgart not too long ago that destroyed many, many inbound and about to be outbound was heart wrenching...luckily, we left a month before that happened.

Make sure you read my moving articles, as I've got alot of tips along those lines too!

Have an uneventful move!

March 18, 2011 at 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the cheapest fastest way to get a transformer for use at the army lodge in Chievres?

April 5, 2011 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

The smaller the wattage of the transformer, the cheaper it will be across the board. A 300 watt transformer should be able to run a 110 volt TV with DVD player. If you plug in your stuff to a transformer and the fuse blows within the transformer, then you plugged too high a wattage items into it! Not enough juice! You can get replacement fuses at the PXetra from behind the counter.

Cheapest place to get one is either from a person leaving (ask around at bfast if anyone has one to sell....that's how I found some stuff in the lodge), or the little white binder at the front desk w/people selling stuff...get on Facebook SHAPE Families (and check their For Sale Board)...or go to Grandma's Attic. The PX has them but they are much more than you want to pay. Good luck to you!

April 5, 2011 at 9:27 AM  

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