Learning Uruguay

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Learning electricity in Uruguay

Posted by urufish on May 11, 2007

Everyone knows that Uruguay is 220 volt, 50 cycle country.    That goes without saying.  But there’s a lot more to this than just making sure your hair dryer is set to 220v.  If you plan on living here, you have to relearn a whole lot about what you’ve taken for granted back home (up North).  

Our experience is limited to urban areas, Montevideo and Piriapolis, and in particular, the very top of San Antonio…  We hear that electrical service varies from place to place, and can be very different in rural areas, so you cant take what we write here and apply it to your situation, unless you’re in Montevideo, PDE or Piria. 

First of all, for the past several years, in all the above places, service has been reliable…  In our 18 months here in the city, it’s as reliable as it was back home…  One outage that lasted 15-20 minutes.   Otherwise, no problems.  

This past summer, there was a bit of a drought and nationwide, the government called on us to conserve energy.  In our building, we had 2 elevators…  the glitzy one and the service one.  The service elevator drew less power, so the we used it during the crisis.  The escalators in the major shopping malls and a the ultrabright lighting took hits.  The descending escalators were shut off for the duration.  When the crisis passed, everything went back to normal. 

 Plugs are a little strange here.  I think Uruguay has receptacles from all over the world in this little country.  It’s as if they changed standards every 10 or 15 years..  Over the years, we have accumulated almost 40 adaptors…  When we built the new house, we had modular plugs put in, like the adaptors, that handle several different plugs…  We still had a few plugs that wouldn’t fit so we cut them off and replaced them with standard plugs.  Word of caution.  When you do that, you blow out the warrantee…  So dont do that on your fridge or other appliance until after the first year… which is as long as any guarantee is good for here. 

In the city, we have never had a single issue with a surge or spike.  It could be we’ve just been lucky.  Or maybe Pocitos is special.  But with a houseful of appliances, electronics and computers and LCD’s everywhere, so far, no problems.  Cant say the same thing for the house in Piriapolis.  Living on top of the mountain kind of guarantees a direct lightning strike a few times a year.  A few telephones, several modems and a motherboard later, we’ve learned our lesson.  When you hear a thunderbolt, pull everything out of the wall.  This country sees a lot of electrical storms… so even a flatlander is at some risk of a big surge… but it’s probably the same or less than living in Florida. 

Most laptops made today use transformers that are 220/110.  So it’s likely you’ll have no problem plugging in here.  But you’ll probably need an adaptor.  Around $1 in most grocery stores.  If you do use a laptop, it’s a good idea not to use it on your lap.  Everyone I’ve ever used will shock you wherever smooth skin comes in contact with a metal part, like a little screw.  Will never forget the first day I used a laptop on a hot day.  I was wearing shorts, was sweating and put it on my lap.  Whoa… I got up really fast.  If you’re sensitive to voltage, run your hand along the case of the laptop lightly.  You’ll feel a vibration.  That’s the 220 trying to escape through you.    I use a ground plug on mind and I’m certain the plug is grounded, but nothing changes.  You still get tingly all over 🙂

Fluorescent lights buzz like mad here.  Electricians say it’s the cheap chinese ballasts they use here.  But we remember it buzzing 20 years..  long before cheap Chinese imports.  By the way, if the buzzing drives you crazy, take apart the fixture and take the ballast out of the unit and let it hang.  No more buzz. 

Electrical panels in Uruguay are bigger and have a lot more breakers (modern ones–older ones still use fuses).  It seems like there’s a breaker for every plug.  But it’s probably one to 3 or something like that.  Lot more than up north.  All wiring here runs through plastic tubing – not metal.  Even when you run wires under the lawn, they’re in plastic, not metal and unprotected.. eg.  there’s no concrete on top of them.  But they do use ground interruption circuitry on the mains, so it should shut off before your gardner is killed. 

You can use most plug in clocks from up north, even though they’re 60 cycle and here it’s 50.  We brought down a couple of Radio Shack clocks that shine the time on the ceiling.  We both wear glasses and used to hate getting up in the middle of the night and trying to make out the numbers on the LCD screen.  This way, even without glasses, you can just open your eyes and see the time on the ceiling.   Anyway, they both work perfectly on 110v. 

You can use 110v ceiling fans too.  You just need to run 110v to the fan or use a small transformer.  The only issue will be speed.  It will run around 15% slower, but no one’s ever noticed in our house.  However bad the wobble on your NA fan, a local fan will be worse.  We’ve taken to guarding our Casblancas’ lest we need to replace one with something local. 

Electronics all works here…  you can either use a special transformer for electronics or buy a multi-duty unit that does everything.   We have a real Wurlitzer juke box we brought down.  Popped it into a 1000v transformer from up north and instant sock hop.   The carbon tetrachloride bubbles just like back home…  Haven’t noticed them swirling in the opposite direction though 🙂

The washing machines work without incident.. but we still haven’t got the dryer going.  Too complicated for the local electrical contractor so it’s sitting in the Whirlpool distributor, waiting for instructions from the USA. 

Wires are a lot thinner here.  Higher the voltage, the lower the current.  Ahhhhh… theory becomes practical here. 

The only supplier of electricity in Uruguay is UTE.  You can have your own generator… (lots of folks out in the country do), but city folks are all UTE customers. 

No, there’s no internet over the elecrtrical grid.  Antel has a lock on wireline internet. 

Cost of KW hour goes up to almost 5 pesos.  I’ve seen friends with under 800 pesos per month, and others with $5000 per month..  Depends on your lifestyle.  Of course, if you heat with electricity, your winter bills will be considerably higher. 

Under floor electrical cable resistance heating is being used more and more in high end residential construction.  Main provider here is Eurocable.  I believe most of Uruguay’s power is hydro electric.  Anyone care to comment on that?  One thing for sure, they do not have a nuke plant. 

Incandescent lightbulbs dont last a long time here.  Not sure why.  The more modern electronic light bulbs are hit and miss.  For every 4 we have bought, one dies within a month.  That makes them 30% more expensive than you expect.  Electronic bulbs are very big here.  Have been for many years.  The newer swirly types are taking over from the elongated tube types. 

Dont use surge proectors from back home.  They will blow up in a 220v plug. 

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8 Responses to “Learning electricity in Uruguay”

  1. Shirley said

    “If you’re sensitive to voltage, run your hand along the case of the laptop lightly. You’ll feel a vibration. That’s the 220 trying to escape through you.”

    I was wondering about that!! I felt this for the first time when using my laptop in Uruguay, and had wondered why I’d never noticed it before (in the States). I was hoping it didn’t signify an incipient problem with the disk drive.

    “Dont use surge proectors from back home. They will blow up in a 220v plug.”

    I fried two EuroSurges here. But they are designed for 220v. What’s going on? I had a local electrician try the second one, and he was mystified when it popped.

    So what do you use for surge protection? My Travel Smart all-in-one surge protector hasn’t fried, but the protection it offers is pretty minimal.

  2. urufish said

    Glad to hear you felt it too.. I was wondering if it was something in my genes :)… I dont mind the mild vibration sensation, but when sweaty skin comes in contact with a small metal point, like a screw, I jump big time.

    In the north, it’s still there but at 110v, it’s not noticeable. BTW, this happens even when it’s grounded properly. The laptop I use now has a ground, end to end. The ground in the house is brand new and was supposedly double checked by my electrician when we did the work.

    I used to use the big power bars with surge protection… expensive – around $30. You can buy them everywhere in Uruguay. Geant, Devoto, Tiende Ingles. After a couple of years without incident, I’ve taken to using nothing in Pocitos. On San Antonio, I still use the power bars…. you can never tell up there when something is going to happen.

  3. Enzo said

    Is it common to use a UPS? I have a nice UPS battery backup/surge protector on my rack, so whenever the power is out, I am still going. It is huge and weighs a ton, well not a ton but close to it, something like 75 pounds. 🙂 I don’t want to pack it for UY, so I was wondering if it is common there to have such a device? Are they expensive? We go back and forth about bringing electrical equipment, the pros and the cons. We don’t want to bring too many 110v devices that will require transformers, but maybe bringing one UPS and a transformer would allow us to run most of our electronics with conditioned 110v power output from the UPS.

  4. urufish said

    I’m going to try to condense this. Let’s hope it works.
    When we moved here, we packed a container (actually 1.5 containers). We brought everything that we owned… including the washer/dryer, a dozen computers/laptops/screens/printers/fax machines/scanners, toothbrushes, hair dryers, juicer, toaster, toaster oven, etc. etc. You get the idea. That worked because we were renovating a house and we could build in 220/110v service wherever we wanted to. We put 110v side by side 220v through the kitchen and laundry rooms. We put it in the rooms we had 110v ceiling fans. We put it in the master bathroom. We put it in the garage and upstairs on the terrace (for the 110v pressure washer). If you’re not renovating something where you can easily lay in 110v beside the 220v, you shouldn’t bother. Takes too many transformers. But if you’re looking for one room, like an electronics room – like my office here, you can use one or two 1000k xformers. that’s what I did in my office. I didn’t run 110v to it because it was too difficult and I could use 2 x 1000w transformers to run the whole thing… but no racks.. that was my office life – which I left behind.
    Now to your UPS question. NO. You cant bring one from home. But I’m glad you asked because I was dumb enough to bring mine (OK – it was free – just put in the container), but it was still dumb. Our UPS’s run on 110v/60. As soon as the frequency drifts outside of 59.5-60.5, it goes on UPS. Duhhhhh… so what do you think mine did…. it never once went on AC. Maybe you can figure a way to get into the code and change the reference cps, but I didn’t even want to think about doing that. I gave the UPS to my handyman who opened it up, took out the batteries and dumped the rest in the garbage.
    I had a UPS here for about a week. Something happened to the AC one day and it got fried. It was a brand new apartment building and they were screwing with the power for a few days. Never did replace it. I use laptops now for all the serious stuff.
    You will find UPS way more expensive here. But if you need one, put it on a U$S30 power bar with surge that you buy here in most big stores.
    Come to think of it, I did have a UPS here for a few years in the summer house. Power was crappy there and I had to work 4-6 hours a day, even on vacation. Cant be in the middle of a conference call and lose your phone… or be in the middle of recovering a server somewhere and your connection dies. Bad for your reputation.
    So the bottom line is if you need a UPS, buy one here with the U$S30 surge/power bar to protect it.
    Bring as many 110v appliances/toys as you want, just figure out how many xformers you need. Given a choice, buy them at home and bring them here. The only transformers I would buy here would be from the Casa de transformadores downtown. All the other stuff I’ve seen is cheap chinese crap. The ones I brought from Toronto are also chinese, but made to US/CAN standards. Way different from the junk down here. By the way, yours sounds like the APC’s we used at some of our remote sites. Is it an APC?

  5. Enzo said

    Yup, it’s an APC. We go back and forth on this electricity issue, bring or leave the electronics. More than likely we will leave them behind. We are not going to be sending down a container so we won’t have all that much luggage space anyhow. We don’t really want to get rid of the KitchenAid Mixer, Food Processor, Blender, equipment as well as consolidating the computer equipment. But we also want the least amount of hassle with the move and settle in process and not have to deal with the transformers and all that stuff. Thanks for the detailed feedback and report.

  6. […] additional info on this subject click here and here. Other posts in Expat TipsShould I Bring My Electrical Aplliances to Uruguay?Usufruct and […]

  7. FM said

    Here is my laptop experience “illimunating” experience:
    One day while sitting on a couch with my laptop on my bare thighs, my girlfriend comes and kiss me.
    What was that? Oh.. just a static shock surely!
    Ok, let’s do it again
    Kiss still a definite shocking experience!
    Now if my girlfriend’s friend touch my finger, I can feel … euh… we are on the same wavelength!
    I get my voltmeter… a 24v dc current goes from laptop screw to floor! But only with one of my (many) laptop adapter! And only on one outlet and not the other one next to it!
    The outlet has 3 holes (therefore grounded). But! When I opened the outlet I realised that the middle ground “hole” has no wire attached to it! The outlet is not really grounded! . I then check all my outlets: about 1/4 of the 3 holes grounded outlet are not actually grounded!
    I got an electrician to ground my outlet (except a few where it was impossible because he could not pass any wire because of the cement).
    Now the laptop works normally on all TRULY grounded outlet
    And even though I find my girlfriend not as electrifying as before, I still love her!

  8. urufish said

    For some reason, electricians in Uruguay dont take grounding too seriously. We have the same experience in our remodelled house.

    The worst experience for us is the microwave in the kitchen. The socket is 3 pins. It’s supposed to be grounded, but if you touch it without rubber bottom shoes, you will get an unhappy shock. Not just a little spark.. You get the finger numbing kind.

    I’ve been a bad boy. Instead of fixing it, we make sure we’re wearing shoes before we touch it 🙂 One day, I will get around to it. I’m becoming more Uruguayo with each day.

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