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Archive for July 8th, 2007

You’re no ‘PAL’ of mine

Posted by urufish on July 8, 2007


This post owes itself to the comment section in Brazzie’s http://uruguaydreaming.com/2007/07/07/the-appliance-dilemma/ post today.  I knew I had to write this when it got up to 12 comments and the day hasn’t even begun yet for a lot of us.  The post focuses on which 110v appliances (electrodomesticos) would be practical to bring with him (and by extension, readers) and which would be better off left at home.  At some point, we went off on 2 tangents (at least I did),  about how do you make these appliances work at home here and then we drifted off into home entertainment. 

For those of you who are just interested in knowing whether you can bring everything electrical and electronic with you, the simple answer doesn’t exist.  But a not too complicated answer would be yes, if you’re prepared to compromise a bit, spend a bit and do a little renovation where needed, (mostly kitchen and bathroom).  If you have what you consider a significant investment in appliances and electronics, you should consider bringing them with you.  Why?  Unless you’re doubly blessed, you dont get much for those things if you sell then on ebay or on the street.   You can buy replacements here and not spend a lot but what you get in return isn’t worth a lot either.  The chinese, reasonably priced goods here are often of poor quality and dont last as long as you’d like them to.  

Let’s start with the kitchen first.  The big stuff like refrigerators,  diswasher, iron, toaster, toaster oven, microwave, garberator, instant hot water, blender, mixmaster, juicer, elecrtric carving knife, expresso/capucino machine, waffle maker, washer and dryer (it’s kitchen here if you’re a cliff dweller and in most houses, it’s close enough to the kitchen to be kitchen).    Forget the electric stove or oven.  It’s a little too hungry for the inexpensive option below.  Of course, you may have others, but you get the idea.  If you really have to replace everything you own, what would it cost you?  More than U$S500?  If so, you should seriously consider bringing them with you. 

From personal experience, money aside, I can tell you that if you have stylish kitchen appliances, like toasters, microwaves, toaster oven, you wont find them here.  They’re either basic or those that tend to look nice, are cheap Chinese knockoffs that really aren’t well made.  

To support all your kitchen appliances, including the big stuff, you have a relatively simple option.  You can have a transformer made here, sized to fit your specific needs, that can be installed in a lower kitchen cabinet or if you’re lucky enough to have a small closet or alacena, even better.  You hire a competent electician to spec. this AND install 110v outlets in your kitchen where needed.  It’s usually neither difficult nor expensive to replace backsplashes here, which is where the new plugs will go.   To get to the other appliances, like the washer/dryer/dishwasher, the electrician will run wires behind the cabinets.  You see nothing.  You can do this to a lesser extent in a rental if you plan on staying a while.  The costs can be reduced by reducing the work.  Make sure the elecrician installs it to protect you from shock by using the proper eqipment and grounding it carefully. 

p4050003-large.jpg Typical 220v/110v kitchen setup.  From left to right.  Telephone jack.  110V twin outlet, 220V twin outlet (standard 3prong on top, high amperage below).  The toaster is American 110v.  The Dustbuster is Chinese 220v.  Take a very close look at the plugs.   They take 3 modern, straight-line, 3 prong plugs, centre ground.  If you put in a high current plug, it uses 2 modules.  Notice the 110v carefully.  They’re made to take i) the old, 2 prong non polarized plug.   ii) the newer 2 prong, polarized plug.   iii) the modern 3 prong ground plug.   iv)  a 2 prong Uruguay, 220v plug.  This is useful for modern power supplies, like those for laptops and cellphones which operate on 110v/220v.  This has mixed up my poor wife and even myself on more than one occasion.  We’ll put a 220v xformer in the 110v socket and wonder why everything’s dim.  Did that once with a hairdryer…  didn’t realize what I’d done ’til my arm got tired. 

You can do much the same for bathrooms.  You should be able to get by with a single 110V outlet with 2 plugs. 

p4050004-large.jpg  Typical 220v/110v bathroom setup.  From left to right.   110V twin outlet, 220V twin outlet (standard 3prong on top, high amperage below).  Notice the American electric toothbrush plugged into the 110v supply.  Notice the upper plug on the 220v outlet.  This is an American lamp, rated 110v.  We put a 220v lightbulb in it and it works just fine.  In the bottom, high voltage plug is a cellphone charger.

If you plan on putting your electronics in a central place, like the living room, you can bring a single, good quality 500w or 1000w transformer from home (or have one custom made here)  and place it behind the entertainment area. 

In the above examples, they will all run, practically speaking, as well as they did back home.  Even though Uruguay is a 50hz country, vs 60hz in North America, none of the applianes mentioned above should be affected.. with one possible exception.  Some clocks (older ones) dont have an onboard ‘brain’.  They use the electrical supply to measure time.  They’ll run slower.  A perfect example is an analog timer on something like a dryer.  You simply set it for less time.. about 15% less. 

p4050015-large.jpg This is the 110v transformer we put in our house.  We had the luxury of a full renovation, so we were able to place it out of the way, in the basement, and run a new service from it upstairs to the main electrical closet.  This is a 3 phase, 10kw transformer.  It was sized this big to run a full size American dryer.  If not for the dryer, we could get by on half this size.  This one cost U$S500.  A single phase, smaller unit would be much less. 

p4050006-large.jpg Special mention:  Lamps and light fixtures.  This is a simple answer.  Yes.  You can bring all your ‘standard’ lamps and fixtures with you.  The ONLY exception are those with special bulbs.  My wife and I bought this chandelier when we first got married.  NO WAY it wasn’t coming with us.  We searched around a bit when we got here and found the same ‘candle’ style bulbs from back home.  To convert this to 110v we just changed the 110v bulbs with 220v.  You can do this for chandeliers and lamps.  If the bulb is a special 110v that doesn’t exist in the 220v world, leave it at home but you wont know ’til you try.  We do have some special bulbs here, like the little halogens.  There’s a good chance you can get a 220v replacement for specialty bulbs.  

 p4050001-large.jpg  If you are planning to buy an apartment or a house AND you are planning on some renovations OR are OK with surface mounting wires in the modern, pleasant looking, thin raceways (that’s how we put up fixtures on ceilings where none existed before), or you have an existing fixture and the wire is accessible, you can bring 110v fixtures with you.  This is our kitchen fixture.  We bought it in Toronto.  Unfortunately, the bulbs it uses are NOT avaialble in 220v in Uruguay.  Too far to go to Hong Kong to get them.  The wire to the old chandelier ran right back to the 220v panel, so we just daisy chained it up to our 110v transformer and voila, 110v light fixtures.  No, you dont need a special light switch.  110v and 220v… all the same. 

p4050002-large.jpg If you have ceiling fans or wish to buy them before you leave beause the selection here is AWFUL.. and they’re much less costly at home, you can do the same as we discussed above in chandeliers/light fixtures.  Run 110v into an exhisting ceiling fixture or put a slim raceway up the wall and across the ceiling.  We bought this one at Home Depot the day before our container shipped.  Yes, it runs a little slower than at home but practically speaking, you wouldn’t notice the difference.  The remote controls work.  The lights work.  It’s perfect. 

 tablesaw.jpg Let’s not leave us guys out of this.  TOOLS.   NO PROBLEM.  Everything works.  Slightly slower speed.  If you’ve got a 7200rpm tool, it will run about 15% slower.  I’m unaware of any tools with onboard clocks.  My workshop is in my garage.  During the reno we ripped out some of the walls so it was easy to bring up a couple of 110v outlets into the area.  If you look at the pictures of the kitchen and bathroom above, you’ll see we trimmed the 110v outlets with silver.  Same thing in the garage.  Want to plug in the Makita, Milwaukee or Skil saw, go silver.  The battery stuff is charged using the same outlets. 

I hope you didn’t find this too confusing, because the next part, home entertainment is more complicated.  DVD’s, TV’s, DVD players and kids electronic games, like PS2 will probably give you trouble.  CD players, CD’s and home stereo, with 110V transformers will work just fine.  If you want the simple version, here’s the summary.  If you bring a TV from back home, it’s almost guaranteed you wont be able to watch TV.  If you bring your DVD player with your TV and a bunch of DVD’s, you’ll be able to watch them.  If you rent DVD’s here, you probably wont be able to play them.  But, if you want to bring these things, there are ways around the problems.  That’s the complicated part. 

Video in Uruguay uses the PAL-N encoding system.  TV stations here broadcast in PAL-N.  Whether you connect your TV to an antenna, rooftop or TVtop, to a cable outlet or a digital, set top box, you need a TV that decodes PAL-N.  Personally, I never heard of a TV sold to the general public in NA that decodes PAL-N.  If you have one, good for you.  Few if any of us are that fortunate.  If you have a good TV at home that you’d like to bring with you and have it work here, you’ll make a financial decision.  The ONLY solution I’m aware of that works in ALL cases, (not just ‘if’ such and such), requires you to purchase a ‘world’ PAL-x converter to NTSC.  The ONLY unit I’ve had experience with and am 100% CERTAIN WORKS UNDER ALL CONDITIONS is Samsung’s ‘World’ VCR (which I now believe is now made as a DVD unit).  The other, less costly converters require an intermediate device, usually a digital set top box.  This has some downsides.  The solution I refer to above does not.  When would you want to do this?  If you have a good, expensive rear projection or LCD or Plasma TV you want to keep.  Is it cheaper to ship it in your container, pay the U$S300 for the converter or is it cheaper to sell the TV and purchase a new one here.  The LCD’s here aren’t overly expensive.  But those are Chinese made and the quality has yet to prove itself over time.  You dont get Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, etc here cheap. 

OK.  So you know what to do about the TV.  Buy a converter for around U$S300 per EACH television brought from home if you want to watch public TV via cable or satellite.  Let’s move on to DVD’s and DVD players.

DVD’s and players have built in restrictions based on country groups or Region codes.  This was done to permit manufactuerers to charge more money for the same DVD based on the region’s ability to pay.   That’s not the official explanation.  It’s mine.  Because of this, your DVD player and your DVD’s from home play Region 1 DVD’s.  It’s unusual for ‘fixed’ DVD players to play multiple regions.  On the other hand, the more expensive version of those portable DVD players often do play DVD’s from many regions.  Why?  Because these were originally sold to the travelling public, often on international flights.  Wouldn’t do if they spent $1000 on a player in Los Angeles that wouldn’t play DVD’s rented in Tokyo.  This logic doesn’t extend to the units you buy and put in your family room.  Not likely you’ll be taking that under your arm to London or Paris.  So most of them in NA are made to play Region 1 only.  If you bring it here, it will play the DVD’s you bring,  but not the DVD’s you buy or rent here.  You need a multi-region player.  In my opinion, buy one here.  They’re not expensive.  The only trouble I ever had with one here was dirt.  Buy the DVD cleaner disk at home.  They’re more expensive here. 

Bring your DVD player anyway, just in case.  But the DVD player you buy here,  unless you buy the cheapest of them all, is multi-region.  Check the box to make sure.  Do NOT take the sales rep’s word for it.  A mid range, good quality, name brand player here like Phillips, plays all regions.  With one exception, which is why I recommend you bring your DVD player from home, RCE.  I dont personally know if this is implemented already, but it was talked about and may be or become an issue.  It’s a second layer of coding that affects Region 1 (American/Canadian) DVD’s that will NOT play on a multi-region player, like the ones you get here.  That’s why you want a backup–your player from back home.. assuming you’re bringing DVD’s with you. 

You’re lucky this is 2007.  In a little while, we’ll be adding another section here.  Blu-ray.  Cant wait. 

Reference documents you may find helpful:

Information on electrical plugs:  http://www.sonadistributors.com/elegu.asp

Information on DVD codes:  http://www.sonadistributors.com/tvguide.asp

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