When I took as assignment to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, I knew it wasn’t going to be like living the states. Sure there are plenty of similarities but those didn’t seem so daunting. It was the differences that suddenly started to become important. One big difference is the electricity in Europe is 220 volts. How was I going to run my electrical appliances?
Was there a way I could still use my electrical appliances?
I didn’t know. So I added it to my list of things to ask my sponsor. When I finally talked to him on the phone, he had a simple, but complex answer: Transformers.
What are transformers?
Transformers convert electricity from one type to another. The type we use in Germany convert 220 volts to 110 volts. That’s the easy part.
What’s the hard part?
The hard part isn’t really so hard. You just have to do a little math to know if a transformer can handle the load you’ll be asking of it. Just find out how many amps of current your electrical device uses. Multiply times 110 and that’s how many watts your device needs. If that number is about the same or less than your transformer’s capacity you’ll be ok.
Or will it be ok?
When you turn an electrical device on, the initial surge has a spike on demand to the transformer. if you double the watts your appliance uses and the transformer is still about that amount or greater, you should fine. For example:
3 amp device = 3 x 110 = 330 watts
If you double this it’s 660 watts so I would use a 750 watts transformer (or higher). This will give you a nice safety cushion. So now that we know how to use a transformer, where do we get them?
We can find transformers in several places
The easiest place to find transformers is the base exchange. They are new, have a warranty, the AAFES refund policy and are the most expensive. (There’s always a catch isn’t there?). What if you want to save some money?
You can find pre-owned transformers in several good places.
The first of these places is the thrift shop on base. People moving out sell things are greatly reduced prices here and you can find transformers here but not all the time. The thrift shop has limited space and it’s based on what people bring in. Don’t count on finding what you want there. It’s a treasure hunt. You might not find transformers there.
So where else can you look for inexpensive transformers?
The base newspaper and local community websites have classified ads. These will usually have listing with a collection of things families are trying to sell before they move. You have to be quick with these as once the base newspaper hits the stand, start scanning the classified ads right away to find anyone selling used transformers. What if you can’t find anyone selling pre-owned transformers? What else can you do?
You can decide to use 220 volt appliances
This will save you money in the long run if you end up staying in Europe for a few years. Transformers add electrical overhead about the same as a night light. It’s not much but if you have many in your house, it adds up. Buying 220 volt or dual voltage appliances goes a long way to easing the electrical bill. Because electricity is more expensive in Europe than it is in the United States, if you pay an electric bill, you’ll appreciate having 220 volt appliances. It’s also nice not to have to drag the transformer around with you!
Transformers are easy to use but do add to your electric bill slightly. They are sometimes heavy and inconvenient to use, so consider replacing your 110 volt appliances with 220 volt appliances if you are planning on staying in Europe for several years or longer. If you do decide to stick with your 110 volt appliances, transformers are easy to find and easy to sell when you move and they don’t wear out.