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# Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/03/2013 12:56 AM

Can anyone tell me - in a power socket there are three outlets. One is earth. What are the other two and are they interchangeable (and why/why not?)

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#1

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 1:19 AM

No, they are not interchangeable. The wider blade is neutral, which is supposed to be at the same potential as ground (the rounded prong). The narrower blade is at 120 volts compared to the other two.

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#2

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 1:36 AM

Why Not?

It's AC - phase and Neutral will cycle every 50/60 hz.

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#3

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 1:40 AM

Because neutral is at zero voltage to ground, while the phase oscillates between +120 and -120 volts. They are NOT the same.

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#4

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 1:54 AM

If I were to put a tester in the Live Phase - I will get voltage . Neutral will give me no voltage. This is when the circuit is not complete.

The return part for the phase is through the neutral , when the electrical circuit is complete - The phase and neutral will oscillate at the same frequency.

If I place a AC plug to the socket or invert and put it to the socket - It should nto matter.

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#5

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 2:10 AM

Completely wrong, and dangerous.

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#6

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 2:12 AM

Kindly correct?

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#7

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 2:19 AM

#3↑

The neutral is at zero volts to ground, and it does not oscillate w.r.t. ground, unless it accidentally becomes disconnected.

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#8

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 2:34 AM

So is this true?

"The ground slot and the neutral slot of an outlet are identical. That is, if you go back to the breaker box, you will find that the neutral and ground wires from all of the outlets go to the same place. They all connect to ground."

(I got it off the web - google it and you'll probably find the page)...

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#10

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:10 AM

Yes, they are normally electrically connected back at the circuit breaker box, unless one becomes accidentally loose. (This is in the U.S.; other places may do things differently.) If you were open the box, there will be one or two small bus bars. The white wires connected to them are neutral wires; the green or bare wires are ground wires.

The "hot" wires (black or sometimes red) and the neutral wires together carry electricity to/from the appliance. The ground wires do not normally carry current, and are typically connected to the frames of the appliances.

This is a simplified version; there are some possible exceptions and special cases.

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#11

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:18 AM

I'm in Australia (and you're up too late) but I guess it would be pretty similar... we have an earth down the bottom and then two prongs at about 45 degrees above them - (so. like yours, can't be reversed for an earthless plug).

And I've heard electricians talk of the two as active and neutral - so I'm guessing that's exactly as in the US (except we're at 240V - I guess because we are twice as awesome or something like that).

Thanks for your really clear explanations!

Cheers

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#16

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:41 AM

Here's where the U.S./Australia differences might get confusing. If your plugs are correctly described as active and neutral, then the active prong is at 240 volts w.r.t. both neutral and ground, which are zero volts to each other.

In the U.S., we mostly have 240 volts with a center tap, which is grounded. This gives 120 volts to ground in each direction from center. Most appliances are 120 volts, using one active, one neutral, and one ground wire. Larger appliances like water heaters, stoves, and air conditioners, are 240 volts. They use the two active wires, possibly but not always a neutral, and a ground.

My earlier comments all pertained to the 120 volt configuration for typical sockets as used for the smaller appliances. My apologies for any confusion that may have caused.

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#17

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:46 AM

Thanks again - much appreciated.

Oh - and don't worry - I'm not trying to pick up tips for rewiring my house ... just curious as to how it all fits together.

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#14

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:33 AM

The conductors do different jobs. The neutral is there to go with the active/hot/live to create a current-carrying circuit. The earth/ground is there to carry the fault current until the moment the circuit protective device at the dis-board end of the active/hot/live operates so as to disconnect it. Further, in the BS1363-series of fused plugs there is an additional circuit protective device within the plug, which is there to protect the cord downstream.

This is really basic stuff.

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#15

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:38 AM

Thanks PWS - nicely explained

and... um... regarding "this is really basic stuff" - was that meant to suggest I shouldn't be asking it here?

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#18

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:46 AM

There's plenty on these sorts of topics available with a simple internet search.

Just change up a gear.

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#25

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 11:03 AM

ahh - got it... trouble is roughly 12.5% of such internet searches end up with answer A, 13.85% end up with answer B... and 73.65% trail off into meaningless dribble land.

The people on this forum seemed to have an approach of: ask a question - get a response - have a good argument - get teased a bit - get back to work. Seemed a good place to try my luck!

Thanks again.

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#48

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 7:48 AM

"Ask a question - get a response - have a good argument - get teased a bit - get back to work."

I think this may be the best possible version of us as a group!

-A-

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#45

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 7:08 AM

Ground is ground the world around! At least that is what I was taught. A neutral wire can and will at times actually carry current and is potentially dangerous. Ground is strictly a safety and should not carry a current (in theory) hence the design of GFCI's. Others are correct that in most cases a ground and neutral buss are connected in a main panel. Not true in a service panel having power delivered from the main panel. There the ground and neutral MUST be isolated from each (per code here in Indiana). Ultimately the neutral makes a return all the way back to the power plant, wherever that may be. Hence why on 3 phase power line you can count 3 larger wires (Phase 1,2,3) and a 4th smaller wire which the neutral.

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#46

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 7:24 AM

Not entirely correct, but not in a way that greatly influences the present topic.

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#49

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 7:57 AM

However neutral may or may not be grounded.

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#54

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 4:37 PM

Actually your smaller wire would be ground. Unless you had to pull a 5th wire in for a 110 volt control circuit.

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#9

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 2:35 AM

I understood the question in a different way. My bad.

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#12

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:20 AM

No worries - good discussion - and you put the question better than I did so that helped get the right answer!

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#13

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 3:21 AM

You better go and study a bit deeper your basic electrical engineering before you or someone you advice got killed by your dangerous advice.

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#20

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 4:27 AM

My Comment went missing-

This -

Are you telling me that I cannot interchange this plug in a 220V AC Socket because it is hazardous ?

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#21

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 4:50 AM

That looks like a type C 2-pin Europlug. Reversing it is not "dangerous" in itself, though if the appliance has a switch on it in the live conductor, when the plug is reversed the switch becomes connected to the neutral of the supply and the live of the supply becomes unswitched. The only danger arises if someone services the appliance and assumes that, because it is switched off even though plugged in, there is no power on it; touching the appliance conductor labelled neutral in that case would mean the receipt of an electric shock. Removing the plug from the socket is the only way that service safety can be assured while using reversible plugs.

Non-reversible plug-and-socket systems are preferable on that basis, and are standard in many parts of the world.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets

See #19↓

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#22

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 5:01 AM

We do not use non-reversible plug-sockets here - Middle East , atleast i've not seen any.

Agreed, Its not at all smart to service an appliance that's plugged into a live socket.

A two pole-single throw isolator between the two wires could avoid this.

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#23

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 5:33 AM

Many appliances have a single pole switch in the live lead only, particularly if the switch is housed within the appliance's casing.

Most "Torpedo" switches fitted in the leads of flexible cables feeding self-standing lighting are usually double pole for that reason; the most common service activity is the replacement of a blown lamp and there is a hazard from the two pins of a bayonet fitting and from the internal surfaces of an Edison Screw fitting in the lamp housing. The double pole switch minimises the hazard provided the individual servicing the lighting remembers to turn off before starting.

One can only go so far. One cannot provide against an inate desire to achieve a Darwin Award.

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#26

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 12:42 PM

I used to work for a company that made industrial lighting. For the US market we were required to have a label on the fitting warning of the danger of sticking fingers into the light socket.

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#44

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 6:34 AM

What - like those messages on the side mirrors of cars?

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#53

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 11:51 AM

Yes, we are definitely a nation with an oversupply of simple-minded folk. Our food label laws require that all ingredients be listed and contents which are known allergens be listed.

My favorite label in the grocery store is a can of mixed nuts. On the front of the can are the words "Mixed Nuts" and a picture of a bowl of nuts. Under the picture is a written description of the contents. On the back of the can is the Ingredients List; that is, the description from the front of the can is reprinted in a smaller font but with better contrast to ensure legibility. Under the Ingredients List is the Allergens List which warns you "This product contains..." and again we have a list of the nuts within. Finally, there is one more allergen warning "Made in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts."

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#33

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 2:20 AM

I think that answer is wrong, and dangerous, Tornado. I think he's talking about a 120vac household power plug, and the voltage between neutral/ground and the {hot/small/black wire/gold blade/screw} is a 0-120v sine wave. On the other leg of the normal 240vac center-tapped feed, the 0-120v sine wave is in phase with the other voltage, but of opposite sign. I could be wrong, but I don't think so...

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#36

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/04/2013 2:57 AM

That does not contradict what I said. Moreover, his plugs are 240 to ground, w/o center tapping so far as I know.

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#19

### Re: power sockets - so how do they work?

09/03/2013 4:10 AM

What this highlights is that the standards are not common across the world. We can't assume that our domestic situation is the same everywhere, not just for electrics but also for so many other things.

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#24

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/03/2013 7:43 AM

one is wired with a white wire...neutral, the other is a black wire, the "hot wire( in the states)

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#27

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/03/2013 1:05 PM

Power distribution is standardized only to a region. In some locations the non-earth leads are interchangeable. In these locations neither terminal should be called a neutral because a neutral is also connected to earth. In regions with a neutral, some equipment can be interchangeably connected with no apparent effect. Often a potentially dangerous failure can now happen but the failure is so infrequent that people do not realize that they were in danger.

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#28

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/03/2013 10:49 PM

You can swap them if you want . The problem will be when you switch the appliance off, it will turn off but you will still have a live potential to earth, can be fatal.

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#29

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/03/2013 11:34 PM

A very good summation of the questions on this forum is: If you have to ask the questions that have been posted here you should not even plug a plug into a socket. Get some more education on the subject and become more knowledgeable on the subject. There are many sources and the internet is a good place to start, usually for free.

If you don't increase your knowledge you may have no reason to know any of this in days to come. Your family may be enjoying themselves off of your cash and life insurance policy. Untrained people playing with electricity are the most dangerous ones. You can never tell when it is going to happen!

Good Luck, Old Salt

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#30

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 1:32 AM

What is it with this forum? "Get some more education on the subject"... is that not what I was doing by asking an obviously novice question of people knowledgeable in the subject? I'm not asking so I can dig into a power socket (it's illegal and bloody stupid and I never had any intention of going near one). I'm asking because I am not an electrical engineer but I am genuinely interested to learn how things work.

The internet is full of dangerously conflicting advice so I came to a forum where engineers hang out to get a real answer.

When I ask the question here, most people are very happy to supply answers, but then there's a group who don't want to answer (begging the question why did they click on the link and read it if it's such a waste of time) but do want to tell me that I shouldn't be asking the question here.

If I don't understand, I ask. Then I do understand. If it's too simple for your massive intellect, just click on another link.

If you have no interest in sharing your knowledge and helping people understand the subject you have spent a lifetime learning about, then why don't you simply ignore my question and move on with your life?

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#31

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 1:48 AM

If you want to ask questions on a forum, be prepared for all types of answers.Just relax.

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#32

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 1:53 AM

you have a point, but you would be better off (and therefore getting a better reception to your questions) explaining why you are asking these type of questions. They are extremely basic, and to me they seem like homework from a 1st year technical student, that can't be bother to do a little work on his own.

Only when pushed to you say you've searched the internet, and you quote a lot of statistics as to the type and frequency of answers you received, and that in itself is slightly confusing to your intent.

Did I miss the bit where you mentioned you are a student of electricity, or a master of wiring, or a professors of the obvious? Your questions, to me seem strange.... I've never read in any CR4 forum questions that indicate a complete lack of even the basic knowledge of a subject as you've demonstrated.

So come on, tell us all why you are asking these questions, and 'mustafamohd', you have jump on this "band wagon" and are proving to be just as devoid of basic knowledge as 'questions questions'.

Are you two a double act following in the footsteps of those famous pair of actors, Jim Carrey & Jeff Daniels?

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#34

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 2:28 AM

Devoid of basics ?

Look it up. Its been posted up on these comments -

There are different sockets in different parts of the world. We can interchange plug pins where I live.

Instead of being harsh - you can choose to ignore such questions. Its the internet.

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#37

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 2:59 AM

You should explain where you live. Interchangeable plug pins are not a very safe design.

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#38

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 3:14 AM

I have . Twice.

Even if it is - it exists. Its not right to tell that its completely wrong without checking the facts that such designs do prevail.

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#40

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 3:39 AM

Only once that I could find, and only in the Middle East, which is not specific. Also, I don't think such designs prevail around the world. And then, even if they do, they are not as safe. Nor did I say it was completely wrong, even though it may be pretty close.

I consider you, however, to be spectacularly dangerous, especially because of stubbornness.

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#35

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 2:34 AM

If I ask a question and you don't want to answer it because you are suspicious I am a Soviet mole, just move on with your life.

WTF do you care why I ask the question - I'm hardly going to give my life story so I can help precious snobs decide whether I am worthy of their pearls of wisdom.

Some people choose to answer a direct question with a direct answer. When they do I thank them for their time.

The rest of you can bite me.

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#39

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 3:25 AM

Well.. I shall attempt to explain the etiquette and what is behind it, so hopefully it will leave you in no doubt why you have received such a reception.

While many here on this forum CR4 have many, many years of experience and knowledge in certain fields, and by the very fact that they are here, they want to willingly share that knowledge. It is the ultimate 'Pay it forward'.

If I and other had not had mentors, instructors and experienced people to work with and along side, we would be like you, lacking!

but and I can speak for many here, we had to show we could think and work on our own, find out answers to questions, but we (I know I had to) had to show that we were working towards that answer. Ok, we are on the internet, but by writing a post and you seem to have a good command of the english language, you can explain what you what to achieve and why. Remember, demanding an answer will not get you anywhere.. be nice! Ask nicely, and if you don't like the reply, take a look at the way you asked the question

I noted in another post that someone asked why you are both being annoying, and to be honest, you both have not done yourselves any favours here in CR4.

You want help and yes you do say thank you, but your questions to those that have been here EVEN longer than me, seem like homework questions..... and to be honest they are very strange.

You BOTH need to work on your bedside manner in this forum or you'll NEVER get another answer out of anyone. You notice I say "BOTH".. I actually think you are one in the same person 'mustafamohd' AND 'questions questions'. Maybe the moderators can check this out!

I wish you the very best in your quest for an explanation to your questions, generators, super conductors and power outlets, and you live a long and safe life, and I would offer these words of advice...

Be nice, and people will be nice to you in return, smile when you type and your personality will come over the internet.

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#41

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 3:56 AM

"WTF do you care why I ask the question - I'm hardly going to give my life story so I can help precious snobs decide whether I am worthy of their pearls of wisdom."

Maintaining privacy is one thing; failure to provide necessary background information is another. When you failed to indicate where you are, you left the door wide open for misleading or incorrect answers, because ELECTRICAL SOCKETS DIFFER BY PLACE. Local standards require use of plugs and sockets in dozens of different configuration. We don't want your life story - but a hint as to which sort of socket you meant could save your life.

As others have pointed out: polite questions get polite answers. Showing signs of maturity would also help, but I haven't seen them from you.

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#43

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 6:11 AM

GA!!

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#50

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 10:32 AM

questionsquestions-

re: post #29

This answer was not intended to offend anyone, although it may have seemed that way to a minority of readers. It was simply to say that if someone was asking questions in the level of electrical knowledge that the original question and subsequent questions were indicating, then the OP should be looking for more training at other than this type of forum. Also, there are many sites on the internet that can give you this beginning knowledge without having to spend \$30.00-\$80.00 for a 120 page book. I am certainly not a proponent of the theory that anything on paper is the truth but, as with anything, it is up to the reader to determine the validity of any written matter.

It doesn't take a brilliant person to correctly answer the questions posted. More important is a clear, concise and easily understood answer. Some people, myself included, can sometimes phrase things that are ridiculous and clearly unbelievable sound like extremely intelligent and acceptable answers. How about an "Experimental Experiment"? Likewise there are answers that are simply posted to confuse people, inflate the authors ego and lastly provide someone with a warped sense of humor some enjoyment. Can you tell the difference?

Isn't this quite a tip for the inexperienced?

Good Luck, Old Salt

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#51

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 11:12 AM

well said. GA from me!

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#52

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 11:31 AM

Thank you. Yours is short, concise, right to the point, easily understood and seems to come from a very astute thinker. GA from me!

Good Luck, Old Salt

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Guru

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#42

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 4:35 AM

When working on something (say a radio) and it is plugged in, the metal chassis is used as ground. And to ground there is no potential however if you switch the hot and neutral wires the chassis will now have full line potential and while working on this radio you (not knowing the chassis is hot) you become the path to ground!

This is why you shouldn't exchange the hot and neutral wires.

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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: USA
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#47

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 7:42 AM

Exactly. That was / used to be a common problem for reversible drills with metal body and only 2 prong plug in.

It's common to inadvertently hit wiring when drilling (randomly) in walls... with the prongs reversed, the user becomes excited, rather than having the 3rd earth ground prong.

Guru

Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Japan
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#55

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/04/2013 8:54 PM

Well i am from Holland and live in Japan, the plugs in Holland earthed an un-earthed can be put either way in the socket, the Japanese un-earthed one can also put either way into the socket, while the earthed has only one correct position.

Electrically there is a difference depending on how you insert the plug into the socket but functionally there is no difference.

(CR4 first Electrotroll?)

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#56

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/05/2013 7:08 AM

In a Single phase 3 Pin Plug and socket system, the earth pin is prominent (bigger) and placed at the top of apex of the triangle formed by the 3 pins. The other two pins are the Line and Neutral which are identical to each other. However if you see the attached photos, all 3 pins (both in the plug and the socket receptacle) are clearly identified. If during the installation (by a skilled electrician) these markings are followed, along with the basic knowledge of single pole switch to be provided in the line wire (again the skilled electrician should know) the installation will automatically be safe. So even if both the pins are physically identical, each are identified for a specific purpose, which has to be followed for a safe installation.

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#57

### Re: Power Sockets - So How Do They Work?

09/07/2013 9:16 PM

It is only a matter of how the net is build.

Most od the posters are right - it does matter when a net is used with the neutral or zero as a mid tap. See US, Canada and yes, the Bahamas.

All over the world these nets are known for the worst on earth.

The safest is Germany and there 220 Volts/50 Hz is used.

Even in the industrial single phase connector, they make no difference on how the plug goes in the outlet. The 19mm configuration is quasi standard for Europe.

Belgium has a pin and the plug goes only one way into the outlet. It has advantages for e.g. audio amplifiers. In big audio batteries it is essential that all the amps are in phase from the power supply, otherwise they may produce hum.

Same goes for light consoles in theaters.

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