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Electric shocks using UK appliances in Spain

Postby dsri » Thu Apr 01, 2010 12:53 pm

Hi. We recently moved to an old farmhouse in Spain from the UK and are currently being sporadically shocked by UK appliances plugged into our sockets here. Any help would be very much appreciated!

Firstly, this is an overview of the system. It's 240V (I've measured it to confirm it actually is) I assume 50Hz and we have a 40 amp rated supply I think. From the supply it connects to a fuse box with a 25 amp master fuse across live and neutral. From the fuse box there is an old lighting ring extending like a giant web throughout the building and outside. It has a few plug sockets but we don't use them. This is unearthed and has a 10 amp fuse across the live only (I think - colour coding has not been used!). There are then two socket circuits each with around 12 plugpoints in total and each with a 15 amp fuse across the live and neutral. These circuits are earthed via a long (10m) cable which connects to an earth spike driven almost completely into soil.
Secondly, the appliances. All of them are fairly new, ie. post 2000, other than a couple of bits of musical equipment dating back to the mid 90s, I therefore assume all are double insulated if not earthed. We have some earthed appliances such as a microwave / convection oven, kettle, washing machine and fridge permanently connected. Most of the other appliances are lower power such as TV, PCs, etc. and/or are not earthed. As far as I know none have problems, because we used all bar the fridge and washer in the UK with no problems. We are still running a mix of UK and EU plugs, with the UK plugs normally going into bar multiadaptors which have an EU plug fitted for connection to the socket.
So the shocks: it doesn't happen all the time, but basically when it is happening we get small shocks off all sorts of appliances connected to both rings. For example off the usb ports on laptops (which aren't earthed) and, most intriguingly, if I plug my acoustic guitar into a pedal and then amp with an audio lead I get shocks off the strings - there is no actual physical contact between the connected pickup and the strings. We've also had shocks off the microwave casing (metal), which is earthed.
Earthing & other: One of my UK adaptors has a light to show when it is earthed. This normally lights but not always - oddly this seems to depend on which way up I plug it into the wall socket, so possible it's just a bad connection on that plug. We are in Galicia, northern Spain, and it's extremely wet and high humidity here, which may have some or no relevance.

I recognise that this is not a good situation but am hoping that someone here might have some ideas before I go and try my inadequate Spanish on a local electrician. Is this maybe some sort of static problem or a short circuit? Anything I can test out here using a multimeter?
We really don't enjoy the shocks and it's also putting me off everything other than fully acoustic guitar playing, so if anyone out there can help us... :o)
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Postby Perry525 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 4:07 pm

We seem to be an exception, in as much as we have single pole switches, whereas the rest of the world has double pole.
This means that in other countries there is no question as to how to wire a socket or plug, it just doesn't matter. You need to change the wiring on some sockets so that UK intended appliances with single pole switches are always plugged in the right way round. If you have old fashioned plugs on some things change them to three pin plugs.
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Postby ericmark » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:34 am

Spanish three pin plugs and sockets are like UK ones non reversible however much of Europe has adopted the German Schuko sockets which are not allowed in the UK because they are reversible.

Since one should not break the neutral wire except with double pole switching we in the UK can't subscribe to the idea of having an appliance with a fuse in the neutral so we also can't have reversible plugs except where double insulated items are being used from a single isolated supply like in a bathroom.

However until 2008 neither did we have RCD's on all sockets where in the rest of Europe the RCD has been used for many years.

I would guess that either your system has some missing RCD's or they don't work.

Early RCD's worked on voltage not current as all modern types and it was easy to by-pass the earth and render them useless although the test button would still work.

The meter to test a RCD is expensive and therefore likely cheapest option is to get it tested for you.

I think our Part P was introduced to be in line with Europe and I would be careful doing any DIY as you may find it is illegal. They also use split supplies and other different systems to UK including twin pole protective devices so consumer units designed for UK could be unsuitable for Spanish system.

There for you do need a Spanish electrician. Asking questions on British forums could give totally wrong answers and you really do need to ask questions local.
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Postby sparx » Mon Apr 05, 2010 10:34 am

Hi, it's been a while since I last worked in Spain, but
If the type of outlet is of the 'Shuko' type where the plug goes into a recess in the outlet you may find the earth is by way of a 'wiping' side contact rather than a 3rd pin as in UK.
your plug which will fit either way round may only have an earth contact on one side, or the outlet may only have one side contact earthed hence why earth only makes one way round. You need to check, change/mark them.
Lots of people moan about Spanish electrics but it is only a problem for Brits. Germans etc since the wiring was intended for locals who just don't use all the gadgets/ghizmos we do!
Hence 40A supply huge by local standards.
Most wiring done in flex conduit, single cables incomming via RCD, no busbars just wire links to MCB's in groups, Neutrals in seperate JB, all linked together.
Conduits going from 'arquettas' (boxes) at high level mainly lighting and low level mainly power.
Spanish draw tapes/'fish wires' the best made!
Wholesalers will only sell to registered electricians, unlike here !
I LIKE Spain !!!
regards Sparx
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