North American Voltage Ranges: Why You Need a Voltage Converter

In the United States and Canada, the power grid is a split-phase system that supplies power to your house at a high voltage. That voltage is divided in half before it's routed throughout your home. Most people know about and use 110, 115, 120, or 125 volts interchangeably to describe the power that comes out of a standard wall socket. Similarly, 220, 230, 240, and 250 volts are used to describe the higher voltage range that is used to supply power to larger appliances, like washing machines. But what are there all these different terms, and how should they be used when discussing voltage ranges?

  1. The designations "110 volt" and "220 volt" represent an older, out of date standard that's no longer found in new equipment. However, this standard is still familiar to many people, so it remains in use.
  2. The terms "115 volt" and "230 volt" come from product design standards. Electrical devices are usually designed to operate in this range, plus or minus 10 percent. This makes it easier for homeowners to find an outlet that will power their device.
  3. The power delivered to your home is 120 or 240 volts. This is called "nominal voltage." That means it's the standard voltage as measured at the transformer outside your home. Nominal voltage can vary up to plus or minus 5 percent from its stated definition.
  4. The outlets, plugs, and switches in your home can handle higher levels of power. They can take up to 125 or 250 volts, depending on the nominal voltage. That's the upper end of the voltage range for both the power grid and the typical wall socket in your home.

This differs greatly from European power. While a typical outlet in the United States provides power at around 120 volts, a European outlet takes 220 volts. This is a common worry for travelers, who want to ensure that their small appliances won't be destroyed by higher voltages in another country.

If you're worried about getting the right voltage for your appliances within their country of origin, you don't have to. Electrical equipment can accept variations of 10 percent, but the utility company will only vary by 5 percent in the voltage they deliver. You'll find that the levels match up fairly well. Of course, if you're working with European appliances in the US or vice versa, that's another story.

If you have an outlet that will only give 125 volts but need to power equipment that accepts higher voltage, make sure to visit our voltage converter page. There, you will find portable voltage converters that make it easy to charge vehicles, hook up high-powered equipment, and power other 220-volt devices. Don't go another day trying to figure out a way to plug in your portable cleaning equipment without unplugging your client's washing machine. Invest in a voltage converter today.