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Electricity in the Philippines for Expats and others who come from 110 volt countries
220 vs. 110 Volt Electricity in the Philippines for Expats and others who come from 110 volt countries.
Personally I enjoy the arguments about the electric service in the Philippines. I've been an electrician for 30+ years in the USA and I totally rewired my father-in-law's house in Sibonga, Cebu. I will try to address some of the issues about the electric service you will find in most of the Philippines, although I understand there are small areas of American style systems around the old US military bases.
"IDEALLY", here is what you "should" have in the majority of the Philippines: A transformer on a pole somewhere near your house, it will be serving several houses in the neighborhood. It will have 2 lugs on the secondary with 220 volts between them. There will be 1 wire from each lug going to each house. One and only one of the lugs "should" also have a second bare copper wire connected to it with the other wire and this bare wire will run down the pole to a ground rod at the base of the pole. The 2 large wires running to each house (service drop) will have the hot wire insulated and the other (neutral) may be bare or insulated. After passing through the electric meter these wires go to your fuse or breaker box. The hot wire will connect to the supply buss where the fuses or breakers are. The neutral wire will connect to the neutral buss which is directly mounted to the metal box. There SHOULD also be a bare wire going from the neutral buss to a copper ground rod at each house. From the fuse or breaker box there will be one black 220 volt hot wire from the fuse or breaker and one white neutral wire from the neutral buss for each circuit. This is what you should have in the majority of the simple Philippine 2 wire systems, please take note of the above Ideally and Should.
The Philippine system is a GROUNDED system because the neutral wire is/SHOULD be connected to a ground rod at the pole where the transformer is and a ground rod and/or cold water pipe at each house. This keeps the transformer secondary from floating: the neutral wire at zero volts and the hot wire about 220 volts, depending on the service company's supply voltage. The neutral wire will be at zero volts because it is connected to ground. If you have anything other than zero volts, you have a loose, dirty, or missing connection to the ground rod; or you are using your volt meter incorrectly (which is not unusual). The neutral wire is also called the "GROUNDED" wire and it should have white insulation throughout the house.
AS for the 3rd green or bare wire, which is missing most of the time in the Philippines, It is called the "GROUNDING" wire. It is connected to the neutral wire in the fuse/breaker box either in the same neutral buss mounted to the metal box or a separate GROUNDING buss, but they should be connected together and only in the fuse/breaker box, this is the one and only time they should ever be connected together. Throughout the house this GROUNDING wire should connect to the 3rd round prong of each receptacle, all metal electric switch/ receptacle boxes, green hex head GROUNDING screws, and eventually all metal from of all electric appliances. This keeps the metal parts of the electric system and appliances at zero volts. The same Zero volts your human body is, so no shocks.
Throughout the house the white GROUNDED wire is at zero volts and is a current carrying part of each circuit. The green or bare GROUNDING wire is also at zero volts, is not part of the circuit, and does not carry current (except in a fault). It's purpose is to keep all metal parts of the system and metal parts of the appliances at zero volts, and to trip the breaker or blow the fuse and shut the circuit down in the case of a fault.
As for fuses or breakers, there should be one, and only one, in each circuit and it should be in the hot wire. There should NEVER be a fuse or breaker in the neutral white GROUNDED wire, usually you will find this mistake in the old 2 fuse boxes. I have seen a fuse in the neutral a lot in the Philippines and some old installations in the US. If you find a fuse in the neutral GROUNDED wire, please remove it and connect the neutral GROUNDED wire direct. If you disagree with me and that fuse in the neutral ever blows, you may then understand why.
There is no magic electrical trick you can do to get 110 volts from the usual Philippine style 220 volt electric system. The ONLY way is to buy a 220 to 110 volt transformer.
Yes you can ship an American style breaker box to the Philippines and it will work fine, if you know what to do. The 2 hot busses will have to be connected together and tied to the one hot 220 volt wire in the Philippines. Yes, standard American single pole 110 volt breakers will work just fine on Philippine 220 volt systems, they are good to 300 volts. You will only need single pole breakers, NO/NONE/NEVER any 2 pole breakers. Also the same breaker on 220 volts will carry twice the power it carries on 110 volts. A 15 amp breaker carries only 1650 watts on 110 volts, but a whopping 3300 watts on 220 volts. So you will likely want/need the smallest breakers you can find.
I have no idea if an American style 110 volt ground fault or arc fault breakers will work on the Philippine system, I imagine you would blow the test button when you try to test them. I contacted the American manufacturer with this question, but they wouldn't answer. I imagine because of legal issues. You will have no use for the America style 2 pole GFCI's for you hot tub heater, I imagine no use for a hot tub either.
Now for the American style 110/220 volt system you might find around the old US military bases: The transformer on the pole will have 3 lugs for the secondary. The middle lug is the "center tap" and will be connected to the ground rod that should be at the bottom of the pole and at the ground rod that should be at each house. The second wire connected to this lug and running to each house may be called GROUNDED, neutral, or common. The other 2 lugs are the hot wires. Each hot wire will be 110 volts to the neutral/common/GROUNDED wire. And there will be also be 220 volts between the 2 hot wires if you leave the 3rd neutral/common/GROUNDED wire out of the circuit. The American style system is a single phase system even though there are 2 hot wires. One hot wire will be at +110 volts at exactly the same time the other hot wire is at -110 volts, thus they are in the same phase.
If there are any budding electrical engineers out there, please no arguments about American style 208 volt systems, I already know they use 2 phases from a three phase system. If you do have a 3 phase system for the secondary in your area of the Philippines, I think you will find it to be a 380 volt 3 phase "Y" tied secondary. Thus any phase to ground will be 220 volts.Besides, I thought engineers were supposed to drive trains?
If I can be of help or if anyone wants to argue (I enjoy both), you may contact me on or of the list.
PS,I understand Don Herrington, the list owner, especially enjoys discussions about electricity and tin roofs.