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Dying to Change Plugs and Sockets?

My first comment has to be:

WARNING: Do not attempt ANY electrical work unless you are competent to do so.

Electricity is dangerous and can be hazardous. If you are in any doubt whatsoever about your capacity to complete the work safely you should call a qualified electrician to do the work. In some countries it may be illegal for unqualified persons to undertake electrical works.

A common problem for people who move from the UK to European countries and indeed to many other parts of the world is the fact that although the voltage may be the same or very similar to that used in the UK the standard UK mains plug is not compatible with the available electrical outlets.

The UK mains plug (made to British Standard BS1363) is the safest in the world, when used in conjunction with the proper fuse for the job and the correct wiring in both the device and in the home

It is the only plug that has a safety fuse designed to ‘blow’ (that is stop working and stop the flow of electricity) if a fault develops in the equipment that causes too much current to be drawn from the supply.

Most European countries use the Schuko plug for earthed devices. ‘Schuko’ is a short form of the German term Schutzkontakt (literally: protective contact), which simply indicates that the plug and socket are equipped with protective earth contacts (in the form of clips and strips rather than holes and pins). Schuko connectors are normally used on circuits with 230 volts, 50 Hz, for currents up to 16 amps.

The standard Schuko plug is known as the ‘Type F’ or ‘CEE 7/4’ connector. It features two round pins of 4.8 mm diameter 19 mm long with centres 19 mm apart for the live and neutral contacts, plus two flat contact areas on the top and bottom edge of the plug for the protective earth (ground). Schuko sockets form a cavity into which the plug is inserted. Schuko plugs and sockets are symmetrical AC connectors which means that they can be mated in two ways. Therefore the live and neutral can arrive on either pin at the consuming device.

However, France and Belgium use a slightly modified version that has a polarising earth pin in the socket. For this reason the most common modern Schuko connectors are a hybrid known as the ‘CEE 7/7’ connector which has an additional hole that also accommodates the earth pin of French and Belgian sockets.

This plug can therefore be used throughout Europe as well as in Algeria, American Samoa, Aruba, Azores, Balearic Islands, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Chad, Croatia, El Salvador, Finland, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Jordan, Korea, Laos, Luxembourg, Madeira, Monaco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Niger, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Suriname, Sweden, Turkey, and Uruguay amongst others.

So ... do you really need to change those plugs?

Before jumping into modifying your equipment it is worth taking the time to consider whether that is the best way forward. For those going abroad for a short period, using adaptors or hiring or buying local equipment may be the best way to proceed, and if emigrating permanently it may even prove beneficial to start again at the new location.

In many parts of the world the cost of new equipment is less than in the UK and even if it is not, the cost of purchasing new may still be less than the combined cost of shipping your existing equipment abroad and performing the necessary conversions, even without considering the second hand value of the product if you sell it before you leave.

In some countries, Bulgaria included, you could actually come away with a profit by selling your old equipment in the UK and buying new abroad when you take all these factors into consideration.

If you really do need or want to take UK equipment with you it may be sensible to purchase a UK multi-way extension with a suitable foreign plug connector fitted so that you can safely continue to use the UK products without modification. Such leads are readily available for use in almost any country in the world that uses 230 - 250v AC as their mains supply.

For many devices (for example Computers) the cable assembly is removable, so the best way to deal with this is to replace the entire cable. This takes almost no time at all, has the advantage of having a brand new approved connector, and is also an inexpensive option since a replacement Schuko cable with a C13 line socket for a computer is readily available for less than £2.50.

Many other connections are available including the C5 (cloverleaf, commonly used with Laptop computers, projectors etc.) and C7 (figure eight, radio or calculator) connectors.
If the cable assembly is not replaceable on your appliance, you will have to think seriously about changing the connectors or having them changed for you.

Changing the Plug

If you have decided that you really do want to go ahead with changing the connectors on your equipment yourself and you are satisfied that you are competent to do so, you will need the following items:

  • A flat headed electrical screwdriver
  • A set of electrical wire cutters
  • Cable strippers or hobby knife
  • The relevant number of rewireable Schuko plugs

This article assumes that you will use the standard Schuko plugs as seen on our web site. If you purchase plugs elsewhere the basic principles will be the same but the specifics may differ slightly.

First make absolutely certain that there are no connections between the appliance and the mains power supply. Then take the UK plug and turn it over so that the pins face towards you. If there is a screw in between the pins you have a rewireable plug and it can be disassembled and the wires removed from inside the plug. If there is no screw on the underside then you have a moulded (non-rewireable) UK plug, and you will instead need to use the cutters to cut the plug completely away from the cable.

To remove the wires from a rewireable plug insert the screwdriver into the cover screw and turn it anti-clockwise until the cover of the plug comes loose and can be removed. Now turn the plug back over and you should be able to see inside the plug assembly. You should see three wires coloured Brown (Live) Blue (Neutral) and Green and Yellow (Earth) - if there are only two wires you are reading the wrong article, and should be using an EU 2 pin connector instead of a Schuko!

Insert the screwdriver into the slot on each of the internal screws and again turn anti-clockwise until they are loosened sufficiently to allow the wires to be removed. The cable grip is sometimes a screw down clamp and sometimes two flanges which the cable has been pushed into to make it secure. If the cable is held in place by a flange grip simply lift the cable out from the flanges. If the plug has a cable clamp fitted you will need to turn the plug over so that the pins face you again, and unscrew the clamp screws in the same way that you unscrewed the cover. You should now be able to pull the cable away, and discard the unwanted UK plug.

Now take the Schuko plug and remove the screw at the side that holds the casing together. Open the casing to expose the connection terminals and using the screwdriver loosen all three screws by turning them anti-clockwise. Do this until there is sufficient space to insert the cores of the individual wires of the cable, but not enough to allow the screw to fall out of the terminal. Using the screwdriver, unscrew the cable clamp and set the clamp and the screws carefully to one side - you will need them later!

If you removed the cable from a rewireable UK plug, cut the two longer wires to match the shortest wire. All three cores should now be the same length.

Holding the cut end of the cable next to the Earth terminal of the plug, line it up with the exit point and mark it just before the spot where it would pass through the cable clamp. Take the cable away from the plug and using a cable stripper, or a sharp knife, carefully remove the outer sheath from this portion of the cable at the mark you have just made. Be careful not to cut through the insulation of any individual wire! If you accidentally cut or otherwise damage any of the inner insulation you will have to cut the cable back beyond the damage and then start again.

You now need to measure the individual wires. Position the flex in the plug, with the end of the sheathed part on top of the flex clamp and the coloured wires pointing into the plug. Each wire should be long enough to connect firmly to the terminal, but not so long as to require folding back on itself when the plug casing is closed. Cut each wire at the appropriate point.

Next strip approximately 5mm of insulation off the end of each wire, preferably using wire strippers for safety although you can do it carefully with a sharp knife. When you have stripped each wire, carefully twist the strands of copper together.

Now we need to insert the individual cores into the terminals and tighten the screws down. Because the Schuko plug is a hybrid it DOES matter which wire goes to which terminal inside the plug, so take care to follow these directions implicitly.

It is essential when fitting the wires into place that you ensure that there is little or no bare copper wire visible outside the terminal and that the screw clamps directly onto the bare cable and not onto the insulation. You must also ensure that there are no loose strands of wire outside the terminal point and that the screw has been tightened down sufficiently to prevent the cable coming loose. If you do not tighten the screws properly and the wires work loose this could lead to arcing inside the plug, to fire, or even to death or serious injury. This is why we say that the job should only be done by someone who is competent - if you are in any doubt it’s not too late to have the job done by a professional. If you decide to go ahead, take great care!

Position the Schuko plug so that you can see inside it with the polarity point for the French socket at the top. Connect the Earth wire (Green and Yellow) to the centre terminal. Connect the Live wire (Brown) to the right hand terminal. Connect the Neutral wire to the left hand terminal. After termination pull firmly on each wire to make sure that it cannot come loose, and check again that there are no stray wire strands visible.

Once this is completed we can begin the final stage, re-assembling the Schuko plug ... make sure that the side of the plug where the cable clamp fits is fully closed and at right angles to the base. Make sure the outer sheath of the cable is in the correct position and that the inner cores do not pass over the area where the body screw will fit. Screw down the cable clamp to hold the wire in place.

Carefully close the other side of the plug, checking again that the inner cores are nowhere near the path of the body screw and that they are not accidentally trapped by any part of the plug body. Insert and screw down the body screw.

That should be it - job finished!

Chris Bray
Managing Director, Leads Direct