The Circuit Detective    -  Brit/American Electric Lingo

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UK- USA Electrical Differences

Almost 5% of visitors to my site are from the UK. To help them feel more at home, I offer this UK- USA Electrical Differences chart.

Within a country there will be some variation in electrical terminology, but between two that have the same language, the generally accepted lingo can be markedly different. In the electrical trade, some of this is due to actual differences in materials, installation, and regulations.

Here are some differences that I have been able to gather from several sites on the internet (not from any experience by me abroad). Please offer me additions. corrections, and comments (larry "at" thecircuitdetective dott com), especially if you are a tradesperson or do have dual-nation experience. Also see my American home electrical glossary.

UK  US / Canada Comments
Tension  Voltage
Domestic  Residential  
Mains  Utility power  
Electrics  Electrical Matters  
Point  Location  
Supplies  Service  
Consumer unit  Panel  
Miniature circuit breaker  Circuit breaker  
RCBO  GFI breaker  
Ring main or ring circuit  n/a  
Radial circuit  Branch circuit  
Core  Wire  
Live  Hot This is hotter (230v to earth) in UK than in USA (120v)
Neutral  Neutral  
Earth  Ground  
Multi-strand  Stranded A core/wire type
2 core and earth:
  red, black,
  brown, blue,
  2-wire with ground:
  black, white,
Wires in cables:
 Neutral is:
  black or blue (UK)
  white (US)
 Ground is:
  green/yellow (UK)
  bare or green (US)
3 core and earth:
  blue, yellow, red,
  gray, black, brown,
  3-wire with ground:
  black, white, red,
Mounting box  Outlet box  
Junction box  Junction box  
Ceiling rose  Ceiling light box  
n/a  Wirenut UK terminations are part of device or fixture
One-way  (Single location) Switch system
Two-way  (Two locations) Switch system
Changeover  Three-way Switch type
Powerpoint  Receptacle outlet  
Double plug socket  Duplex receptacle  
Socket  Receptacle  
RCD  GFI (GFCI) 30ma trip-setting in UK, 5ma in USA
Fitting  Fixture Lights
Flex  Cord  

So a UK visitor here may wonder if my website is of any use for, say, troubleshooting UK electrical problems. Good question. In general, I would say No, since the applicability of things here in the colonies to back home will never be certain. But, again in general, I will say that the basic ideas will apply. I am thinking especially of the overall approach in the Troubleshooting page.

I am fascinated and unsure how problems on a ring circuit would be troubleshot. One bad connection along the ring wouldn't make itself known until a second one on the same line (live or else neutral) showed up. If one of the two were discovered, the other should be pursued also, but finding either would be a bit different than what I suggest about Locating an open.

Yes, UK- USA electrical differences are more than just a difference in words.

© 2009 Larry Dimock

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