Quick n’ dirty 220 volt converter
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This item was in a recent Cool Tools newsletter:

When I moved into my apartment I found it had a through-the-wall air conditioner sleeve. I ignored it and installed my window air conditioner. When that old AC died about 3 years ago, I was told by the co-op board that the rules had changed and I had to use the sleeve. I guess I should pay more attention to co-op board announcements. My problem was that next to the sleeve was a 110V outlet but every AC that fit the sleeve required 220V.

After being quoted over $1000 to run 220V to the sleeve I was desperate to find another solution. Luckily, I found the Quick 220 Power Converter. All it took was the 110V outlet near the sleeve and an extension cord from another 110V outlet on a different circuit. Instantly, I had two 220V outlets. And at $160.00 I was very happy with the price. They also throw in an outlet tester because both 110V outlets must be wired correctly (not something you can assume in an old apartment) for the Quick 220 to work. — Donnie B

This looked dangerous and not likely UL-approved when I first looked at it. Before you jump to conclusions about the apparent dangers, and the seemingly high price, read the comments at Cool Tools.

Easy 110 to 220 volt converter

10 thoughts on “Quick n’ dirty 220 volt converter

  1. User “Rudy” responds to concerns readers (and Cool Tool editors) have to the device:

    IAAPSE, (I am a product safety engineer). This product, though funny-looking, meets the (extensive) testing requirements of UL 1012 and thus I’m OK with it.

    The rest of the “cheap” suggestions in this thread however make me go “YEEE!” and run away.

    @David
    “Is this even allowed by the NEC?”

    The NEC only deals with wiring/install. It does not allow or disallow plugging in products, that’s a different set of standards. This Tool *breaks* what NEC requirements are trying to do, but it does not violate NEC.

    “Is this UL approved?”
    UL is a private lab in the semi-cartelized US product safety ecosystem. The other one is ETL. This product meets UL 1012, which is the correct standard. I have it here on my desk. If it passes that, it’s been certified by a third party to be safe in normal and single fault conditions under some pretty heavy testing for shock and fire hazards, hence the interlocks. I’d be pretty OK as a product safety guy using this… thing, even though at first viewing I look at it squinty-eyed.

    @Doctor
    “by swapping out the breaker for 2-pole and converting the neutral to second phase”

    Swapping hots at the breaker panel will work but you are likely not going to be covered by your home insurance if you do so. Having the work done by a licensed electrician means that they’re doing substantially the same work, yes, but you’re covered by the electrician’s insurance and thus your homeowners’ insurance, and that’s what you’re paying for.

    Don’t f*** around with your home’s electrical mains power unless you know what you’re doing, kids.

    @et

    “If not UL approved is it legal to sell? ”

    In the US, you can make and sell an electrical device for home use and there are no laws requiring that it be UL. (NEC only guarantees that wiring is installed to a standard, stuff that plugs in is UL. Stuff where compliance is required for sale fall under the CPSC (kid’s toys and the like), FDA, CDRH, et al., not UL. I’m not as familiar with CPSC stuff but I’m up to date on UL/ETL/CDRH requirements.

    US laws require OSHA compliance, which means that all *workplaces* must use UL appliances but the home is not so covered. Additionally, a lot of home insurance policies require that UL appliances must be used or they may not pay out in the event of a fire. (Incidentally, a lot of appliances sold by Walmart and the like lack UL/ETL, and your insurance may not pay out if one of them burns down your house, so please go check all of your appliances!)

    However, product safety in Europe is really bad – there, manufacturers must have a CE mark to sell in the EU, but they can *self-certify* and no third party ever looks at the supporting documentation unless there is a court case (death, fire). In the US, UL and ETL crawl up the butt of manufacturers making UL/ETL listed products looking for changes that would impact safety, and they do it *quarterly*.

    CE products in the EU get audited on the 5th of never. Every single CE-marked mains powered EU product I have looked at has at least two safety violations that had to be corrected to get a UL mark in the US. Some of them were serious. I’ve requested to see some European companies’ compliance documentation for all their products and it was a *bookshelf* full of binders full of blank pages, each with the product name carefully written on it!

    In most cases, the barrier to getting truly safe products going to the public is government itself, not corporations – the bigger government gets, the more it can shield product manufacturers from liability when they make products that kill someone. Unlimited product liability would do a lot more for product safety than government edicts ever will.

    @Chris
    “It mentions to have them on seperate circuits, they should say make sure it is on seperate Phases, ”

    They specify this in the FAQ. Did you read it?

    @Oliver
    “we will be reviewing whether we can stand by this tool.”

    As a product safety guy, I would be OK with it in a temporary installation in a house with modern wiring. Your air conditioner will sound funny and perhaps vibrate a bit more as it’s being powered from 60Hz instead of its designed frequency of 50Hz, but that’s it. If your unit really has a bad power factor @60Hz you might get some heating, but not enough to be dangerous.

    “Does anyone know of an expert in the field who we could talk to regarding the best way to deal with a 120 to 220 conversion?”

    Yes. Me. Get an electrician to properly wire in 240 if you’re at all concerned or if you have an old house. Otherwise, this tool might work for you. YMMV.

    There are also single-phase 120-240 converters that will work from a single phase, but they couldn’t power an air conditioner as they would be transformers which would create too much heat at the power levels needed to be of a practical size. “Some of the very small ones (less than 100W) are digital switchers and convert 115V/60Hz to true 230V/50Hz and work very well.”

  2. After reading the lengthy discussion over at the source, and as a licensed electrician, I have the following to add:

    -the QA guy talking about 50 Hz converters is a bit confused, as these devices are used to allow for European, Japanese, and other loads not intended for use in the US to be operated here, not to operate the type of loads reserved for 220 V usage here. Typical QA guy, while everything he says is correct, he kinda wandered off on a tangent from the actual situation here, to show he deserves those extra bucks with that fancy book learnin’ (I kid, QA guys of the world ;))

    -the guy who mentioned retagging the neutral and moving it to a 2 pole breaker is probably the most sensible one in the bunch, and if someone were to (try to) charge me $1000 for that, I’d probably laugh, then politely toss them out of my house. The only caveat to this suggestion is to ensure that the existing wiring is rated for 220V and capable of handling the current. Even then, pulling in new wire using existing wire is a possibility, although I’d have to see the actual installation to be certain. I can only assume that this ridiculous price would include upgrading the existing wiring in the apartment to current code, as is required by the NEC when renovation work is undertaken. If someone were to ask me to do this work for them as a side job, I’d probably quote 200 to 300 dollars labor plus material cost and inspection fee, or waive the labor for dinner and a case of my favorite beverage for a friend. Basically, for less than double the cost of this, you can have a proper outlet installed which will be safer and more reliable, at least if you are friends with an electrician.

    -As some commenters note, a GFCI or AFCI is gonna throw a fit if you try to use this and it will simply not work. As the latest NEC requires one of these two types of breakers to be used in almost any location in which the average maker with a fairly recent home would be working, this is a no go. So if your house is <20 years old or so, you might have some trouble. If <5 years, forget it.

    -The types of loads that the typical maker would operate at 220V such as air compressors, table saws, and the like are usually able to be wired to operate at 110 V; the only reasons to operate these at 220 V is to improve power factor and use smaller gauge wire, and possibly to impress your friends as to how serious your workshop REALLY is. The loads which aren't able to be rewired, such as welders or space heaters, usually have a current draw which would exceed the circuit breaker's rating, thereby causing spurious tripping. Swapping out the breaker for a higher rated one is illegal, and not in the "filesharing isn't wrong, damn the man for keeping me down" sense, but illegal in the "there is a reason we don't sell dynamite to 4th graders" sense. It is extremely dangerous and can easily result in a fire when the wire's ampacity is exceeded. So basically, I can't think of anywhere I could actually use this thing safely and without interruption if I got it. I could be missing something though; I'd appreciate anyone else's suggestions of possible uses for this.

    -For the very limited applications where this would work, it is an interesting idea, and if used sensibly, is probably safe enough. Once again, though, I cannot actually think of any time I would ever need this besides the OP's very specific situation, and even then I would have sprung for the outlet.

    -Adding a 220 V outlet is not that difficult, if one is not afraid of: learning a lot of new things that if forgotten could lead to extra crispy death, cutting in to your living room wall, getting laughed/yelled at by an electrical inspector, and spiders/snakes/crawl space dwelling bitey things. Seriously, it is a little difficult but might be worthwhile to learn how to do if you are so inclined, which you probably are since you are reading this blog. I won't say don't, as that seems against the spirit of the Maker's Bill of Rights, but be really, really careful, and ensure you have done ALL of your homework before you try this at home, and if you do it right there is a pretty good amount of homework, about 20 college credits worth in my twisted math. Also, I'm not responsible if you do end up doing the 60 Hz shuffle and burning down your entire city.

  3. Let me try a simplified description of how this probably works.

    Your electrical feed comes from a transformer on a pole outside the house. The output of the transformer is 220v with a grounded center tap. Voltage between the the two outer lines is 220v; voltage from either outer leg to the center tap (ground) is 110v.

    The electrical panel has two columns of breakers. Each column connects one transformer line to ground, giving 110v. 220v circuits connect to the two outer legs.

    My guess is that this device connects the hot (black) wires from the two input circuits to the outlet. This may or may not be safe, but at any rate, the setup in the picture probably will not work. In order to work, the two outlets that the device is plugged into would have to be fed from circuits on different sides of the electrical panel, you will commonly find that the outlets in a room are all fed from the same circuit.

    I’m with kerowhack — instead of dropping $160 on this gadget, spend a few more and do it right.

  4. Most large air conditioners run on 220. Odds are, the outlet closest to the sleeve was once a 220 outlet that has been rewired for 120, since that would be of more use without an air conditioner in there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wiring is compliant.

  5. The nearby outlet was 110V but every AC that ‘fit’ in the wall sleeve was 220V. I assume every 110V air conditioner was a tad small. Soooo, make a custom sorround for your new small 110 air conditioner so it fits in the big sized sleeve.

    Grabbing the 110 from two outlets on different sides of the main is NOT dangerous as this is what 220 circuits do. You just HAVE TO know what you are doing when wiring with amperage demands, gage wire, long runs from the other outlet, etc…. If you buy a $160 kit to do this from $15 worth of parts, AND you do not already own a meter or know how to determine which wire is truely hot or neutral, you likely DON’T know what household electrical is all about. Whenever I see an average Joe try to work with electrical, I see stuff like wraping the stripped wire around the screw terminal counter-clockwise so tightening the screw peels it back out. Makes me cringe.

  6. We use one. I own a hardwood floor refinishing company. Our big sanders are 220. We usually plug into an electric range or dryer outlet. When we cannot the quick220 works great. Seems like a lot of comments from people with no first hand experience… It works!

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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