Sunday, April 13, 2008

Save Those Wall Warts


Do not attempt this unless you know what you're doing! Don't even think about it. If you have a question in your mind, ask an electrician first. Don't set your house on fire, fire is not your friend.

So I got rid of most of my "power bricks" or "wall adapters" or, as I like to call them, "wall warts." They're heavy plug-in wall transformers that you use to charge your various consumer electronics devices. I got rid of all of mine, knowing ahead of time that: 1) the power sockets down here are different than in the US, 2) the voltage coming out of the wall is different than in the US (twice the voltage!) and 3) the AC frequency is different down here than in the US (50Hz instead of 60Hz.) That pretty much adds up to: my wall warts are going to be useless.

Just before leaving the states, we got a new Canon camera so we could take nice pictures during our travels and it came with a wall-wart style battery charger. It was a flat box that had a flip out power plug that plugged directly into a wall socket (USA format) and charged the lithium batteries that the camera took. It came with the camera that I ordered refurbished from an eBay reseller.

Since the camera and accessories arrived after our crate of boxes left for a boat, I packed the charger in the suitcase thinking that I'd see if I could find one based on the Kiwi power standards once I got here. The other day I took it out to read the specs to see if I could find somewhere in Wellington that sold chargers that would charge my camera batteries. The battery that was in the camera was almost dead from all of the shooting.

Upon closer scrutiny, I noticed the input power specs on the back of the charger:

100-240 Volts?! 50 *or* 60 Hz? Wait a minute, they designed this thing to work in just about any power environment. I got out a wall wart that fits the New Zealand (and Australia) plug format and looked at it.

I looked at the wall socket:

Hmm... I got out a pair of pliers:


I plugged it into the wall socket and voila! Worked like a charm. I was able to recharge my camera batteries with the very same charger that I was sure I'd have to throw away.

Why does this work?

Well, it only works because the charger was set up for dual voltage, dual frequency operation. Not all wall warts are. In fact, my Nintendo DS charger does NOT support up to 240 volts. Bending the prongs and plugging it into the wall here would no doubt start a fire.

I'm not recommending this to everyone, but I wanted to share this little revelation. You may be able to save a little money by retargeting your adapters with little more than a little metal-bending.


Anonymous said...

Bending the plug contacts and bypassing the ground connection by not using the appropriate adaptor or appliance that has the correct wiring and grounding system can be quite dangerous, if not fatal, and could put your house and family at risk, not to mention that it probably would be a violation of code and a way out for your insurance company to look the other way. Specifically, an internal loss of insulation exposing the conductor would have no path to ground should it short out on the case hardware and subsequently could cause fire, severe shock, or at a minimum severe loss to your equipment.

Even if your specific charging adaptor is not at risk, the suggestions in the blog to be followed by some unsuspecting person (your disclaimer notwithstanding) seems to unnecessarily put you in a poor liability position in the future.


Steve said...

Thanks for your concern, bns. Nothing dangerous is going on here.

If you read the specs of the Type I wall socket that's used in New Zealand and Australia (and somewhere in South America too, I think) you can see that I'm dealing here with a non-grounded, non-polarized plug going into the standard outlet. I'm not bypassing ground on a device that wants to be grounded.

The device I'm plugging in is rated for operation here, the plug hardware is just slightly different. The region-appropriate version of the wall adapter no doubt is a simple hardware swap.

I'm not advocating plugging things into the wall willy-nilly or without careful understanding of the parameters. Not at all. I'm operating the device in an electrical environment for which it was designed.

As for liability: it's the Internets. I'll let the principles put forth by Charles Darwin sort that one out.

Ricjunette said...

Well written article.