How To Look At A House

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What is the voltage rating of a house electrical system?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Although people commonly refer to the voltages as “110” and “220” for household current, that was actually just the original voltage for early alternating current systems. The two “hot” (ungrounded) wires serving the first  systems were 110-volts each and, when both were used for a major appliance, the total voltage was 220. Voltage was set at these numbers early in the 20th century so the newer alternating current (AC) systems, designed by Nikola Tesla and manufactured by George Westinghouse, could be compatible with the existing wiring of the older direct current (DC) systems installed in many communities by Thomas Edison. Edison’s DC system suffered from rapid voltage drop over even short distances, and was eventually completely abandoned.

    The voltage provided by local utility systems was ramped up to 115/230 by the 1930s, and then edged up again to 120/240 by the 1980s. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) now requires that electric utility voltages not deviate more than 5%, and the voltage delivered to the home can be adjusted at the transformer to accommodate voltage loss by a longer distance from transformer to house. 


    So, the voltage delivered to homes with single-phase service today is 120/240, and some are rated at 125/250, except for an occasional large house or apartment building with 3-phase service (3 hot wires). This type of system provides 120 volts to the neutral or ground, and 208 volts between the hot conductors.

    But when our customers refer to the “220 breaker for the dryer” or the “110 wall plug,” we don’t correct them. Everybody understands exactly what they are talking about.

    Also, see our blog posts How can I find out the size of the electric service to a house? and What is a reliable way to tell if the electrical service is 3 phase or single phase?

   Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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