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Experience Dominica – The Nature Island: Dominica Vacations | Exotic Vacations | Honeymoon Destination

Dominica weekly is a personal weblog about the nature island of Dominica.


ge_meterPhoto by neil lall

I will try to keep this simple and non-technical.

Electric power delivered over lines by Domlec (the Dominica Electricity Company) is the same as used in the UK: 230Vac*, 50Hz, single-phase.

Vac means volts, alternating current. UK voltage can be anything between 220Vac and 240Vac, I will use the nominal value of 230Vac. Similarly, US voltage can be between 110Vac and 120Vac, and I’ll use the value of 115Vac in this article.

This is different from US electrical grid power in all three respects:

  • The US voltage is only half as much: 115Vac*. This is very important.
  • The UK frequency of the alternating current is 50 Hz (Hz = cycles per second) and the US used 60Hz power. This is usually not very important.
  • The UK hookup is single-phase. It uses only three wires; live, neutral, and earth (a/k/a ground). The US hookup uses four wires; 2 live phase wires, neutral (a/k/a common) and ground. This is very important.
  • The neutral and common are not connected together in at the circuit breaker box in UK hookups; the earth wire is separate all the way to a ground rod. In the US hookup, common and ground are connected at the breaker box. This is only important to know if you’re wiring you own house.

You generally can’t use any US 220V appliance on UK voltage because in the US the 220V is derived by bridging the two 110V phases (which run 180° out of phase with one another), but the common wire is also brought in through the plug, meaning that the appliance maker may internally (you generally have no way of knowing unless you can obtain, and read, the electrical schematic drawings) tap 110V between one phase and common. They do that with 220V clothes dryers – only the heater is 220V, the motor & control circuits are 110V; if you connected a US 220V dryer to a UK 220V outlet, its motor and control circuits would immediately burn out, possibly with sparks and flames.

You can use a transformer to step UK voltage down to US voltage. There are two things you must know:

(1).You must know the wattage that you wish to take from the transformer (that is very important), and (2).You must remember that the transformer does not change frequency, so the output will be 115Vac 50Hz (not 60Hz, but it’s seldom important).

Fortunately, wattages are usually written on appliances (and light bulbs). If not, wattage is very easily to calculate: Look at the appliance label. If it does not give the wattage directly, it will give the current (Amps, or Amperes, or Amperage) used. Wattage is simply volts (used by the appliance) times amps (used by the appliance). For example a US 120V 15 amp power saw uses 120V times 15 Amps = 1800 Watts.

The transformer therefore must have 1800W or greater output. If you try to draw more power from a transformer than its rating, it will burn out. Also fortunately, Wattages simply add. That is, a 2000W transformer can support any number of units on its output as long as the sum of their Wattages is 2000 or less.

Frequency only matters when the device has AC motors, which rotate synchronously according to the frequency. Most DVD players, etc have internal power supplies that convert the input AC power to direct current (DC) and use DC motors. So’ they’ll work through a transformer. But 50Hz is 5/6 of 60Hz; an clock will run slowly and a 3600 RPM saw will run at 3000 RPM (usually good enough).

To keep things simple for my wife, I do the following, which I suggest you do too:

  • Label the wattage of each appliance. I use masking or adhesive tape and a marker
  • .

  • If the appliance is 220Vac only, attach a UK-style plug to it. (More about how to do that later.)
  • If the appliance is automatic (self-detecting) 110/220Vac leave the US plug on it and write “dual” on the tape.
  • If the appliance can operate at either 110Vac or 220Vac but must be manually switched to the proper operating voltage, write “switched” on the label & make certain the user knows which voltage to plug it into. I suggest not changing the plug unless the appliance is not one that gets moved about.
  • Screw-in bulbs have the same size bases in the US and UK (and the rest of the world); convert all lamps to have UK-style plugs and use only 220Vac bulbs; which can be incandescent, energy-saving compact florescent, or (if you can get them) super energy efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

A transformer is a converter: it changes one voltage to another. You can also purchase adapters. An adapter does not change any voltage; it simply changes the mechanical configuration of an outlet so that it can accept a differently-shaped plug. You would plug a dual (or switchable) voltage appliance with a US plug into a Dominican UK outlet by using an adapter. You can buy adapters in many stores in Dominica.

I suggested putting a UK-style plug on 220Vac (or dual & switchable, but not normally moved) appliances. Sometimes you’ll buy a 220Vac appliance made for a 220Vac-using country other than the UK, and it will have a non-UK-style plug. Here is how you do that. You can buy plugs in many stores in Dominica.

  • Cut the original plug off.
  • Strip the wire ends.
  • The UK and the rest of the world (except the US/Canada) use the following color code:
  • The live wire is brown. (In the US it’s usually black; if both phases are used, one live will be black and the other red.)
  • Neutral (common) is blue. (In the US, it’s white.)
  • Earth (ground) is green or yellow & green. (in the US it’s green.)

The UK-style plugs are labeled L/N/E at each terminal. Also, the L (live) terminal is normally fused in the plug.

When you change a lamp plug, use a continuity tester or ohmmeter to ensure that the L wire is connected to the internal “button” connection inside the screw-base and the N wire is connected to the outside of the base. If the lamp has a 2-prong polarized plug, the wide prong is the neutral/common.

Power here tends to be unreliable. We have a small 120Vac generator. We use it to prevent loss of the contents of our refrigerator/freezer. But that appliance is a 220Vac one. However, any transformer can work in either direction: If it is a 2 to one transformer it can step 220Vac down to 110Vac or step 110Vac up to 220Vac. You simply must know how to make the transformer connections. And you must know the wattage output of your generator. (A transformer’s wattage is the same whether stepping up or down.) And you must know that the appliance doesn’t have a long “surge” wattage – all motor appliances have surge; you can usually find it in the label or on-line spec’s, and that the appliance can tolerate 60Hz power.

Finally, I suggest you obtain a UK-style surge protector to wire in at your circuit breaker box and use additional plug-in surge protectors on critical appliances. (Before we did the latter a surge on Domlec power blew the electronic control circuit board in our refrigerator. It took 15 days – and cost Domlec EC$1049 – repair.

We had to use a friend’s freezer and move a small refrigerator upstairs meanwhile.) When power goes out if possible unplug always-on items like your refrigerator and plug then back in after power returns. And, a transformer provides some additional surge protection to those 110Vac units. But a transformer can’t be 100% efficient and wastes some power. That’s especially true here because most transformers are tuned for 60Hz and the 50Hz current here makes them less efficient. Domlec says that a 2000W transformer wastes EC$100 of power per month; but that’s nonsense: We have an always-on 5000W transformer for the upstairs of our villa and our total electric bill has never been over EC$100. Still, we turn off the 1500W transformer in our downstairs laundry room (or with my generator when needed) when we’re not using the washing machine.

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deep thoughtsPhoto by Shayan (USA)

People discover our Web site (dan-ruth-tanner.com) and write saying “you’ve found Utopia” or words to that effect. That’s nonsense. There is no Utopia. People everywhere are the same; human nature is the only universal constant.

You will have to learn to do without many conveniences that you were used to. Don’t ever expect punctuality. Never, ever, pay for anything until all work is complete and to your satisfaction. Don’t buy a vehicle that had been used here – it probably won’t have been maintained properly and may have jury-rigged repairs; import your vehicle.

Expect frequent electric power and pipe water outages and have a surge suppressor on your circuit breaker box to protect your appliances. Get one at www.full-protection.com. Make sure they know that you need one for UK-style single-phase 220V. (One made for US-style split-phase 220V will not work – and will burn out right away.)

Many things that you’re used to may be impossible to find here or nearly prohibitively expensive. Many manufactured products available here are made for 3rd-world markets and while the lowest-priced are often shoddy; while 1st-quality goods tend to cost far more than in the US or Europe.

There are numerous Web sites that offer quality brand-name appliances set up to run at the 220-240VAC/50Hz UK-type electrical power available in Dominica. From personal experience, I recommend Kunst Electronics and Home Appliances. They explained why a US 220V dryer won’t work here (the US uses split-phase 110V and only the dryer’s heater is 220V; the motor is 110V and would burn out) and when a surge blew the control circuit board in our refrigerator Mr. Kunst personally phoned in response to our service-request e-mail in mere minutes, helped us locate the GE part; discounted it and expedited its delivery – what a hero!). Now we double-protect our refrigerator with an additional protector at the outlet. And we unplug it during outages and plug it in again after the returned power stabilizes.

You’ll need a transformer anyhow because many things can’t be bought in 220V versions, even here. Courts only offer 110V vacuum cleaners. LIME provided us with an 110V modem and cell-phone charger. Be aware that power (watts) simply adds up. Domlec claims that a 2000W transformer left plugged in uses over EC$100 per month, but that’s patent nonsense. We have an always-on 5000W transformer and our total bill has never reached as much as $EC90. And, a transformer also acts so as to smooth power surges. If you’re worried about power interruptions affecting your PC use, employ a laptop (which can run on 110V/60Hz or 220V/50Hz and is buffered from power failure by its battery. Or bring an UPS (uninterrupted power supply).

It can be difficult or expensive to get your US funds here and/or it can take a long time. We found a method that works well for us: You can get a free on-line FDIC insured account via the Charles Schwab web site. We use the on-line bill-pay feature of our Bank of America account to transfer money to the Schwab account. Schwab lets you withdraw funds in local currency at any ATM displaying the VISA logo, and that’s just about every ATM in Dominica. Schwab gives the full exchange rate and even refunds to your account any ATM or other charges. You don’t want to have too much of your savings here; keep them in the USA in an FDIC-insured institution.

This is the tropics, so expect more bugs. Ants are everywhere. Some species go after your food. Some are scavengers of dead insects, etc. “Wood ants” are actually termites – be on guard against them. We’ve experienced some gnat plagues of practically biblical proportions. Big yellow spiders like to hide under things in dark corners. Millipedes will crawl into your house. Centipedes, which have a dangerous bite, hide in damp dark places outside usually, but will come into houses. Large roaches also come inside.

Be on guard against mice and rats; leave nothing around that will attract them. “Regular” trash collection is anything but regular or dependable. We rinse all cans and bottles and foil, etc and keep that in a container for trash collection. We compost all vegetable matter. We burn all waste paper, plastic, wood etc. (Rinse or tie any plastic bags slated for burning to prevent drawing ants.) Waste animal matter (bones, fat, offal from cleaning fish, etc) must be disposed of promptly and properly. Otherwise you’ll have maggots, feral dogs and cats tearing up garbage bags, ants and rot odor all amazingly quickly. You can find a place to feed this stuff to scavenging dogs and/or cats. You can bury it – deep. You can toss waste from fish into the sea, where scavengers will do their job. If you’re making a fire, you can burn it and rake out the bones and ash to mix with compost.

Keep all your receipts. Even the government offices and some businesses “lose” records. We know of a number of people who have had to pay deposits and fees twice, or who can’t return items that are defective. Check the expiration date on anything you purchase. Test everything before leaving the store if possible.

Expect your plans to go awry. I was going to take regular long walks, but an arthritic hip ended that plan. I was going to help at a friend’s garden to get in better shape, but I realized that even the walk to it would be too much for me. The time, the heat of the sun, the humidity, eroding willpower all conspire against the planner.

Have a hobby. There’s only so much hiking, snorkeling, swimming and gardening you can do, and you don’t want to be fighting boredom.

You’ll need to have a US address in order to maintain a US bank account, have and renew credit cards, etc. Choose a reliable friend or relation to provide that address and to forward your mail to you – and expect forwarding to take an average of 3 weeks.

Make arrangements for your health (including dental) care and bring a supply of any prescription medications that you use. Pharmacies here can’t dispense to a foreign doctor’s prescription, and many medicines aren’t available here.

Get used to certain tropical conditions: high humidity, “blast” from the sea that corrodes nearly anything and has strange effects on many materials, huge raindrops driving in close to horizontally by squall gusts, and high clay content mud that has incredible adhesiveness and slipperiness when wet and is nearly concrete hard when dry.

But we’re not complaining – just being realistic. We love it here and wouldn’t change any of the choices we’ve made. If you decide on Dominica too, we can only hope you’re as pleased as we are.

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Reducing the hazardous waste in Dominica landfills starts at home. Millions of households are producing billions of pounds of solid waste. Products used every day in our homes leach hazardous chemicals after entering landfills. There are a number of simple steps that average consumer can take to limit the damage that many of these toxic materials are doing to the environment.

The garbage situation has become a big concern in cities all around the country and not only is this a political issue, but it is also a problem that has caught the attention of the general population. We all realize there is a growing problem but nobody likes to admit that their garbage is contributing to the problem.

Many municipalities have already started a recycling program to deal with the growing mountains of paper, plastic, glass, etc. Although it takes a bit of effort on the part of the public to sort and separate their garbage, people are now beginning to realize that the future of our environment is at stake.

One household product that is causing a problem these days is throwaway batteries. Each year, Dominicans throw away an estimate 5 tons of alkaline batteries. These AA, C and D cells that power electronic toys and games, portable audio equipment and a wide range of other gadgets comprise 20% of the household hazardous materials present around the country landfills.

When a battery in one of the products we use fails, we simply run out and buy a replacement. The dead battery ends up in the garbage and no one thinks about where it goes and what happens to it after the garbage is picked up.

Sealed inside these alkaline cells are harmful materials which are not encountered by consumers during normal use. However, when the batteries enter a landfill, the casings can be crushed, or can easily degrade, which causes mercury and other toxins to leach into the environment.

The problem of batteries in landfills is one of the easiest to solve. Using rechargeable power can significantly reduce the number of batteries which end up in landfills. Rechargeable batteries can be used again and again, up to 1,000 times. One rechargeable cell can replace up to 300 throwaway batteries, keeping the landfill free not only from the batteries themselves, but also from the paper and plastic materials that are used to package them.

There are a number of manufacturers in the country today who deal in rechargeable products and some of them have a number of programs already in place to ensure that rechargeable batteries never enter a landfill at all. For example, one of the largest manufacturers of rechargeable products is now offering a lifetime replacement guarantee on all round cells. If the product ever fails to accept or hold a charge, the company will promptly replace it and recycle the used cell.

If you have an environmental committee in your area, you might like to work on this issue with them, or perhaps they already have a program set up to dispose of used batteries. As a concerned citizen, your suggestions and input will be invaluable to them as they attempt to come up with some solutions.

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