This month’s magazine column goes in search of vampires – not of the blood-sucking Chiropteran variety, but of the electrical power-sucking type instead. For the enlightenment of our many overseas readers there’s an insight into the mysteries of the British mains plug and Alan also discovers more applications for his Ecowitt Wi-Fi weather station.
In today’s economic climate, saving energy (and money) is more important than ever, so I’ve been using a plug-in power meter to check the energy consumption of various electrical appliances dotted around the house. I’ve been surprised to find how some supposedly appliances are wasteful ‘money sinks’, sometimes called ‘vampire appliances’ because they silently sink electricity and cost you hard cash even when they’re not in use.
As a rule of thumb, something consuming six watts on standby 24 x 7 will swallow one unit or kWh a week, costing about 30p or £15 a year at current UK prices. I found a remote-controlled tower fan, when on standby (which is most of the year), silently consumed nine watts of electricity or £23 a year; an old clock-radio cost about the same, as did an ultrasonic pest repeller as well as a coffee pod machine. Disconnecting or scrapping these items will save about £100 a year alone at current prices. A small 1kW kettle with digital controls was found to use 7-9W on standby, or another £20 or so annually for doing absolutely nothing.
Plug-in power meters are readily available from the usual web sites for as little as £6. Worth considering (not tested by the author) would be the upgraded backlit version of the pricier KETOTEK Power Meter Plug (Amazon UK, item B0BZYN6544, see left) which also shows VA, frequency and power factor and other data.
I discovered in a forum that many American constructors and electricians had never come across the British mains plug and, when compared with US two-prong types, the British one seemed huge, clunky and grossly over-engineered (all true). Our so-called ‘Type G’ plugs (also called ‘plug tops’ in Britain) also appear in a few overseas countries, and it’s generally recognised that the British BS1363-standard 13 amp plug design is the best mains plug in the world, bar none.
Every British plug contains a 1” colour-coded ceramic cartridge fuse, red for 3A, black for 5A and a brown one denoting a 13A fuse, suitable for appliances consuming up to 3kW. My photo shows the interior of a typical plug.
Until the 1990s, British consumers had to fit their own mains plugs. Another reason that fitted plugs became compulsory was that poor quality, counterfeit type were sold that were clearly hazardous. Unfortunately, fake plugs are still seen today on low-grade imported goods sold online, often bundled with mains power packs. They are instantly recognisable as being small mouldings with no fuse, or having insulation covering the ground pin as well. The cable insulation can sometimes be stripped off between finger and thumb, the wire cores themselves may be steel wire, and any BS 1363 (British Standard) or CE marks will be fake as well. They should be thrown away in electrical waste, after cutting off the plug.
I included photos of variations of British mains plugs, including rocker switches and neon/ LED indicator types. Another option is to find a power strip having individually switched sockets for ultimate control and, unusually, a small number made by Brennenstuhl also have cable exits at either end for convenience (see the data sheet at https://www.farnell.com/datasheets/3678045.pdf).
Readers who would like to learn more about the evolution of British plugs and sockets will find lots of interesting details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets:_British_and_related_types and there’s an excellent explanation of worldwide electric plug standards at https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/.
With winter firmly upon us, Britain’s weather system has entered its stormy season as Atlantic weather fronts batter the country with gales, rain and floods. In 2015 the UK’s Meteorological Office joined their Irish and Dutch counterparts in giving major storms some beguiling names, and an A-Z list of names is agreed upon annually. You can suggest a name yourself, and the full list and timetable is published by the Met. Office at https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/warnings-and-advice/uk-storm-centre/index
Readers will recall that I’ve been using an Ecowitt HP2551 weather station since the start of the year. I’ve enjoyed comparing weather forecasts with actual events recorded by my own set-up. Bundled with the weather station is a single stand-alone transmitter (type WH32A) that displays temperature, humidity and barometric pressure on its LCD.
This model also has a multi-channel operation which accepts data from up to eight external wireless sensors that can monitor conditions in various locations. A wireless transmitter (type WH31 or WN31A – same thing) is sold separately which displays temperature, humidity and channel number on its LCD.
The multi-channel feature of the Ecowitt weather station gave me another idea – how about an in-home monitoring system as well? Apart from the self-contained WN31A transmitter already mentioned, Ecowitt produces one with a waterproof (IP65) wire probe sensor (WN30) that is fitted with a 3 metre cable terminated in a probe. The temperature range is quoted as -40°C to +60°C (-40°F to +140°F). This offers the prospect of wirelessly monitoring, say, a fridge or deep freezer, checking a horticultural propagator, water tank, aquarium or terrarium, or measuring soil or water temperature. In the February 2024 issue I’ll show what happened when I tried one on my deep freezer.
I now have five wireless transmitters monitoring their environment but if you don’t need an all-singing and dancing LCD weather station, Ecowitt offers a smaller WiFi gateway, the GW1100 (shown left) which utilises a smartphone app instead. It is 5V USB rechargeable. The comprehensive accessory range includes a floating pool thermometer (for fishpond keepers), a soil moisture probe, a pricey PM2.5 particle sensor, lightning detector, water leakage sensor and a leaf wetness sensor – all equally compatible with the larger weather station. (A very useful sensor compatibility table is at https://osswww.ecowitt.net/uploads/20220825/Compatibility%20table.pdf)
See you next month for more Net Work, when I’ll be discussing some very handy electronics and workshop tools that are available at budget prices direct from China. There’s also an update on the latest space programme news.