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What is Line Voltage?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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Line voltage is simply the voltage that a power line delivers to its destination, or the point where it is being used. It is an important consideration for a number of applications, including household appliances and electronic devices. Although line voltage may change somewhat, it generally stays within a certain range, as standardized by individual countries. If line voltage increases unexpectedly, it is a condition known as a power surge.

In the United States, most power line voltage is standardized between 110 and 120 volts, though the actual power going into a home or building may fluctuate slightly. Most power companies try to ensure that their power systems provide no less than 114 volts of power and no more than 126 volts. This allows most electric devices inside an American home to function adequately, and also helps to prevent serious injury in the case of electric shock.

Some American appliances may require even more voltage in order to function. This is especially true of clothes dryers, which often require as many as 240 volts. Therefore, most homes will be wired both for high voltage and also a lower voltage in order to meet the requirements of this popular appliance. The plug for the higher voltage line is very unusual, so there is little danger of a standard electrical device being plugged into it.

In other portions of the world, line voltage is often higher than it is in the United States and Canada. For example, Europe, much of Africa and Asia have a voltage of 220. This means that some American and Canadian electronic devices would cease to function if taken overseas and plugged in. Devices especially suited for the traveling public, such as notebook computers and shavers, are often designed to work with either voltage level, but always be sure before plugging anything into an outlet with higher voltage.

One country, Japan, has a lower line voltage than the United States and Canada. There, 100 volts is typically the standard voltage. Typically, most electronic devices that are designed for American power systems will work in Japan, but some sensitive equipment may not.

If voltage unexpectedly increases because of malfunctioning equipment or lightning, a situation known as a power surge can have detrimental effects. This unregulated supply of power can enter a home and go into electronic devices causing the circuitry in them to no longer work, rendering the device useless. To protect against this, some people have installed surge protectors to the more expensive pieces of electronic equipment.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Burl Vibert — On Nov 30, 2011

A couple of interesting points: Japan not only has lower line voltage than other countries, it also has different frequencies within the country.

Eastern Japan runs at 50 cycles per second (Hertz) while the western half of the country runs at 60Hz.

Also, in North America houses are not wired for high and low voltages, 240volts (like used for a dryer) is achieved by using two 120volt lines phased 180 degrees apart giving a difference of 240volts, but never going more than 120VAC above ground potential.

By BambooForest — On Jul 22, 2011

@afterall- While laptops usually come with converters on their normal power cords, you usually have to check with desktops. And of course, most other appliances need a good converter, or they'll be damaged- sometimes on the first try in a new voltage.

By afterall — On Jul 21, 2011

When I went to Europe, I was really worried about the line voltage damaging my computer, and I got a low voltage converter. Then, after spending a lot of money on a really bulky converter than broke after a few months' use, I realized that my laptop, like most laptops, already has a converter in its ordinary power cord. From then on I have just used a really cheap plug converter when using a laptop in a country with different voltages.

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