Plugs and sockets: what you need to know!
While I normally focus on everything involving and selling property in italy , there is one renovation topic that merits greater attention: the humble electric outlet / socket.
Historically in Italy there were two electric plug sizes, a 4 mm pin plug and a 5 mm pin plug for appliances drawing more current. Some have just 2 pins; some have a middle pin which serves as the ground. Some sockets accept one size, more recent outlets accept both. All was well and good while Italy remained in splendid isolation, protected by trade duties.
The creation of a pan-European market has resulted in the de facto adaptation of two plug types. The first is the simple two pin "Europlug" which was designed back in the 1960s to fit many existing electric sockets found across Europe. The Europlug fits the 4mm pin sockets in Italy.
Electrical goods requiring more current are typically supplied these days with a plug derived from the German Schuko (Schutzkontakt) modified to be compatible with a somewhat similar French standard. The German market is the largest in Europe, and the Schuko plug was designed with safety in mind. For those in Italy there are two primary solutions: either use adapters which convert the Schuko plug to one of the two Italian plug standards (depending on the current the device will use) or install Schuko compatible sockets (extension cords with Schuko outlets are not the best idea from a safety perspective).
An Italian multi-standard Schuko type socket can be placed next to an Italian socket which accepts the Europlug and both 4 and 5mm Italian plugs as these can fit into existing modular boxes or receptacles. If starting from scratch, it would make sense to consider two multi-standard Schuko sockets next to each other, but this would require a wider receptacle box (4 modules instead of the common 3 modules; each Schuko outlet occupies two modules of space).
BTicino is the probably largest brand; their Magic series from the 1960s is everywhere. Gewiss and Vimar are other well known brands. All three of the major players provide broad ranges of sockets and covers. They aren't cheap, especially when buying sockets for an entire home. On the bright side, they're designed to last for years.
How Many, What and Where
When renovating an existing home, there are a few other things to consider regarding sockets: how many, what and where? With a proliferation of electronic devices, one or two outlets in a room may well not be sufficient. A kitchen may well have a blender, a toaster and a coffee maker on the counter. Better put in more outlets now rather than spend your life unplugging one appliance just to be able to use another one.
It may make sense to install a few USB charging outlets too… they are a bit pricey, but practical… although even the USB standard is quickly changing.
Illuminated Light Switches
Light switches with dim illumination which makes them easy to find in the dark and be great for entrance ways and bedrooms.
Internet and Phone Service
One very overlooked topic is telephone and internet service. Most people have been conned by confusing advertising into thinking "wi-fi" is Internet. It is not, it is simply how Internet might be distributed within a home. Internet will normally arrive by a copper cable (ADSL), a fiber optic cable or by a wire-less solution, such as a cellular device or in the countryside, a radio bridge.
Wi-fi as an internet distribution method is very popular as it can be easy to install and it is convenient. There are several issues to consider: Wi-Fi can be a problem where walls are thick: coverage can be spotty. The overall quality of the internet connection, important for voice and video, is degraded compared to a direct wire connection. A third issue is the unknown impact of all this extra electromagnetic radiation, especially on growing children. The recommendation is to consider wiring your home with Ethernet outlets ("RJ25" jacks for 8P8C modular plugs) strategically located throughout your home. This will allow you to connect devices that don't move much, such as the TV, printers and desktop computers directly to the network without losing quality. You can still choose to turn Wi-Fi on for limited periods of time when desired for tablet or other use.
RJII Phone Jacks
Wired Internet often includes telephone service. Rather than putting microwaves next to your head all the time, a still unclear cancer risk, take advantage of the high quality land-line phone! The standard Italian phone jack is 3 pins. As an alternative, consider the RJ11 style jack which has become a de facto standard.
Wiring work should be done by a licensed electrician. Once finished, the electrician should issue a certificate declaring conformity to the current standards (Dichiarazione di Conformità dell'Impianto alla Regola dell'Arte). There will usually be a fee for this; it should be done, not the least as it is very useful when the time comes to sell the property.
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The above is offered as general guidance without warranty; changes may have occurred since it was written. Do consult with appropriate qualified professionals regarding your specific situation before making any real estate purchase.
About the author
Sean Michael Carlos grew up in Rhode Island, USA. He studied in the US, UK and Germany before settling in Italy where he has lived for over twenty-five years, in three different regions.
Sean is a licensed real estate agent in Italy with over 10 years experience in the sector and would love to hear from you if you are looking to buy or sell property in Italy.