Wiring your Philippine house. Philippine electrical wiring. As part of our project to build our Philippine house, we had to learn about Philippine residential electrical systems. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Above: before pouring a tie beam at the top of the wall above the location for the panel box, the workers place eight pieces of electrical conduit through the form for the beam. This will provide a path from the panel box for the circuits in the ceiling, mainly light fixtures and ceiling fans.
Wiring your Philippine house. Philippine electrical wiring. As part of our project to build our Philippine house, we had to learn about Philippine residential electrical systems. Here’s what we’ve learned. Take the information here as hypothesis, not gospel and feel free to offer comments, suggestions and corrections.
With a few exceptions, the Philippine electrical system is 230 volt 60 cycle, but beyond that fact there are big differences based on where you live. Our comments mostly apply to areas in the Philippines served by rural electrical cooperatives which use a single 230v load wire and a ground wire to your residence. They are not fully applicable to urban areas using two load wires (including Manila and Iloilo City) or to systems around former American military bases. We assume that many cities offer the same type of service. Iloilo City service is from Panay Electric Company (PECO) and is two 115v load wires and a neutral. Using one of the load wires and the neutral will provide 115v.
You may look up at the wires leading from the meter or pole to your house or a neighbors house. If there are three wires you probably have two load (“hot”) wires and a ground. If you have two wires you probably have a single hot wire and a ground wire. Below is a photo of the wires coming into our house from the pole.
The wires on the right are from the pole, one black load wire and one uninsulated ground wire. The black and green wires on the right go into our attic and to our panel box. From the fact that there is only one load wire we can guess that we have a single wire system. If you had seen two black wires and a ground leading from the pole to the house you’re probably dealing with a system using two load wires which when combined provide 230v.
In fact, our property is served by an electrical cooperative, “Ileco 1″. The rural electric cooperatives run a single hot wire to the transformer serving your house. This “single wire earth return system (SWER)” or “multi-ground system” is described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-wire_earth_return and http://www.ruralpower.org/ The distribution grid for areas served by electrical cooperatives is very different that that in Philippine cities
The transformer-to-house wire is referred to as “duplex cable”. Our duplex cable is a #6 AWG hot wire which is insulated and is wound with an uninsulated neutral or ground wire. Both are aluminum. We paid about P17 per meter for this cable at Western Lamp in Iloilo City. At the bottom of each electrical pole is a ground rod which is connected to the transformer and to the line serving your house. These provide a ground to your system, but it’s important to have your own separate ground to ensure that your neutral wire is not carrying current. It’s interesting that our entrance cable (weather head to panel box) is #2 AWG copper (as specified by our electrical engineer) while the cable from the pole to the house is much lower capacity #6 AWG aluminum.
Shopping for panel boxes and breakers was a learning experience. Every panel box we have seen is set up for urban-style systems with two load lines. So they have two separate load buses and are set up to use double pole breakers. Some panel boxes we see in the hardware store chains are really poor quality, some with an aluminum bus. We found much better and bigger boxes at electrical supply stores. We bought an excellent twenty circuit panel box with a sturdy copper load buses for about P4,100 at Western Lamp in Iloilo City. This box uses GE style plug in breakers. While these plug in breakers work fine, if I had it to do over again, I’d use the sturdier bolt-in breakers.
So, our system will has three wires to each outlet; a load wire, a neutral wire and a ground. Since the panel box only came with a load bus, we added neutral and ground busses. We were able to buy very nice brass neutral and ground busses to add to the panel box. The maximum main breaker of our panel box is 100 amps. This is equivalent to a 200 amp box in the U.S. Remember that a twenty amp breaker has a capacity of 2,300 watts on a 115v circuit and 4,600 watts on a 230v system.
This photo shows the panel box and (on the right) the double pole, double throw switch which switches between utility company power and our future generator power. Looking inside the panel box, the main (load/hot) bus and breakers is in the middle, the ground bus is on the right and the neutral bus on the left.
There is some confusion over the right type of breaker to use in “single wire” areas served by electric cooperatives. My opinion is that only single pole breakers should be used, that only the load circuit should be controlled by a breaker, but that the neutral/ground circuit should never be broken by a breaker. The Philippine electrical code clearly states that the grounded line of a circuit should never be broken or fused. However, our experience is that most breakers sold and installed in our area are linked double pole breakers in which both the load and the neutral are tripped simultaneously. This is probably because most people live in urban areas where have two load lines which when combined provide 230v, so a two pole breaker is needed. These linked double pole breakers don’t really make much sense on single wire systems and may be a safety hazard if the breaker allows the neutral to be tripped and the load to stay hot. GE plug-in breakers are mechanically linked but electrically separate. Remove the link and you have two independent single-pole breakers. Koten and Royu breakers have a easily removable mechanical link. I don’t know why this is so because if you remove the link the breakers are still electrically connected internally, so if you’re using them as single pole breakers, both circuits will trip when one has a problem. We found that out when an underground short tripped our outdoor lights circuit. Our bedroom lights which are on a different circuit also went out. At first this was a mystery until we read the fine print about the Koten breakers being internally linked. This is not true with the GE breaker, so they are a better bet for this particular application.
Because single pole breakers are not available in Iloilo, as noted above, we treated each side of a double pole breaker as a single pole breaker. The neutral wires will not be connected to the breakers. They are directly connected to an unswitched, grounded neutral bus. Our box accommodates twenty double pole breakers, meaning that it can accommodate a total of forty single pole circuits, far more than we will ever have. We converted our double pole panel box to single pole by connecting the two load busses with a copper link.
UPDATE: We ended up having fourteen circuits in our house, meaning that we really overdid it in buying our panel box. We ended up with 24 unused slots! Live and learn. If we had used double pole breakers we still would have had four spares.
If you have single wire service and single pole panel boxes and breakers are available in your area, just use those and things will be cheaper and simpler.
To run the main feed into the attic we used 3/4″ galvanized pipe. (We have been advised that a larger diameter electrial conduit should be used.) The #2 AWG cables are adequate to handle a 100 amp load according to the electrical code. In the Philippines, metric sizing is replacing the AWG (American Wire Gauge) system. Our #2 AWG cable is designated as 30mm sq. under the metric system. This cable is expensive. Undersized cable is often used. Our electricians were astounded that we were using such heavy cable. Our load and neutral wiring is all 12 AWG. Ground wires are 14 AWG. Working with 12 AWG wire is a little tricky as switches and outlets can be a bit crowded. They really seem designed for 14 AWG. We discovered that our electricians would sometimes cut off strands from the 12 AWG wires so they would fit more easily into switch terminals. Since we did all the outlet wiring we know these were done correctly. We used a mix of Panasonic and Royu outlets. The Panasonic outlets are much better and much more expensive. Our switches are Panasonic and Anam. Anam is a mid-priced Korean brand which seems to be of good quality.
UPDATE: We used stranded wire. I think it was my foreman who recommended the stranded wire. If you are going to use stranded wire you have to be sure to buy switches and outlets designed for stranded wire. Stranded wire has a larger diameter than solid wire and therefore will not fit into many outlets and switches. Fortunately, the widely available and excellent Panasonic Wide Series switches and outlets are designated for and work well with stranded wire. Unfortunately, we only found this out after buying some Anam switches and outlets for 1.6mm solid wire. Live and learn! The Meiji EL grounded outlet works very well with stranded wire and is a good buy at P129.75.
Another matter to consider. We used 3.5mm (12AWG) wire. This may be overkill. The capacity of the 12AWG wire is at least 20 amps. Practically all the outlets are rated at 16 amps. We had a hard short circuit. The 20 amp breaker never tripped. Instead, the Royu 16 amp outlet quite spectacularly burned up. No harm was done, except to the outlet. The safety of our system would be improved by using breakers with less capacity 15 amps or less to be consistent with the rating of other elements of the system. 14 AWG wire is rated at 15 amps. If we are to to use 15 amp breakers then shouldn’t we have used the much cheaper and easier to work with 14 AWG stranded wire? Any electricians out there are very welcome to comment.
Most Philippine houses are not wired with three prong grounded outlets. There is only a load wire and a neutral wire. The quality of grounding of the neutral wire is uncertain. If you’ve spent any time in the Philippines, you’ve probably been repeatedly shocked by your computer, refrigerator and so forth. The metal parts of these either have no ground and when you touch them with bare feet on a tile, you become the ground. Fortunately, grounded outlets are readily available and that’s what we used. We ran a separate ground wire to each outlet running to the ground bus in the panel box and will be tied to both the neutral bus and to a separate grounding rod.
Rather than using a grounding rod pounded into the soil, we attached a copper clamp to the rebar in one of the house’s main columns. This rebar leads about 1.5 meters underground to a mass of rebar in the base of the footer. A heavy copper cable runs from the clamp to the panel box. Rebar grounding is permitted by both the PEC and NEC. See comments below why some feel rebar does not make a good system ground. See this link for an excellent discussion of grounding.
In the Philippines, the load and neutral wires are generally run from outlet to panel box in plastic conduit. When embedded in the floor or block walls, the conduit is 25mm rigid plastic. In the space above the ceiling, the wires generally run in flexible plastic conduit. The Philippine system of running conduit can be pretty horrifying when you first see it. Basically, the house, above the floor level, is built without much regard to electrical or plumbing runs. Then, when it comes time to run wires, channels are hacked into the hollow block to accommodate the electrical conduit. The house can look pretty massacred before the thick finishing coat covers all construction sins. We plan to tried to neatly cut the conduit channels into the hollow block using a diamond masonry blade in a 4″ angle grinder. The end result will be the same but we’ll just feel better with the neatness. Ideally conduit runs should be anticipated and conduit should be cast into beams so that the beams do not have to be cut later to accommodate the conduit running to the lighting and ceiling fans above the beams.
Generally, conduit for outlets is run in or under the floor before the floor is poured. On the other hand, conduit serving switches is run upwards through those channels in the hollow block, through the various beams (hopefully in conduit cast into the beams) into the “attic” area above the suspended ceiling where connections to lighting fixtures and ceiling fans are made.
Above. Utility boxes which will contain switches are half buried in the hollow block wall. The walls will be plastered with a smooth 1/2″ to 1″coat of finishing cement which is then painted and forms the final finish for both interior and exterior walls.
We have various circuits running outside the house; weatherproof outlets on the porch, circuits to the bahay kubo, circuits to lights on the perimeter fence posts, circuits for security lighting, circuits for porch lights, circuits for the carport, circuits for outdoor split air conditioning compressors and so forth. All of these must be anticipated and conduit leading outside installed before the house floor is poured.
These electrical conduit were buried in the concrete floor. The genius of this system is that wires can be replaced (if necessary) by pulling them through the conduit embedded in the floors. For this to work there can be no shortcuts. The wide arc elbows must be used. There are no electrical conduit tees. The blue water system fittings can be used with the electrical conduit but such use may well defeat the ability to pull new wires as the bends are too sharp to pull through.
This view shows how wiring is installed in the attic or ceiling area. This wiring feeds ceiling light fixtures, ceiling fans and some outdoor lighting. Wiring is in flexible plastic conduit. The silver protrusions are the tops of recessed lighting. Except for table lamps, all lighting is recessed “pin” or “can” lights, no ceiling fixtures or chandeliers.
This photo shows the top of 12mm reinforcement bar in the attic. The rebar extends down six meters into the column footer and is connected to virtually all other rebar in the house. The wire is #8 AWG and leads to the ground bus in the panel box. There is another grounding clamp in the footer itself and it is also connected to the ground bus in the panel box with #4 AWG wire.
This panel of switches controls all outdoor lighting; front and rear gate lights, lights at each corner of the house, and sodium vapor lights in the garage (three way) and yard.
We did most of the wiring ourselves. We like that for a number of reasons. We were able to adjust the electrical system as the house progressed, trying to make sure that everything was in the right place, that nothing important was missing. We know that no corners were cut and that good materials were used. We are intimately familiar with the details of our wiring so if anything goes wrong or needs to be added, we’ll know how to do it. Of course it’s also a great learning experience. Bob had some experience with wiring in the U.S. but materials and techniques are very different in the Philippines. Now Philippine electrical systems are not a mystery. Of course we saved money too, although much of the savings (as with many facets of our house project) the savings were ploughed back into the house by using top quality materials were used.
Here’s an informative essay on Philippine electrical systems reprinted by permission of its author Harry Morgan. It appears in the excellent Living in the Philippines forum at: http://livinginthephilippines.com/forum/index.php Look under in the “building in the Philippines” classification under “it’s your money”. We have not come to exactly the same conclusions as Mr. Morgan in every detail, but his is the best writing we have seem on Philippine electrical systems.
Harry Morgan <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Personally I enjoy the arguements about the electric service in the Philippines. I’ve been an electrician for 30+ years in the USA and I totally rewired my father-in-law’s house in Sibonga, Cebu. I will try to address some of the issues about the electric service you will find in most of the Philippines, although I understand there are small areas of American style systems arround the old US military bases.
“IDEALLY”, here is what you “should” have in the majority of the Philippines: A transformer on a pole somewhere near your house, it will be serving several houses in the neighborhood. It will have 2 lugs on the secondary with 220 volts between them. There will be 1 wire from each lug going to each house. One and only one of the lugs “should” also have a second bare copper wire connected to it with the other wire and this bare wire will run down the pole to a ground rod at the base of the pole. The 2 large wires running to each house (service drop) will have the hot wire insulated and the other (neutral) may be bare or insulated. After passing through the electric meter these wires go to your fuse or breaker box. The hot wire will connect to the supply buss where the fuses or breakers are. The neutral wire will connect to the neutral buss which is directly mounted to the metal box. There SHOULD also be a bare wire gioing from the neutral buss to a copper ground rod at each house. From the fuse or breaker box there will be one black 220 volt hot wire from the fuse or breaker and one white neutral wire from the neutral buss for each circuit. This is what you should have in the majority of the simple Philippine 2 wire systems, please take note of the above IDEALLY’s and SHOULD’s.
The Philippine system is a GROUNDED system because the neutral wire is/SHOULD be connected to a ground rod at the pole where the transformer is and a ground rod and/or cold water pipe at each house. This keeps the transformer secondary from floating: the neutral wire at zero volts and the hot wire about 220 volts, depending on the service company’s supply voltage. The neutral wire will be at zero volts because it is connected to ground. If you have anything other than zero volts, you have a loose, dirty, or missing connection to the ground rod; or you are using your volt meter incorrectly (which is not unusual). The neutral wire is also called the “GROUNDED” wire and it should have white insulation throughout the house.
AS for the 3rd green or bare wire, which is missing most of the time in the Philippines, It is called the “GROUNDING” wire. It is connected to the neutral wire in the fuse/breaker box either in the same neutral buss mounted to the metal box or a seperate GROUNDING buss, but they should be connected together and only in the fuse/breaker box, this is the one and only time they should ever be connected together. Throughout the house this GROUNDING wire should connect to the 3rd round prong of each recepticle, all metal electric switch/ recepticle boxes, green hex head GROUNDING screws, and eventually all metal fromes of all electric appliances. This keeps the metal parts of the electric system and appliances at zero volts. The same Zero volts your human body is, so no shocks.
Throughout the house the white GROUNDED wire is at zero volts and is a current carrying part of each circuit. The green or bare GROUNDING wire is also at zero volts, is not part of the circuit, and does not carry current (except in a fault). It’s purpose is to keep all metal parts of the system and metal parts of the appliances at zero volts, and to trip the breaker or blow the fuse and shut the circuit down in the case of a fault.
As for fuses or breakers, there should be one, and only one, in each circuit and it should be in the hot wire. There should NEVER be a fuse or breaker in the neutral white GROUNDED wire, usually you will find this mistake in the old 2 fuse boxes. I have seen a fuse in the neutral a lot in the Philippines and some old installations in the US. If you find a fuse in the neutral GROUNDED wire, please remove it and connect the neutral GROUNDED wire direct. If you disagree with me and that fuse in the neutral ever blows, you may then understand why.
There is no magic electrical trick you can do to get 110 volts from the usual Philippine style 220 volt electric system. The ONLY way is to buy a 220 to 110 volt transformer.
Yes you can ship an American style breaker box to the Philippines and it will work fine, if you know what to do. The 2 hot busses will have to be connected together and tied to the one hot 220 volt wire in the Philippines. Yes, standard American single pole 110 volt breakers will work just fine on Philippine 220 volt systems, they are good to 300 volts. You will only need single pole breakers, NO/NONE/NEVER any 2 pole breakers. Also the same breaker on 220 volts will carry twice the power it carries on 110 volts. A 15 amp breaker carries only 1650 watts on 110 volts, but a whopping 3300 watts on 220 volts. So you will likely want/need the smallest breakers you can find.
I have no idea if an American style 110 volt ground fault or arc fault breakers will work on the Philippine system, I imagine you would blow the test button when you try to test them. I contacted the American manufacturer with this question, but they wouldn’t answer. I imagine because of legal issues. You will have no use for the Americam style 2 pole GFCI’s for you hot tub heater, I imagine no use for a hot tub either.
Now for the American style 110/220 volt system you might find arround the old US military bases: The transformer on the pole will have 3 lugs for the secondary. The middle lug is the “center tap” and will be connected to the ground rod that should be at the bottom of the pole and at the ground rod that should be at each house. The second wire connected to this lug and running to each house may be called GROUNDED, neutral, or common. The other 2 lugs are the hot wires. Each hot wire will be 110 volts to the neutral/common/GROUNDED wire. And there will be also be 220 volts between the 2 hot wires if you leave the 3rd neutral/common/GROUNDED wire out of the circuit. The American style system is a single phase system even though there are 2 hot wires. One hot wire will be at +110 volts at exactly the same time the other hot wire is at -110 volts, thus they are in the same phase.
If there are any budding electrical engineers out there, please no arguements about American style 208 volt systems, I already know they use 2 phases from a three phase system. If you do have a 3 phase system for the secondary in your area of the Philippines, I think you will find it to be a 380 volt 3 phase “Y” tied secondary. Thus any phase to ground will be 220 volts. Besides, I thought engineers were supposed to drive trains?
If I can be of help or if anyone wants to argue (I enjoy both), you may contact me on or of the list.