Wiring Outlets in Series Vs Parallel: Which is the Better Option?
When it comes to electrical circuits, understanding the difference between wiring outlets in series and wiring outlets in parallel is crucial.
In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of each method and determine which option is the better choice.
Whether you’re a homeowner or an electrician, this information will help you make informed decisions when it comes to wiring outlets.
Basics of Electric Circuitry
Before we dive into the specifics of wiring outlets in series vs parallel, let’s first understand the basics of electric circuitry.
All electrical circuits operate by providing a closed-loop of wires through which electrical current can flow.
The movement of electrons through this circuit creates the electrical current, which powers devices connected to the circuit.
In a closed circuit, electrical current flows from the source (via hot wires) and returns to the source (via neutral wires).
When devices tap into the circuit, they become powered by the moving current.
However, if the circuit is interrupted, such as by opening a switch, the flow of electrical current stops, temporarily breaking the circuit.
What is a Series Circuit?
A series circuit is a closed circuit in which the electrical current follows one path.
Devices connected in a series circuit are connected in a continuous row, meaning that the failure or disconnection of one device will interrupt the entire circuit.
This also means that if one outlet in a series circuit fails, all other outlets in the circuit will stop working simultaneously.
Series circuits are rarely used in house wiring but are occasionally found in landscape luminaries and Christmas lights.
In a string of Christmas lights wired in a series circuit, if one bulb goes out, the whole string of lights will go dark.
This is because the failure of one bulb creates an open circuit in the wiring.
However, modern Christmas light strings often use parallel circuits, allowing the string to continue functioning even if one bulb goes dim.
What is a Parallel Circuit?
In contrast, a parallel circuit is much more common in household wiring.
In a parallel circuit, the electrical current is divided into two or more pathways before coming back together to complete the full circuit.
Each device connected to a parallel circuit is in constant contact with the main circuit pathway, similar to how vehicles can enter and exit a freeway without interrupting the main highway.
One advantage of parallel circuits is that if there is a failure in any individual loop, the entire circuit remains functional.
All outlets, appliances, and light fixtures connected to the parallel circuit will continue to work even if one outlet fails.
This makes parallel circuits the preferred choice for most household branch circuits.
Wiring Outlets in Series
Now that we understand the basics of series and parallel circuits, let’s focus on wiring outlets in series.
When outlets are wired in series, they are connected in a continuous row.
In a series circuit, the hot wire from the power source connects to the first outlet, and then a second wire connects that outlet to the next one, and so on.
The neutral wire also connects in the same manner.
To wire outlets in series, follow these steps:
1. Turn off Power:
Before working on any electrical project, always turn off the power to the area you’ll be working on.
Locate the circuit breaker that feeds the line or circuit you’re working on and switch it off. Use a multimeter to ensure there is no electric current present in the outlet.
2. Disconnect Wires from the First Outlet:
Disconnect the hot wire, the neutral wire, and the ground wire from the first outlet, but keep them in the box.
Run a length of wire from the second outlet to the first, drilling holes in the studs and passing the wire through them.
3. Cut the Taps to Wire Outlets:
Cut short lengths of wire, known as taps or pigtails, for the hot, neutral, and ground wires. Strip 1/2 inch of insulation from both ends of each wire.
4. Prepare to Wire the Second Outlet:
Cut off four inches of the sheath from the wire inside the junction box of the second outlet. Separate the three wires and strip 1/2 inch of insulation from each of them.
Connect the black wire to the brass terminal, the white wire to the silver terminal, and the ground wire to the metal screw inside the box.
5. Wire the Series:
In the first outlet box, strip 1/2 inch of insulation from the ends of the wire that runs between the outlets.
Connect the black wire going into the second outlet, the black wire going into the first outlet, and the black tap together.
Twist the bare ends of the three wires together and secure them with a wire connector. Repeat the same procedure with the neutral wires and the ground wires.
Finally, connect the loose ends of the tap wires to the appropriate screws on the outlets.
It’s important to note that wiring outlets in series consumes less energy but is less efficient in the long run.
Additionally, if one outlet shorts out, all other outlets in the series circuit will be affected.
Wiring outlets in series also goes against electrical code requirements, making it an undesirable choice for most applications.
Wiring Outlets in Parallel
In contrast to wiring outlets in series, wiring outlets in parallel is the preferred method for most household applications.
When outlets are wired in parallel, each outlet is connected independently to the main circuit pathway.
This allows each outlet to function independently, even if one outlet fails or is disconnected.
To wire outlets in parallel, follow these steps:
1. Turn Off the Power:
Always turn off the power to the circuit you’ll be working on before starting any electrical project.
2. Wire Outlets in the Middle of the Circuit:
Start by wiring the outlets in the middle of the circuit. Run the Romex, a type of electrical conductor with non-metallic sheathing, through the first outlet box, stripping off six inches of outer insulation.
Strip one inch of insulation from the black and white wires and connect them to the appropriate screws on the outlet. Connect the ground wire to the green screw.
3. Connect the Other Outlets:
Continue wiring each outlet in the middle of the circuit in the same manner.
Lead the Romex into each box from the bottom and exit through the top, connecting the ground wires with the green screws.
Make sure to pigtail the ground wires in each outlet box.
4. Complete the End of the Circuit:
Once you reach the last outlet, only the Romex enters the outlet box.
Strip the Romex and the individual hot and neutral wires, connecting them to the appropriate screws on the outlet.
Make a pigtail with the ground wire from the Romex and a length of ground wire connected to the green screw.
By wiring outlets in parallel, you ensure that if one outlet fails, the other outlets connected to the circuit will continue to function. This makes parallel circuits the safer and more efficient choice for most applications.
Wiring Outlets in Series Vs Parallel: A Comparison
When comparing wiring outlets in series vs parallel, there are several important factors to consider.
Let’s take a closer look at the key differences between the two methods:
- Failure of One Outlet: In a series circuit, if one outlet fails, all other outlets in the circuit will also stop working. On the other hand, in a parallel circuit, the failure of one outlet will not affect the functioning of other outlets.
- Energy Consumption: Series circuits consume less energy compared to parallel circuits. Appliances running on a series circuit have the same amount of current flowing through them, while appliances in a parallel circuit have the same voltage, consuming more power.
- Dimming of Lights: In a series circuit, the amount of energy diminishes as it passes through each outlet. This means that the more lights you add to a series circuit, the dimmer they will become. In a parallel circuit, each outlet receives the same voltage, ensuring consistent brightness.
- Electrical Code Requirements: Wiring outlets in series goes against electrical code requirements and is not recommended for most applications. Wiring outlets in parallel is the standard and preferred method for household branch circuits.
Based on these factors, it is clear that wiring outlets in parallel is the safer and more efficient choice for most applications.
It allows for the independent functioning of each outlet and ensures that a failure in one outlet does not affect the others.
When it comes to wiring outlets, understanding the difference between series and parallel circuits is essential.
While series circuits connect outlets in a continuous row, parallel circuits allow each outlet to function independently.
Wiring outlets in parallel is the preferred method for most household applications, as it ensures the continuous functioning of outlets even if one fails.
By following the proper steps and adhering to electrical code requirements, you can confidently wire outlets in parallel and create a safe and efficient electrical circuit.
Whether you’re a homeowner or an electrician, choosing the right wiring method will ensure the reliable operation of your electrical outlets.
Remember, always prioritize safety and consult a professional electrician if you have any doubts or concerns about wiring outlets in series or parallel.
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