Key Points:

  • It is possible to wire multiple outlets in both series and in parallel setting. However, it is not recommended to use series configuration for household outlets.
  • Outlets wired in series fail to support all the other components down the line if one gets damaged. But parallel configuration keeps all the other outlets running even after a malfunction.
  • In households it is strictly advised to wire outlets in parallel. It is rare or almost impossible to find outlets wired in a series configuration in households.

Outlets, like all other electrical components can either be linked in series or parallel configuration. In a series configuration, two or more outlets share a common node and share the same current. But in a parallel circuit configuration, outlets share two common nodes.

The distinction between outlets in a series configuration and outlets in a parallel configuration can be drawn on various fields and factors. Because each of these configurations effect the entire circuit in its own way. The key differences lie in factors such as direction of current flow, effect on other outlets, preference for home use, power consumption, power distribution, electrical code guideline etc.

In this article, I will discuss in detail about wiring outlets in series vs parallel, key distinctions between them, as well as how both of these configurations effect the outlets alongside components connected to these.

Wiring Outlets In Series Vs Parallel

How are Outlets Wired in Series?

A series configuration of outlets is the one in which the current flow is the same through all of the outlets. In a series circuit, the current follows just one path.

Outlets in Series Configuration
Fig-1: Outlets in Series Configuration

The current and voltage relationships in outlets of a series design are the inverse of those in a parallel circuit. The current in each series element is the same as and equal to the source current.

Flow of Current is Unidirectional

A series circuit is a closed circuit in which the electrical current only flows in one direction. If one of the devices fails or becomes detached, the entire circuit will be disrupted.

Uncommon in Home Wiring

In residents, series circuits are rarely employed. But they are employed in landscape luminaries, Christmas lights etc. If one of the bulbs in the string fails, the entire string of lights will fall black with it.

Failure to Support High Energy Consuming Devices

As the energy lessens with each addition of a new outlet or component in the circuit, components that are attached to the rear end of the circuit receive a far less amount of electricity than the components or outlets connected at the front of the devices.

How are Outlets Wired in Parallel?

Outlets connected in a parallel circuit configuration is one in which the current flows across two or more pathways. All of the outlets connected in a parallel configuration have the same voltage.

A Circuit in Parallel Configuration
Fig-2: A Circuit in Parallel Configuration

The voltage across each parallel outlet is the same as the source voltage, and the current through each element changes depending on the impedance (in this case, resistance) of each element.

Flow of Current is Multidirectional

A parallel circuit is a closed circuit in which the electrical current flows in two or more directions. The devices that have been tapped into the circuit loop are linked in a column formation. If one of the devices fails or becomes detached, the entire circuit will still continue to function.

Dominantly Used in Home Wiring

In terms of parallel vs series circuit, parallel circuits are far more popular than series circuits. This is notably true in the majority of domestic branch circuits that supply electricity to outlets, appliances, and light fixtures.

It’s also a closed circuit in which the electrical current is split into two or more paths before reuniting and completing the circuit.

Pigtailing is Supported

Parallel configuration should be used in a normal home for outlets, switches, light fixtures, and other common 120-volt household circuits. By pigtailing into circuit wires to power an outlet, it is possible to create a continuous pathway.

What Are the Differences Between Outlets Wired in Parallel Vs Series Configuration?

There are several key factors that differentiate between outlets that are wired in parallel and in series, apart from the varying magnitude of electricity and voltage. So, what is the difference between an outlet wired in series and in parallel? They are mentioned in the chart below.

Wiring Outlets in Series Vs Parallel

FeaturesSeries OutletsParallel Outlets
Direction of CurrentUnidirectionalMultidirectional
VoltageDivided among outletsAll outlets receive the same voltage
CurrentAll outlets receive the same current flowDivided among outlets
Preference for Home UseNot PreferredPreferred
Power ConsumptionPower consumption of each outlet decreases with each additional component.Power consumption of each outlet remains the same.
Power DistributionRear outlets are supplied less power than outlets at the front.Equal power is supplied to each outlet.
Electrical Code GuidelineGoes against the guidelineIs advised to use, by the guideline.
Effect on Other OutletsDamaged outlet prevents current flow.Damaged outlet does not hinder current flow.

How Does the Circuit Configuration Affect the Outlets?

Yes, the circuit configuration definitely affects all of the outlets in various manners. It depends on the factors mentioned above as well the components that have been used in the installation.

Let’s take a detailed look at those effects.

Direction of Current: When outlets are connected in series, current only has one way to flow, hence when one hindrance occurs in the circuit, all the outlets cease to work.

But in outlets that are wired in parallel, current flows in more than one direction.

Voltage: The difference between series and parallel outlet configuration is that, the incoming voltage is split into the outlets in series configuration.

On the other hand, the voltage between parallel outlets is always the same as the supplied input voltage.

Current: In outlets connected in a series arrangement, the current is always the same. The current, on the other hand, is shared among the parallel connected outlets.

Preference for Home Use: A common question that arises is, “Are household circuits parallel or series?”. Series configuration for outlets in households is strictly discouraged. Parallel configuration should be followed for outlets in households.

Power Consumption: With each new component in the series configuration, the power consumption of each outlet reduces. In a parallel setup, however, the power consumption of each outlet stays the same.

Power Distribution: Power distributed among outlets is uneven in the series configuration, as rear outlets receive less power. But in a parallel configuration of outlets, each outlet is distributed the same amount of power.

Electrical Code Guideline: Connecting outlets in series violates the electrical code. It is evident that parallel wiring is the safest and most efficient option.

Effect on Other Components: In a series configuration of outlets, if one outlet malfunctions and stops working, in response to it, other components will fail to malfunction as well. Because electricity is unidirectional in series.

But in a parallel configuration, all the other outlets will continue to work even after a malfunction occurs.

These are the key factors which differentiate between a series circuit vs a circuit is parallel configuration. They must all be taken into consideration before continuing with any electrical tasks such as, how to convert 3 phase to single phase 220v etc.

Summary

I have discussed in detail about the differences that lie between wiring outlets in series vs parallel. Throughout this article I’ve mentioned the distinctions that differentiate between them, alongside the proper use case of each configuration.

This article also showcases both the advantages and disadvantages of each outlet configuration. You must choose which configuration to use for your outlets according to your specific needs and take your use cases into consideration. I hope this guide will help you take calculated decisions about these subjects.

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