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Series and Parallel Circuits – The Basics

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Introduction

Have you ever wondered what the difference was between a series and a parallel circuit? Both use current that flow through them, but that’s where the likeness ends.

Series Circuit

A series circuit starts with the hot wire from a power source that feeds one side of, let’s say, a light bulb. The other wire on the light then goes to feed the next light and so on. At the last light, the second wire comes back and connects to the other side of the power source.

The best example I can give you is a string of Christmas lights. You know the type. When you take out one bulb, they all go out. That is a series circuit. If you take a bulb out, you’re opening up the circuit and that means that current cannot flow.

Parallel Circuit

Let's say that you are installing six lights in a building. A parallel circuit starts with a hot wire and a neutral wire which feeds the first light. The remaining five lights are connected white to white (neutral) and black to black (hot) all the way to and including the last light. Unlike the series circuit, you can remove a bulb in any of the lights and it will not cause the other lights to go out. A great example is a hallway in your house where two or more lights come on with the same switch. When one burns out, the other remains lit.

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