If you know a lot about electricity, this post may seem like child’s play. (Hey, it is electricity 101!) But for many, the different types of circuits are something you learned about in middle school and promptly forgot. They’re one of those subjects that slowly disappear from your brain because you just don’t have any use for them. It happens. If you want to wrap your head around the basics of electricity, you need to know about the types of circuits and how they work. So let’s get started! If you could learn it in the 8th grade, you can certainly learn it now.
First off, let’s define the word circuit. A circuit is defined as a complete and closed path around which a circulating electric current can flow. It can also mean a system of electrical conductors and components forming such a path. Every time you flip a (functioning) switch, you are completing a circuit and letting electrical currents do their thing.
One of the basic types of electric circuits are power circuits. These circuits transfer and control large amounts of electricity. If you were wondering, the other basic type of circuit is an electronic circuit, which processes and transmits information (they’re used in computers, TVs, cell phones, etc).
Types of Circuits
CLOSED CIRCUITS & OPEN CIRCUITS
A closed circuit has a complete path. A open circuit does not. In order for a circuit to work, it must be closed; thus, open circuits aren’t functional. That may be a hard idea to grasp at first, but circuits are very different from open restaurants or open doors. When a circuit is open, the current can’t flow through.
SERIES CIRCUITS & PARALLEL CIRCUITS
A series circuit is a circuit in which the same current flows through all components of the circuit. The current only has one path to take. If you’ve ever had trouble with Christmas lights, you might know a little about series circuits. If the lights are constructed in a series circuit (as many holiday lights are), when one bulb is missing or burnt out, the current cannot flow and the lights won’t turn on. Series circuits can be very frustrating because if they don’t work, you have to figure out which piece is responsible for the whole.
A parallel circuit is a circuit in which the components are arranged so that the current must break up (with bits flowing across each parallel branch) before meeting and combining again. Because the current divides, each component is assured a charge. And if one path breaks, the other paths will still work because they aren’t reliant on each other. (So if you’re looking for new Christmas lights, check that they’re in a parallel circuit arrangement to avoid a lot of hassle.) Houses are always built with parallel circuits so that if one light burns out, your entire house won’t lose power.
A short circuit is a circuit that allows the current to travel along an unintended path. In this way, it encounters little (or no) resistance. The piece of the circuit bypassed by the short circuit may cease to function and a large amount of current may begin flowing. This causes the wires to heat up and can potentially cause a fire. As we’ve already discussed, circuit breakers and fuse boxes are put in place to cut off circuits as a safety measure when a short circuit occurs. A short circuit is not, as some believe, just any electrical malfunction.
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If you understand the different types of circuits, you’ll better understand your home’s electricity, your electrician’s vocabulary, and even those annoying Christmas lights. For more information on electrical basics, keep following the Electricity 101 series on the Complete Electrical Solutions blog. So far we’ve discussed: