In a parallel circuit there are multiple paths for current to follow.
This is like a water pipe that enters a house then splits off to the
kitchen and the bathroom. Once the water is used it enters the drains
then all goes down the same sewer pipe. This is also like a parallel
circuit because, eventually, all of the paths of a parallel circuit
come back together to return to the battery.
A Parallel Circuit. The current
splits up among multiple paths
A parallel circuit is not a parallel circuit because the resistors are
drawn side-by-side, but because the circuit splits into multiple paths.
A circuit with a single current path is a series circuit. A circuit
with multiple current paths is a parallel circuit.
The same parallel circuit as
above. Components in a parallel circuit
don't need to be drawn parallel to each other. Drawing components
end-to-end does not make them a series circuit. None of these resistors
are in series with each other. The current splits into multiple paths
so it is a parallel circuit.
Notice that in the first circuit the current path splits three ways,
through the 10 ohm, 15 ohm and 5 ohm resistors. In the second circuit
the current still splits three ways through the same three resistors.
The 10 ohm and 15 ohm resistors are not in series with each other just
because they are drawn in a straight line. The 10 ohm and 15 ohm
resistors are in parallel with each other.
Since there are multiple paths for the current to follow, the total
resistance of a parallel circuit is less than any single resistance in
the circuit. For example, if you have a 10-inch water pipe, laying
another 10-inch pipe next to it will allow twice as much water to flow
as the single pipe. This means the resistance of the two pipes together
is less than the resistance of either pipe alone. If you have two equal
resistors in parallel, together, they will carry twice as much current
as either resistor alone. Therefore, two equal value resistors in
parallel will have half the resistance of either resistor alone. For
example, two 100 ohm resistors in parallel will have a resistance of 50
Two 100 ohm resistors in
parallel total 50 ohms.
If you have two unequal resistors in parallel, calculating the total
resistance is a little more complicated and will be discussed in a
moment. However, the total resistance will always be less than the
lowest resistance. For example, let's say you have a 10-inch diameter
water pipe that can carry 1,000 gallons per hour. Now lay a 5-inch pipe
next to it, that pipe can carry 250 gallons per hour.Together the
pipes carry 1,250 gallons per hour (gph). They have less resistance
together (can carry more water) than either one alone. Notice that the
larger pipe carries more water (1,000 gph vs 250 gph) and therefore has
less resistance. Together the pipes have even less resistance than the
largest pipe. Together they carry 1,250 gph where the largest pipe
alone only carries 1,000 gph. Electrical resistors act the same. If you
have a 5 ohm resistor in parallel with a 10 ohm resistor, the total
resistance will be something less than 5 ohms.
If you have two resistors in parallel, the total resistance can be
calculated by multiplying the values, then dividing that product by the
sum of the values. This is known as the product-over-sum method. It is
expressed by the following formula:
For example, if you have 10 ohms and 5 ohms in parallel the total
resistance would be calculated as follows:
Notice that this is just a little less than 5 ohms, the lowest
The product-over-sum method only works for two resistors. If you have
three resistors, apply the method to two of the resistors, then apply
it again with the third resistor and the outcome of the first two. For
example, if you have two 100 ohm resistors and one 50 ohm resistor in
The total resistance would be calculated as follows:
the total resistance for any two of the three resistors. Here, the two
100 ohm resistors are chosen.
The result is 50 ohms. Now, this 50 ohms is calculated in parallel with
the remaining 50 ohm resistor.
The final result is 25 ohms.
The following formula works for any number of resistors in parallel.
RT = Total resistance of the parallel
R1, R2 and R3 = each of the resistors in the circuit
Also may be expressed as:
If you have a 10 ohm resistor, a 20 ohm resistor and a 30 ohm resistor
this would be calculated as follows:
Calculate the total
resistance of the following sets of parallel resistors
1) 5 ohms, 10 ohms _________
2) 33 ohms, 47 ohms ________
3) 5 ohms, 10 ohms, 15 ohms
4) 33 ohms, 47 ohms, 100 ohms
5) 50 ohms, 75 ohms, 80 ohms
6) 200 ohms, 200 ohms, 100 ohms
Remember, any time you
have two identical resistors in parallel, the resistance is half of
either resistor. For example, two 50 ohm resistors in parallel will
have a total resistance of 25 ohms. Two 30 ohm resistors in parallel
will have a total resistance of 15 ohms. Apply this to the last problem
above. The two 200 ohm resistors in parallel will have a total
resistance together of 100 ohms. They together are in parallel with a
100 ohm resistor. This makes 100 ohms in parallel with 100 ohms which
has a total resistance of 50 ohms.