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Types of electrical circuits

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Electricity is dangerous and can be hazardous. In doubt? Call a qualified electrician.

Types of electrical circuits

There are three main types of circuits encountered in a domestic situation. They are ring circuits, radial circuits and lighting circuits.

Ring circuits

Most modern socket circuits are ring circuits or ring mains as they are sometimes referred to. A cable leaves the consumer unit and travels to each socket on the main and when it reaches the last socket it then returns to the consumer unit, thus creating a ring. The advantage of this system is that power can reach the sockets in the circuit from both directions, which reduces the power load on the cables.

A ring circuit can serve an area up to 110 square metres (120 square yards), 2.5mm2 cable is used to wire the circuit and the circuit has a 30amp fuse or 32amp MCB on the consumer unit. It is usual for a house to have one ring circuit upstairs and one ring circuit downstairs.

Ring circuits can have extra sockets added to them by adding a ‘spur’ onto a ring circuit. A spur is a branch off the ring circuit, usually from an existing circuit, although a junction box could also be used. Theoretically as many spurs as sockets could be added, but the maximum load of the circuit (30/32amp) still exists).

See the following pages for more information,

Radial Circuits

With radial circuits the cable comes from the consumer unit and travels to each socket, simlar to the ring circuit. However when the circuit reaches the last socket the cable ends, whereas a ring main travels back to the consumer unit.

Radial circuits can therefore only serve a smaller area. Using 2.5mm2 cable combined with a 20amp fuse/MCB an area of 20 square metres (24 square yards) is permissible. For 4mm2 cable combined with a 32amp MCB or a 30amp cartridge fuse (a re-wirable fuse is not allowed) an area of 50 square metres (60 square yards) is permissible.

In a similar way to ring circuits spurs can be added at points along the radial circuit if required. High powered appliances (cookers / showers) must have their own radial circuit.

See the following pages for more information,

Lighting Circuits

Lighting circuits are basically radial circuits. There are two distinct types of lighting, circuit the loop-in circuit and the older junction box circuit. Most houses combine aspects of both types of circuits. The loop-in circuit has a cable, running from light to light terminating at the last light as in the conventional radial circuits and then single cable run from the lights to the light switches.

The other type of lighting circuit has a junction box for each light. The cable runs from the consumer unit to the first junction box and then onto the next terminating at the last junction box. Then another cable is run from each junction box to its light and another wire from the junction box to that light switch.The cable used for a lighting circuit is 1mm2 or 1.5mm2 for long runs.

A 5amp fuse or 6amp MCB is used on the consumer unit for a lighting circuit. The maximum load for a lighting circuit is 1200 watts, which amounts to 12 x 100 watt lights. If more lights are needed then another lighting circuit should be used. It is usual to have 2 lighting circuits in a house one upstairs and the other downstairs.

See Adding a new light and switch for more information.

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