Ring Circuits – The Disadvantages by Roger Lovegrove

Introduction Have we got it right or is this yet another UK outdated insular custom? In this paper I intend to show you the disadvantages of using ring circuits. Opinions I have formed as a result of problems experienced during many years of inspecting and testing electrical installations and training people to do it. David has pointed out that the original thinking behind the development of the 13 amp plug and socket system was for domestic premises – economy homes. Having read David’s paper, it seems to me that the introduction of ring circuits was almost an afterthought and that the original intention was for a socket to be used on a radial circuit. In my view it should have stopped at domestic premises. Other premises were only mentioned once in the history paper. However, over the years people have been brain washed into believing that 13A sockets mean ring circuits. I have just recently even found a ring circuit supplying a single socket for a heating boiler. Hardly dangerous but demonstrates a complete lack of understanding by the installer, who incidentally was Part P registered. Usage Ring circuits are used almost everywhere in this country, and some others: Schools - laboratories and workshops Offices both large and small Hospitals – wards and surgical/treatment areas Retail premises, although some will not have ring circuits because of additional dangers and costs. Public buildings As well as Domestic At this point I would like to make it clear that I am not against ring circuits, there is a place for them in modern installations provided they are properly designed in accordance with BS 7671, carefully installed and tested as detailed in IEE Guidance notes 3 or the On-Site Guide. If all three were properly applied some of the disadvantages would disappear. Main Issues Safety is the main issue and safety being important becomes one of the main disadvantages. Ring circuits are misused and abused. They are installed without proper consideration as to their purpose and loading, additional points are frequently added as spurs without considering the existing layout of the circuit.

Safety Many rings are wired incorrectly particularly by DIY persons. It is a vital part of the installation process. Testing The safety of a ring circuit relies on proper testing. Sometimes however electricians can get it wrong. . Hence metal trunkings become half filled with green and yellow cables that are unlikely to ever see an amp in their whole existence. there is an increased fire risk due to overheating of cables and connections. The ring circuits cost more to install than two radial circuits. And if the sink does not happen to be more or less in the centre of the ring. If the correct testing method is not fully applied defects with the circuit are unlikely to be identified and corrected. Disadvantage: Not easy to achieve. for obvious reasons. This means that in a circuit intended to supply a washing machine. More often than not if you look around a kitchen you will find the washing machine. There are only four regulations that state requirements for ring circuits. Regulation 543-02-09 Regulation 543-02-09. This regulation requires the protective conductor of a ring circuit to be wired in the form of a ring. dryer and dishwasher grouped around the sink. Most people ignore the metal covering part and run separate cpcs for each circuit. – Another disadvantage. tumble dryer and a dishwasher the points need to be wired so that the load current in both legs of the ring is shared as equally as possible.They are used for heating circuits and IT circuits again. Disadvantage: Waste of cable and labour. Regulations – 433-02-04 BS 7671. This regulation requires the load to be distributed around the circuit so that the current in any part of the ring does not exceed the installed rating of the cable. This applies to both initial testing as well as periodic inspection and testing. I have had electricians say to me “I can’t believe I did that” Even competent people make mistakes at times. without considering the load or the need for secure protective conductor connections or reinforced cpcs. one leg will carry more current than the other. The critical regulation is 433-02-04 which is probably largely ignored because it is often impractical to apply. Unless a ring circuit is wired correctly with spurs restricted to 1 double point per spur. unless it is formed by metal covering or a metal enclosure. A lack of understanding of the system is another problem. If there are breaks in the conductors or loose connections in terminals there are both fire and shock risks.

What a lot of nonsense. or marking the mid-point on the ‘as installed’ drawings. See Appendix 15.Testing is however a time consuming and expensive operation. WHY? There must have been a reason to introduce a specific test method in Appendix 15.13th Edition 1955 Regulation 505 A test shall be made to verify the continuity of all conductors of every ring circuit installed in accordance with Regulation 114(b) IEE Wiring Regulations . Could it have been that the industry and consumers were having safety problems? It is clear to me that in the 25 – 30 years following the introduction of the ring circuit there must have been safety problems that were referred to the IEE for resolution and became the driver for the test we have today. The test method was transferred from Appendix 15 to Guidance Notes 3. Consultants were marking the mid-points on drawings or instructing contractors to label the socket at the mid-point. Test Methods The method introduced into the 15th edition called for a resistance measurement to be made at every outlet point first between phase and neutral and then between phase and cpc. The text said that the resistance at the centre point of the ring would be equal to the sum of the phase loop resistance and the neutral or cpc loop resistance. hence it is very often not done fully as prescribed in GN 3. divided by four.14th Edition 1966 Regulation D 10 A test shall be made to verify the continuity of all conductors (including the earth-continuity conductor) of every ring circuit. This sent everybody running around like headless chickens looking for the mid-points of ring circuits. . with the conductors joined together at the distribution board. I am sure that it could not have been simply ‘a good idea at the time’ IEE Wiring Regulations – 16th Edition 1991 Regulation 713-03 A test shall be made to verify the continuity of all conductors (including the protective conductor) of every ring final circuit. No test methods given IEE Wiring Regulations – 15th Edition 1981 Regulation 613-2 A test shall be made to verify the continuity of all conductors (including the protective conductor) of every ring final circuit. History IEE Wiring Regulations . Appendix 15 showed a very detailed test method.

with the conductors joined at the distribution board. should be a quarter of the sum of the conductor resistances added together. doing the tests and re-assembling the circuit after completing the tests. Happily this method was changed for the 16th edition. Interconnections occur usually in distribution boards but can easily occur when ring circuits cables are installed in trunkings. sockets mounted in dado trunking were intended to be connected alternatively to essential and non-essential supplies distribution boards. If suitable provision were made in the schedules of tests results there is a chance that the testing would be done properly. . How can one be sure that the ring is complete after reassembly? Still a funny way of doing things! Is this a disadvantage? In many instances.If the text had said that the highest value of resistance measured between phase and neutral. and all other points would be of lesser value. None of the test results schedules that I have seen provide for the ‘interconnected conductors’ test value to be recorded. probably most. it would have saved the industry a great deal of unnecessary work time and cost. This is an important record that demonstrates: a) the test has been done and b) the circuit is correctly wired. Typical Faults Found The most dangerous fault: ƒ Cross connections between two ring circuits or a ring and a radial so that the over-current and fault current protection is compromised becoming as much as 60 or 64 amps. The 16th Edition Method. Electricians freely admit this because testing each point twice takes too long. ring circuits are not properly tested. The recommended and only proven method of testing involves breaking the ring. many cannot be bothered to do the ‘interconnected conductors’ test. In one hospital. disconnection times are completely blown and circuit isolation relies on 2 devices rather than a single device. separating the conductors at either the distribution board or at a point. or cpc. The circuit cables were inter-connected between the two boards. Most people testing will test the ring ‘end to end’.

Other Faults Incomplete ring on one or all circuit conductors – broken loops ƒ Part of a ring missing.Would have had an interesting result if the circuits had been connected to different phases. ƒ Incorrect polarity. ƒ Break or bad connection in the cpc due to loose screws or over zealous tightening.0 mm2 cables. and if any of the above defects are present fault finding can take a considerable time and become very expensive. ƒ Too many spurs on a ring.5 mm2 cables drawn into a straight run of conduit or trunking take much longer to install than radial circuits wired with 3 single core 4. Who pays in the long run? Disadvantages galore. They would be eliminated by applying the correct testing methods. risk of overloading 1 leg of the ring ƒ Break or loose connections in the live conductors. Testing ring circuits can take 5 or 6 times longer than testing radial circuits. All these could cause danger and are therefore serious disadvantages. Ring circuits wired with 3 single core 2. Fault finding on radial circuits is relatively simple and quick. one cable not secured and overcrowded distribution boards. and spurs on spurs . can’t happen with radials Installation Consider the disadvantages with circuit wiring: A 32A ring circuit serving 100m2 uses more cable and therefore takes longer to install than 1 x 32 A radial circuits serving 100m2 A 32A ring circuit serving 100m2 uses more cable and therefore takes longer to install than 2 x 20A radial circuits each serving 50m2 the latter having a higher loading capacity of 40A. ƒ A ‘ring’ wired as a figure of eight. 3 conductors in one terminal. . Overheating likely to cause a hot spot at a termination that may eventually burn out or cause a fire. resulting in two 2. one loose.risk of over-heating ƒ Spur cables too long. a link cable having been left out. Big disadvantage to the installer. Each of these situations use less of the worlds resources of copper. thus increasing Zs of the circuit so that the limiting value is exceeded and the 0.5mm2 cables being protected by a single 32 A protective device ƒ Loose Connections due to conductors crammed into back boxes that are too small.4 second disconnection time is not achieved. especially for spurs.

change the balance of the circuit.To my mind. ƒ Domestic and commercial consumers have a multitude of low-current appliances. workshops. Another potential danger and disadvantage. depending on the load. Many domestic ring circuits have been modified incorrectly by DIY persons and are no longer a ring and are probably unsafe. I do not disagree with that. More often than not. who may be exceedingly good tradesmen. and are likely to give up. wiring faults may go undetected and invalidate the basic safety principles of the system. classrooms and laboratories the only justification for installing a ring circuit is where a single circuit is run completely around the room. If it is necessary to install all 6 conductors in a single run of conduit or trunking then 2 radial circuits are much more practical and cost effective. especially DIY. Extending or breaking into a ring circuit is not a straight forward exercise. Others swallow it whole and become very competent testers. additional points are installed as spurs from the ring or spurs from spurs. An apprentice who is brought up with the system should understand the correct installation methods. Much of our labour comes from agencies and you get what you are sent. There is a dearth of competent home grown time served electricians. Furthermore I am certain that very few people. ƒ Unless thorough testing is carried out on a new or particularly a modified ring circuit. Training It has been said many times that if electricians are trained properly the problems would not exist. Electricians trained in EU countries other than Ireland will not have heard of ring circuits. I have discussed this with many engineers who all agree with this philosophy. We have big labour problems in this country. have great difficulty in grasping the test method and the benefits of doing the test. They may be very good competent tradesmen in their own countries but never-the-less are not competent to install socket circuits in this country. I have found that some electricians. I am sure that nobody ever tests the ring continuity and layout prior to installing an additional point. I know that some engineers will not consider using ring circuits in commercial installations. particularly in domestic premises. I am equally sure that very few people install an additional point by diverting the ring cables to include it in the ring. however testing is a different issue. New installations need many sockets and flexibility is needed to allow furniture to be moved around and for future alterations and additions. Additional points. with total disregard for the existing load and usage. This can. in offices. In London you hardly ever hear English spoken on construction sites. . ever apply the ring test after installing the additional point.

The limiting factor need only be the maximum anticipated load that would be used in the area.Europeans do not understand ring circuits. They may require proof of qualification. Voltage drop is unlikely to be a problem neither will earth loop impedance because in the near future all such circuits will require RCD protection. unlikely. A 20 A tree circuit wired with 2. agencies do not apply a trade test before taking such people on their books. . Tree Circuits A tree circuit is simply a radial circuit with branches.5 mm2 cables would be far more versatile than a straight radial circuit and probably far more practical. This also applies to Australians. • • • 32 A ring – 7 kW – 100 m2 32 A radial – 7 kW – 100 m2 20 A radial – 4. ƒ ƒ It is now recommended that kitchens are treated as a separate entity and have at least one ring circuit.voltage drop and the earth loop impedance of the circuit. These are based on the maximum anticipated load in these areas not exceeding 5 kW or 7 kW respectively. The limiting factor in such areas is the cable length . 100 m2. It is hardly surprising that there are problems. the limitation would still be the maximum load likely to be used in the area. New Zealanders and South Africans many of whom come to this country to make a fortune. Points could be placed economically wherever they may be used. driers etc are not all on one circuit. not the number of sockets. To my knowledge.5 kW – 50 m2 In my view • 2 x 20A radials better than 1 x 32A ring A 20 A circuit to serve 50 m2 floor area and a 32 amp circuit. 2 x 20 A radial circuits in a kitchen will use less cable than a ring circuit and provide greater capacity as long as care is taken to ensure that fixed loads such as washing machines. Other Options: Radial and Tree Circuits There are good reasons for considering the use of other types of circuits IEE Guidance Notes show radial circuits in the conventional circuit arrangements. In these circumstances independent testing is essential. A big disadvantage for some. but that is all. but is it done? It becomes expensive for the contractor and ultimately the client.

and 1 x 32 A 4.0 mm2 radial or tree circuit in the kitchen. automatic and telephone control. This added bonus gives an opportunity to control sections of the circuit separately with switches and timers.5 mm2 radial or tree circuits.Controls ƒ Ring circuits do not readily facilitate separate control of groups of socket outlets. . Applications Typically a standard 3 bedroom domestic property could be adequately served by 2 x 20 A 2. Radial and Tree circuits do. In Commercial buildings by Building management systems In domestic buildings – Smart Homes – Home Bus Systems.

Simple Exercise Small diversified loads outside of the kitchen. Bedroom 1 2 bedside lamps clock radio electric blanket tea maker electric iron hair dryer TV trouser press 3 double points Bedroom 2 2 bedside lamps music centre hair curler electric blanket play station computer Bedroom 3 bedside light music centre electric blanket model railway computer 3 double points 2 double points Lounge TV video/dvd music centre 3 table lamps 4 double points Dining Room plate warmer 3 table lamps radio Hallway and study vacuum cleaner answer phone computer table lamp 3 double points 3 double points Heavier loading requires a 30A circuit or 2 x 20A circuits Kitchen dishwasher microwave radio coffee maker refrigerator mixer toaster television kettle freezer Utility washing machine tumble dryer iron 6 double points 2 double points .

These findings indicate that on large properties radial circuits are likely to be far more cost effective than ring circuits. . a) b) c) 3 rings (1 in kitchen) 4 x 20 A radial circuits (2 in kitchen) 2 x tree circuits & 1 x 32 A radial (kitchen) a) – b) . Replacing 3 ring circuits with 3 x 32 A radial circuits wired with 4 mm2 cable effects a much lesser saving of approximately 5%.5% £650 £510 £620 or or Savings (The above costs do not include socket outlets which are the same for all systems).Comparative Costs A costing exercise on a typical 3 bedroom property. In the example a 10 way consumer unit facilitated either system. but on smaller properties savings may not be so significant. It is likely with some properties that if radial/tree circuits were used a larger consumer unit would be required.22% a) – c) . It must be remembered that experience shows that radial circuits are likely to be a safer option than ring circuits. This demonstrates that replacing 3 ring circuits with 4 x 20 A radial/tree circuits could effect cost savings in the order of 20%. The additional cost of a 12 way split consumer unit over a 10 way split consumer unit is less than £12.

Summary The disadvantages of Ring circuits are numerous: ƒ ƒ ƒ ƒ ƒ ƒ ƒ Compliance with Regulation 433-02-04 Not understood – lack of training of electricians from other countries Susceptible to fault conditions Testing and fault finding is very time consuming and costly Fault conditions are not apparent when in use Use more cable and take longer to install – waste of resources Generally not cost effective Advantages of Radial circuits Greater flexibility ƒ Less cable would be needed. means ƒ Less time to install. Disadvantage of Radial circuits ƒ More circuits required means: ƒ Larger distribution boards ƒ More circuit breakers required I don’t suppose manufacturers will complain! . ƒ Considerably less time required for inspection and testing. less drain on the world’s resources of copper ƒ The problems created by Regulation 433-02-04 – distributing load evenly in a ring circuit (that nobody takes any notice of) would disappear thus reducing the exposure of the contractor to a breach of regulation claim. means ƒ Lower installation cost ƒ Also means. ƒ Less likelihood of installation faults ƒ Any breaks or loose connections will be readily identified when testing.

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