# Two resistors in series

I know the summation equation for two or more resistors in parallel or series, and I know two parallel resistors will give more power.

But sometimes I saw some circuits that used two resistors in series, and I am wondering why that method was used and why they didn't use one resistor with a higher value (equal to total series resistors)?

Such as the following circuit diagram, two 33 kΩ resistors used in series. So why doesn't it use one 68K resistor?

Give it better results? I mean, noise filtering or something else?

Note: This circuit is an AC dimmer for a microcontroller.

• Because sometimes you can't find a resistor with the exact value you need. So you combine it from the standard values. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 17:51
• Probably had two 33K resistors available and no 66K resistors to use. Hence, why he used those resistors. Technically, he could simply have one resistor of 66Kohms. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 17:52
• That is not the true answer since 68K is available(standard value) and the circuit work with that very good, i test it even with 100K and works. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 17:57
• No, parallel resistors do not have the save overall value as the two individual resistors. Two equal resistors in parallel has overall half the resistance of each one. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:13
• It has nothing to do with getting 66k. It's to get enough voltage rating. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:13

It's the voltage rating on the resistors that is important here. They are powered from rectified 230 V AC and they need to have the correct voltage rating to suit their application. Two resistors in series having an individual rating of 200 V gives a total voltage rating of 400 volts (near enough if you ignore tolerances on values).

Take a look at the good old MRS16 and MRS25 range from Vishay: -

With 230 V AC present, the peak could be as high as 325 volts without even considering line transients. Clearly two resistors should be used. And, for SMT resistors this might be useful to consider: -

• The explanation of Andy is in line with the explanation as given in the original description of the dimmer. (Elektor 2009 July). Also a little warning: The dimmer can not handle inductive loads. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:24
• @Decapod wow you've got a good memory!! Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:25
• @Andy aka ... only 2512 parts meet requirements Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:27
• @Andy. More a question of looking up. Keep your stuff organised. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:29
• @TonyStewart.EEsince'75 yes I know that. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:30

Reasons someone might put two resistors in series in a volume design:

1. A bit higher power was needed than what the commonly stocked parts can handle.

Let's say a company standardizes on using 0805 resistors unless there is a good reason not to. They therefore end up with many 0805 values in stock, with only a few values of other packages. Now you need a 200 mW resistor. You could specify a 1206, but overall it is better for the company to use two 0805 resistors that they are already buying and stocking anyway.

I have done exactly this a number of times.

2. To spread out the power dissipation. Two resistors spaced a little apart will cause a lower max temperature than a single resistor dissipating the same power.

3. To get higher voltage capability. This is most likely the reason in the particular example you asked about.

4. To get lower series capacitance. This can be a useful trick in high frequency applications.

5. To be able to tweak a value. In this case one of the resistors accounts for most of the value, like 90%, and the other the remaining 10%. For low volume hand-tweaked products, the smaller resistor can be changed out for calibration. A fixed ratio change of the smaller resistor results in a smaller ratio change in the overall resistor, so this method allows tweaking resistor values with higher resolution than the standard parts are available in.

To be fair though, this sort of calibration adjustment is usually done with a parallel resistor, not a series one.

• @Olin Not clear what you intend to tweak here? Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 18:36
• @Deca: The overall resistance value. Imagine a production test jig that measures something, then tells a tech what value resistor to add in a special place for that purpose. This is why this is usually done with parallel resistors. The one fixed resistor is just a little higher than the maximum ever needed, and the second resistor brings the overall value down a bit. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 19:38
• I understand where you come from. But what you intend to tweek in THIS schematic. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 19:53
• @Decapod I think Olin is discussing using multiple resistors in general. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 20:09
• I'm using two E12 resistors instead of one E48 (or E96) all the time. The former is always in stock for various sizes and types, the latter not so much. Cost of an extra resistor is neglible and you can easily adjust feedback / timing / filter values if necessary. Power/voltage is sometimes relevant but getting odd sizes is a dime a dozen. Assemblers often have E12 values in stock too so changing component values does not necessarily carry delays. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 20:21

There are conditions where you must use resistors that don't have enough voltage rating (typically because they are small like SMD, etc.) So you use two of them in series to get the voltage rating to operate safely.

• We are all just guessing because we have no information about what KIND of resistors mousa is talking about. And probably mousa doesn't know, either. But certainly power and voltage are the most likely reasons for splitting up the resistance. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 19:01
• Croley. According to the project description R3 and R4 should be 1W. Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 19:49

The reason may be the power or voltage capability of the resistor or even cost. The schematic you show has two 33k resistors being fed from 300V peak (rectified 230V mains). They dissipate a bit less than 1W worst case (the lamp off).

You could use a single 66K 1W resistor (it would get quite hot) but two 33K 1W resistors would be cooler (larger dissipation surface area and PCB area for each resistor). You could also potentially lower cost by using 33k 0.5W resistors, which might be cheaper than a 66K 1W resistor

You also see this done where extremely high voltages are used (ie you see this in high voltage multimeter probes) where the individual breakdown voltage of a resistor might become a problem.

66K resistors aren't easy to get hold of. 33K ones are.

You can get 68K very easily (it's one of the "basic" resistor values - E6), or 62K (which is part of the E24 range). The closest in a standard range is 66.5K, which is in the E96 range. Generally more expensive and harder to find, since they are used less often.

So to get 66K it's easiest to use two readily available 33K resistors.

Another reason for using two resistors in series is safety. A resistor can fail short or open. If one resistor fails it can cause a catastrophic failure. With two resistors one failure does not have to bring the whole design down.

• You mean in parallel, right? A fault with two resistors in series will cause the circuit to be in high impedance either way. Resistors that do fault short usually burn up. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 22:03
1. Power dissipation would be the most common reason (it seems like in this case). You have two resistors - only half of power gets dissipated on each.

2. But apart from that - there might be some other strange/weird reasons that are linked to the easability of reworking on the PCB, engineer's preferences or in extreme cases - engineering laziness.

• easability of reworking on the PCB: if you know that resistance required is at least 33k - you put 33k and another one in series; you may want to tweak the other resistor at some stage to fine-tune the current you need. It might be pretth handy once you get first field returns of your product. It is pretty handy to have more resistors stuffed and sometimes 0-ohm resistors in case you want to disconnect some circuitry.
• engineering preferences: in some cases it might be linked to BOM limitations or savings; If you use a lot of 33k on all different boards produced - why would get one 68K; This happens especially when you need precise 66k 1%. You can put two 33k 1% and save some costs.
• finally engineering laziness - you have 33K symbol handy in your schematic editor and don't bother about creating another 68K component.

Please note that this answer has to do with low-frequency signals and resistors placed close to each other. It is a different story when you have a transmission line and resistors at both ends acting as termination.

• Mmh... if you have a schematic editor that requires you to create a whole new component symbol for each resistor value, you need to consider evaluating other tools.
– dim
Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 13:49
• @dim44 I understand your point and you have valid point that it is copy-paste-change to have a new resistor. Yet simply copying and pasting resistor with a new value is often not an option - especially when you are in production. For each resistor you need not only a graphical symbol, but also a description such as decal, ordering code (need to check prices), alternatives etc. and whatever your layout engineer wants to see in his BOM. :).
– Vito
Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 14:37

By using two resistors you gain three things in this circuit. At 230 VAC you get twice the breakdown voltage for the resistors and you can handle twice as much power loss in the resistors. If you want to do 120 VAC you simply jumper one of the resistors.