What are the differences between 2 wire, 3 wire, and 4 wire RTD Wiring for Pt100 Sensors?

An RTD sensor (Resistance Temperature Detector) is a temperature sensor that is ideally suited to a wide variety of industrial and laboratory applications. These sensors, usually Pt100, use the relationship between resistance and temperature to provide a reliable and predictable resistance value which can then be measured and converted to display in ºF or ºC by appropriate instrumentation. They are highly accurate with high stability and repeatbility. The resistance values of a Pt100 RTD are provided in our resistance vs temperature tables.

RTDs are available in a wide range of styles, configurations and terminations and are available as either a 2-wire, 3-wire or 4-wire device. Each wiring configuration has its own characteristics and advantages and they are usually colour coded as below:

2-wire RTD Pt100 Sensor = 1 x red lead wire and 1 white lead wire

3-wire RTD Pt100 Sensor = 2 x red lead wires and 1 white lead wire

4-wire RTD Pt100 Sensor = 2 x red lead wires and 2 white lead wires

2, 3 and 4 Wire RTD Wiring Diagram

An insulation colour code and wiring diagram for RTD sensors is shown below.

Resistance Thermometer color codes
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2-wire configuration

The simple two wire rtd connection shown in Figure 3.1 is used only where high accuracy is not essential - the resistance of the connecting wires is always included with that of the sensor, leading to errors in the signal (resistance of element + lead resistance, usually copper). In fact, a standard restriction with this installation is a maximum of 1 - 2 ohms resistance per conductor - which is typically about 300 feet of cable. This applies equally to balanced bridge and fixed bridge systems. The values of the lead resistance can only be determined in a separate measurement (without the RTD sensor) and therefore a continuous correction during the temperature measurement is not possible.

Two Wire resistance Thermometer Wiring
Figure 3.1: Wheatstone Bridge with RTD in Two Wire Configuration

3-wire configuration

A better wiring configuration is shown in Figure 3.2. In this rtd circuit diagram, the two leads of the sensor are on adjoining legs. Although there is lead resistance in each leg of the bridge, the lead resistance is cancelled out from the measurement. It is assumed that the two lead resistances are equal, therefore demanding high quality connection cables.This allows an increase to 10 ohms - usually allowing cable runs of around 1500 feet or more, if necessary.

Also, with this wiring configuration, if fixed bridge measurement is being made, compensation is clearly only good at the bridge balance point. Beyond this, errors will grow as the imbalance increases. This, however, can be minimized by using larger values of resistance in the opposite bridge circuits to reduce bridge current changes.

The pt100 3 wire configuration is very popular for general industrial applications and is widely used in terminal heads when used with 4 to 20mA current transmitters and where dual element duplex sensors are used.

Three Wire Pt100 Wiring
Figure 3.2: Wheatstone Bridge with RTD in Three Wire Configuration

4-wire configuration

The best wiring arrangement is the four wire configuration as depicted in figure 3.4. This provides for full cancellation of spurious effects with the bridge type measuring technique. Cable resistance of up to 15 ohms can be handled with this arrangement, accommodating cable runs of around 3,000 feet. Incidentally, the same limitation as for three wire connections applies if the fixed-bridge, direct-reading approach is being used.

The resistance thermometer can also be energised from a constant current source, and the potential difference developed across it measured directly by some kind of potentiometer. An immediate advantage is that here, incidentals like conductor resistance and selector switch contact resistance are irrelevant. The essentials for this voltage-based method are simply a stabilised and accurately known current supply for the RTD sensor (giving a direct relationship of voltage to resistance and thus to temperature) and a high impedance voltmeter (DVM, or whatever) to measure the voltage developed with negligible current flow.

With this approach, absolute temperature can be derived as long as the current is known. Even where it is not known, if it is stable, differential resistance (and thus temperature) is provided. Also, a number of RTD's can be connected in series using the same current source. Voltage signals from each can then be scanned by high impedance measuring instrumentation.

Again, a four wire configuration is appropriate, although clearly somewhat different to that used with bridge systems. Using the configuration in Figure 3.7 the resistance of the leads has a negligible effect on measurement accuracy.

RTD Wiring showing 4 wire
Figure 3.4: Bridge with RTD in Four Wire Configuration
Four Wire RTD Wiring
Figure 3.7: Four Wire Sensing Arrangement

More Information about RTD Pt100 Sensors

Do I need an RTD or Thermocouple? RTD Pt100 Output Tables Types of RTD Elements

Typical RTD Sensors - available as 2, 3 or 4 wire configuration

Mineral Insulated
Various Mineral Insulated RTD SensorsOur most popular RTD sensor, ideal for most applications. With connector, pot seal, wire or an alloy or plastic head.
Rigid Stem
RTD Temperature Sensor
Rigid Stem RTDs with lead an connectorsIdeal for rigid stem applications or where the sensor is shorter than 2" long, limited to 480°F. Simplex and duplex.
Hand Held
RTD Sensors
Hand Held Pt100 Sensors A range of hand held RTD Sensors to suit a variety of applications from general purpose to surface and air temperature measurements
RTD Sensors for
Surface Measurements
Various RTD Temperature Sensors for Surface MeasurementsA wide range of RTD sensors for surface measurements including self adhesive patch, pipe, magnetic, bearing etc.
Miniature Pt100
RTD Sensors
Miniature Pt100 Sensors 0.062" and 0.080" diameter sensors ideal for precision fast response measurements or minimal displacement is required
Other Popular Styles
of RTD Sensors
Popular RTD Sensor StylesA wide range of RTD Sensors to suit many applications. Bayonet, bolt, stator slot, basic element styles etc.
Reduced Tip
RTD Sensors
Reduced Tip resistance thermometers Fast response RTD sensors ideal for industrial and other applications


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