Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase Motors: A Selection Guide

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Electric motors are electromechanical devices that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy to power connected equipment. They can be classified in many ways depending on their design and construction. Regarding the number of power source phases, they can be categorized as single-phase or three-phase. While there are some similarities between the two, there are also many differences. Each has unique operating and performance characteristics that make it suitable for particular types of applications.

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Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase Motors

The electric motor experts at Gainesville have put together the following guide to single-phase and three-phase motors to help readers understand which one is best for them. It covers the differences between them, highlighting how they work, types available, key advantages, and common applications.

Differences Between Single-Phase and Three-Phase Motors

In any motor application, it is important to choose the type you use carefully. If the motor is too small, it can cause electrical stresses that lead to premature motor failure. If the motor is too powerful, it can cause damage to the equipment and unnecessary power waste. Depending on the requirements and restrictions of the application, the wrong motor can also lead to many other issues.

For these reasons, it is important to know which motors are suitable for which applications. The first step is understanding how they work and what advantages they offer. Let’s take a look at single-phase motors and three-phase motors.

What Is a Single-Phase Motor?

A single-phase electric motor uses a single-phase power supply to convert electric energy into mechanical energy. It contains two wires (one hot wire and one neutral wire) and uses a single alternating voltage. Since it only generates an alternate field, it needs a capacitor for startup.

Single-phase motors can provide power of up to 10 hp. However, they are typically small in size and offer limited torque capacities.

Types of Single-Phase Motors

There are many types of single-phase motors available. They include:

  • Two-valve capacitor motors
  • Capacitor-start motors
  • Permanent-split capacitor motors
  • Split-phase motors
  • Wound-rotor motors
  • Shaded-pole motors

Which type of single-phase motor is best depends on your application. For example, capacitor-start motors develop a high starting torque and are ideal for applications involving heavy loads that require frequent starts. On the other hand, shaded-pole motors work best in devices requiring low starting torque.


The main advantage of single-phase motors is their power usage. These motors require less power to function than three-phase motors.

Common Applications

Single-phase motors are commonly employed for equipment requiring lower horsepower (10 hp or less) or small units. They are mainly used in residential or non-industrial facilities, such as homes, offices, and small businesses. Examples of common uses include air conditioners, compressors, door opening/closing systems, small drills, fans, pumps, and refrigerators.

What Is a Three-Phase Motor?

A three-phase electric motor uses a three-phase power supply to convert electric energy into mechanical energy. It contains four wires (three hot wires and one neutral wire) and uses three alternating currents of the same frequency. Since it generates a rotating magnetic field, it does not need a capacitor for startup. Some three-phase motors are reversible, which means they can serve as generators by turning mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Three-phase motors provide power of up to approximately 400 hp and achieve speeds between 900 and 3,600 rotations per minute (RPM).

Types of Three-Phase Motors

The types of three-phase motors available include:

  • Plain or squirrel cage induction motors
  • Double squirrel cage motors
  • Slip-ring or wound-rotor induction motors

These types vary in terms of motor output, frame size, cost, weight, lifespan, and more. When choosing which type is right for a given application, the required starting torque should be determined, among other factors.


The main advantages three-phase motors offer over other types of motors include:

  • They are more powerful (note: power capacity is over 150% more than a single-phase motor).
  • They are more efficient at transmitting a high volume of electricity over a large area, making them more economical for facilities with high electricity demands.
  • They last longer than single-phase motors.
  • They are less noisy to operate.

Common Applications

Due to their high power capacities, three-phase motors are widely used in many industrial applications. They are also used to power conveyors, lathes, pressure machining components, grinding machines, pumps, and more.

GIE: Your Trusted Single-Phase and Three-Phase Industrial Motor Distributor

Gainesville Industrial Electric (GIE) is the largest stocking independent motor distributor in Georgia. We offer a broad range of single-phase and three-phase motors from various manufacturers. Check out our line card to view our selection.

Contact Us for Your Industrial Electric Motor Needs Today

Both single-phase motors and three-phase motors find use in a variety of applications. Understanding the differences between them is key to ensuring you use the right type for your operations.

If you require assistance choosing between single-phase motors and three-phase motors, the experts at Gainesville Industrial Electric are here to help! As an experienced motor distributor and repair service provider, we are well-equipped to answer or address any questions or concerns you may have about electric motors.

We can also deliver a product solution for a range of applications. Since quality management and compliance are a key focus at our company, we ensure the products we provide meet or exceed all relevant safety standards and industry requirements. This commitment has earned us EASA and UL certifications.

To learn more about our electric motor products and services, contact us or request a quote today.

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