3 way electrical switch hook up

Step 2: Gather your tools
Contents:


  1. 3 Way Switch Wiring Diagram
  2. Wiring a 3-Way Switch
  3. Wiring a 3-Way Switch

The necessary supplies though are critical so make sure you have them on hand. Safety should be a priority with this project and that starts with killing power to your outlets. Before you do anything, switch off the breaker on your main electrical panel. Now it's time to get at your wiring.


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There is often a pair of screws holding each faceplate in place, at the top and bottom. Unscrew these screws then remove the plates covering each switch. A common practice is to wrap switch terminals with electrical tape once their wires are connected. In my case, the old switches had exposed terminals so I made a mental note to tape them later. Just to be safe, use a voltage pen to check for a live current. With your voltage pen turned on, tap the edges of the switch.

If the pen starts to flash and sound its alarm then watch out! There's likely high voltage volts electricity running nearby. Of course if you need to measure the actual voltage of live wires, a multimeter is the way to go. This gadget can sniff out voltage and amperage of electrical circuits, components and connections. Learning to use this tool is a valuable skill. Once your pen gives the all clear you can proceed. If not you'll have to switch more breakers off at the main panel until the warnings stop.

Next, remove the screws that hold the old switches in place. They're in tabs on the top and bottom of each switch. The screws also bore into holes on the electrical box behind them.

3 Way Switches Wiring Digram

To access the wiring, gently pull the switches out of the electrical boxes. Be careful not to dislodge any wires from the switch terminals -- the wires should still be firmly attached to the screws on the switch holding them in place. Before you dive in, take a second to snap a picture of the switches and visible wiring. In fact, take photos before and after you tinker with anything. This way, you'll have a record of how everything was connected and working properly initially. Think of it as extra insurance in case you run into trouble along the way. You should now have a good view inside each box.

I must stress that there are many possible ways a set of three-way light switches can be connected. This step-by-step is reflective of a common wiring scenario and the one in my own home. Inside each of the two electrical boxes you should see two bundles of wires. Let's call each box "Box 1" and "Box 2.

If so then the direction wires enter each box is important. It will help you deduce their origin and ultimately identify them. In box 1, one of the wire bundles enters the box from the bottom. This three-wire bundle should consist of two colored wires black, white plus one of bare copper.

These wires come from your home's main electrical panel usually in the basement below and provide power to your lighting circuit.


  1. Tutorial: How 3-way and 4-way switch circuits work.
  2. Tutorial: 3-Way Switches and 4-Way Switches.
  3. How to replace your old, outdated 3-way light switches.
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  5. The other 4-wire bundle will enter the box from the top and have three colored wires black, white, red and a copper bare one. They connect the switch in this box to the other switch in box 2. Here, both wire bundles should enter the electrical box from its top side. Besides their direction of entry the wires are constructed the same way. One three-wire bundle will have two colored wires black, white plus one of bare copper. These link the switch to your light fixture. A second bundle four-wire should contain three colored wires black, white, red and a copper bare.

    The wires here connect this local switch to the other in box 1 across the room. The wiring you see may not match what I've described. For instance, there may not be any white wires. This scenario tends to happen with switches in older homes. One of your electrical boxes might have just one bundle of wires while the other is packed with three bundles. It isn't uncommon either to have one three-way switch in the same box as two or even three others. All those switches, terminals and wires can confuse experienced electricians, let alone novice DIYers. Take a look at these two diagrams below. The first is an outline of what you should see.

    It's the simple three-way circuit I anticipated and encountered in my home. The second drawing depicts when box 1 has three bundles of wire while box 2 has just one. Here's an example of a basic three-way switch layout, the type you'll hopefully deal with in your home. If your lighting setup doesn't jive with these two pictures, I suggest you abort the project. The same goes if the wiring is mysterious, odd or looks complex.

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    3 Way Switch Wiring Diagram

    You'll be better off playing it safe and hiring a professional. This is an alternative three-way switch layout you might also encounter in your house. The white neutral wires are connected together in each switch box. Diagrams shown on this page are simplified for clarity.

    Wiring a 3-Way Switch

    Electrical outlet boxes can have numerous NM cables going in and out. See Actual Switch Box Wiring. Ground connection diagram is shown separately. With conventional wiring, line voltage enters the first 3- way switch box.

    Wiring a 3-Way Switch

    Black common wire is usually wrapped around the two traveler wires on a 3- way switch. Multiple Switch Wiring 3- way and Single Pole. Alternate 3- Way Switch Wiring. Alternate 4- Way Switch Wiring. Ceiling Fan Switch Wiring. Motion Detectors and Occupancy Sensors. No longer allowed after NEC if no neutral wire in switch boxes Alternate 3- Way Switch Wiring Diagram 2, NM Line voltage enters the first 3- way switch outlet box, light fixture is located between switch boxes.

    Controlling a light with three or more switches