2 way light switch hook up

Install A Three-Way Switch
Contents:


  1. Adding in a Second Light Switch
  2. Two way light switch using 3 core cable
  3. Wiring a 2-Way Switch
  4. 3 Way Switch Wiring Diagram

This switch has two pairs of "traveler" terminals that it connects either straight through, or crossed over transposed, or swapped. An intermediate switch can, however, be implemented by adding appropriate external wiring to an ordinary six terminal DPDT switch, or by using a separate DPDT relay.

By connecting one or more 4-way intermediate switches in-line, with 3-way switches at either end, the load can be controlled from three or more locations. Toggling any switch changes the state of the load from off to on, or from on to off. Switching a load on or off from two locations for instance, turning a light on or off from either end of a flight of stairs requires two SPDT switches. There are several arrangements of wiring to achieve this. In the traveler system, also called the "common" system, the power line hot, shown in red is fed into the common terminal of one of the switches; the switches are then connected to each other by a pair of wires called "travelers" or "strappers" in the UK , and the lamp is connected to the common line of the second switch, as shown.

Using the traveler system, there are four possible permutations of switch positions: An alternative system, known as the "California 3-way", or "coast 3-way" connection system allows both switched and unswitched loads to be connected near both switches without running too many additional wires. This is useful in long hallways that may need more than one light to be controlled by the two switches, and which may also have receptacles needing unswitched power as well as the switched lights.

If only one light is being switched and no unswitched connection is needed, this system uses more long wires than the standard system four instead of three , but if the switched light is close to the switch near the fuse box and a receptacle needs to be powered near at the far switch it will use fewer long wires four instead of five.

The Carter system was a method of wiring 3-way switches in the era of early knob-and-tube wiring. This now-obsolete wiring method has been prohibited by the USA National Electrical Code since , [2] even in new knob-and-tube installations which are still permitted under certain circumstances. This wiring system may still be encountered in older "grandfathered" electrical installations. In the Carter system, the incoming live energized and neutral wires were connected to the traveler screws of both 3-way switches, and the lamp was connected between the common screws of the two switches.

If both switches were flipped to hot or both were flipped to neutral, the light would remain off; but if they were switched to opposite positions, the light would illuminate. The advantage of this method was that it used just one wire to the light from each switch, having a hot and neutral in both switches.

The major problem with this method is that in one of the four switch combinations the socket around the bulb is electrified at both of its terminals even though the bulb is not lit. As the shell may be energized, even with the light switched off, this poses a risk of electrical shock when changing the bulb. This method is therefore prohibited in modern building wiring.


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For more than two locations, two of the interconnecting wires must be passed through an intermediate switch, wired to swap or transpose the pair. Any number of intermediate switches can be inserted, allowing for any number of locations. This requires two wires along the sequence of switches. Using three switches, there are eight possible permutations of switch positions: Note that these diagrams also use the American electrical wiring names.

As mentioned above, the above circuit can be extended by using multiple 4-way switches between the 3-way switches to extend switching ability to any number of locations. Systems based on relays with low-voltage control circuits permit switching the power to lighting loads from an arbitrary number of locations. For each load, a latching relay is used that mechanically maintains its on- or off-state, even if power to the building is interrupted. Mains power is wired through the relay to the load.

Instead of running mains voltage to the switches, a low voltage—typically 24 V AC—is connected to remote momentary toggle or rocker switches. Pushing the switch actuator in one direction causes the relay contacts to close; pushing it in the opposite direction causes the relay contacts to open. Any number of additional rocker switches can be wired in parallel, as needed in multiple locations. An optional master control can be added that turns all lights in the facility on or off simultaneously under the control of a timer or computer.

After an initial burst of popularity in the s, residential use of such relay-based low voltage systems has become rare. Equipment for new installations is not commonly carried by electrical suppliers, although it is still possible to find parts for maintaining existing installations. As of , multiway switching in residential and commercial applications is increasingly being implemented with power line signalling and wireless signalling techniques.

This is particularly useful when retrofitting multi-way circuits into existing wiring, often avoiding the need to put holes in walls to run new wires. Tighten each screw firmly. Fold the wires neatly back into the wall box and push the switch into the box. Normally the ground screw goes down, toward the floor, but it can be inserted in the up position with 3 way and 4 way switches. In this example the power in cable enters the light box. This method of running the wire is commonly found when several light fixtures are on one common breaker, and switches for the one in question are both on the same wall.

Cables need to be run into the light box, between the two switches, and from the light box to just one of the switches. Lets follow the current as it lights the lamp in the light fixture. The current enters the light box on a black wire, as it always does. That wire is spliced to a white wire in a two rope cable that goes to the first switch box not the switch where it is spliced to the white wire in a three rope cable and continues on to the second switch, at the common terminal.

If the switch is up remember our assumption above? If that switch is also up it will exit that switch from the common terminal on the black wire in the two rope cable from the light switch. Continuing down that black wire it enters the light box, where it goes to the light fixture. The current will pass through the light, exiting the light on the white, neutral, wire and return to the power in cable.

A note about wire colors. The National Electric Code requires that every neutral wire be colored white, and that ground wires be colored green. Only neutral wires may be white in color, but the code makes an exception for white wires in a cable that are not being used for a neutral. These wires in our example the white wire from the light box to the switch box and from that box to the second switch box should be colored black or some other color , using a magic marker or some other method.

Many electricians will do this, but many will not, and it can make trouble shooting in the future difficult and can be a safety hazard to anyone else working on the system. I encourage you to take the few seconds necessary to color these non-neutral wires. In this example the only neutral wires are the white wire in the "power in" cable which is always a white wire and one of the two wires attached to the light also always white. All other white wires should be colored. In addition, the colors shown in these wiring diagrams are common color usages only. Not all electricians use the same color code except for neutrals and grounds , so the wires could be different colors.

In this 3 way switch wiring diagram the power in line again enters the light box, but 3 rope cables are then installed between the light box and each switch box. This method might be used when power is available in the ceiling but switch boxes are on opposite walls - it is often easier to run the cable up into the ceiling to the light box instead of between switches.

If the current is again followed, it comes into the light box on the black wire, and to the common terminal on one switch using a colored white wire. Exiting the switch from a traveler terminal it then returns to the light box, but is merely spliced to another wire that goes to a traveler terminal on the second switch. It goes through the switch, again exiting from the common terminal, and once more enters the light box where it goes to the light itself. The neutral once more goes from the power in cable directly to the light fixture.

This time the electrician has brought power into the first switch, through the second switch and on to the light fixture. This is a reasonable method for cases with multiple switches in the same box, as other switches then have power available and can operate other lights without having to have a separate power in line run to them. The major difference here is that the neutral from the power in line has to be taken to the light fixture via the 3 rope. The white wire must be used here as code requires that all neutral wires be white.

Following the current, it enters the first switch box on the black wire and is connected to the common terminal. If the switch is in the "down" position it exits the switch on the red wire, entering the second switch at a traveler terminal. If that switch is also down it exits that switch on the black, common, wire and continues to the light. After passing through the light fixture the current returns to the second switch box on the white wire, is spliced to another white wire in the 3 rope used between switch boxes and continues to the first switch box where it is spliced to the white power in wire and back to the fuse box.

The circuit is complete and the lamp will light. This example shows the power in cable once more entering the first switch box, along with the cable to the light fixture. This can result in a lot of wires in this box, but can be helpful when the light is near the first switch box. A larger box may be necessary to contain all the wires. Following the current for a last time, it enters the switch box on the black wire at the common terminal.

If the switch is up it will exit the box on the red traveler wire and continue to the traveler terminal at the second switch. If that switch is also up it will exit the switch at the common terminal on the white colored wire and return to the first switch box where it is spliced to the black wire in the 2 rope going to the light.

Passing through the lamp, it returns on the white neutral wire to the first switch box, is spliced to the white neutral wire returning to the fuse box. Once more the circuit is complete and the lamp lights up. A final note; recent code changes require that each switch box have a neutral wire in it. This means not only a white wire, but a white wire that is connected to the white wire on the power in cable. It is intended to provide future capability for the use of a dimmer or other device that may need a neutral wire and to put a stop to homeowners disconnecting or using the ground wire for purposes other than providing the necessary ground to switches or lights.

How a Light Switch Works

New work such as adding a new three way switch or a room addition with 3 way switching will need to comply with this code. The only wiring diagram shown here that is legal to use is 3, although 1 could be modified by adding a 2 wire cable from the lower box to the light.

Adding in a Second Light Switch

Any neutrals in the switch box that are unused are either spliced together or, in the case of a single neutral, simply capped off with a wire nut and tucked back into the box. Simply replacing a switch does not mean that the room needs to be re-wired as the existing wiring is "grandfathered" and is acceptable. Old work does not need to be re-done to comply with the code and is why the unacceptable by current code wiring diagrams are discussed.

Switches in general are not difficult to replace or install, and most homeowners are quite capable of replacing a light switch. Those people adding a new light fixture , with associated 3 way switches, have hopefully found this article useful and informative. Any of the different methods of wiring a 3 way switch shown here can be used interchangeably in old work; they merely indicate different ways to run the necessary cables.

Actually wiring the switches is always the same, the different methods simply can result in easier or cheaper ways to install the cabling necessary, but keep in mind the mention above that new work must always have a neutral wire in the switch box, whether it is actually used or not.

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Two way light switch using 3 core cable

Regardless of whether you are replacing a switch or installing new switches in a major room remodel, probably the most useful tool you might own is a non contact AC voltage detector. Make sure that whenever doing any kind of electrical work that a good voltage detector is available - it can save a lot of grief. My three-way switch is over fifty-years-old. There is a white wire on one side of the box on the bottom , and a red wire on the same side top. On the other side, there is a black wire top. The new three-way switch box has a green screw at the bottom on one side, and a black screw on the other side at the bottom, with two gold-colored screws at the top.

Can I attach the wires to the new box in the same place as the old, regardless of colors?


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  • Installing A 3-way Switch With Wiring Diagrams.
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  • Yes, but you didn't mention a ground wire on the green screw for the old switch. It's very doubtful it has one. If not, the new switch should get a ground wire to that green screw, which will mean finding a source for a ground wire and running it to that switch. Electrical code requires every switch have a ground wire now even though grounds were not used for many years.

    Other than that, hook up the wires the same way. The worst case scenario is that the switch will not work properly, after that you will swap a couple of wires and try again until it DOES work correctly. It's always fun trying to decipher what an electrician or homeowner did fifty years ago! On a three-way switch, can it just be grounded in the box, or does it need to go to the box and then to the switch?

    Can it just go to the box? My house is wired just to the box, but I have been told it should also go to the switch. Current electrical code requires that all switches be grounded. It is easy enough to add a short "pigtail" from the box to the switch, if the box is metal and already grounded.

    There is a link near the beginning of the article on 3-way switches. Here it is again: Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites. You cannot do it using only 2 conductor cable , unless you run two of the rather than a single cable. As shown in the diagrams and as described, you must have 3 wires between switches, and that means I am wanting to put 2 3way switch es in my garage using 12 2 wire do I just run a wire between the two switches. This is a cheap metal ceiling mounted single bulb type fixture that is enclosed with a round globe.

    It now has an LED light in it and I am not using the light until it's fixed. The switch is disconnected. Today I left a message for an electrician to call me that A friend recommended. I expect that he will call back on Monday. The reason I quit all my DIY work is I am hoping that the electrician will alert our homeowners board if he agrees that the building was illegally miswired with no grounds on switches and fixtures when constructed.

    In , all new construction should have had all electrical fixtures, outlets, and switches grounded. I believe therefore that this whole apartment complex was built "on the cheap" for other reasons as well. What I want is for the homeowners association to send letters out to the other condo owners that they should have all of their units electrically inspected and grounded if necessary.

    I do not believe that the homeowners association will act unless they receive a letter from the electrician with the company letterhead on it. Frankly, I doubt if they will act anyway even if they did receive such a letter. This makes me wonder if I should go to the city about this if necessary.

    Am I making a big to do about nothing? The way I see it, there are almost condos and apartment units in our complex that have ungrounded light fixtures and light switches. One could get electrocuted when he or she changes a lightbulb or touches the metal screws on a light switch cover, if the fixture or the switch had a short in it.

    I don't know what kind of fixture this is, but light fixtures are designed with getting rid of the heat from a light bulb in mind. You've just closed off any possibility of getting air to it and it could overheat. If you really want to do this, I suggest an LED bulb as it doesn't put out anywhere near the heat of an incandescent bulb.

    Of course, if you mean you've removed the fixture and left an open box behind it, then yes it is fine to cover it with plastic. Hi Dan, today I opened up my 8 foot high ceiling light fixture with the three-way problem. I found out that it is not grounded. After having found so many light switches in my condo that we're not grounded, I have come to the probable conclusion that the original contractor never connected the grounds! I believe this ceiling light fixture had never been opened up before. Long story short, Therefore I have ceased my own DIY work and will be calling an electrician tomorrow.

    My question is this: It sounds to me like your "switch two" contains the hot wire from the panel and "switch one" contains the switch leg to the light. This does not agree with your designation of a hot wire, or with statement 2 however - I'm not quite understanding what you're seeing for some reason. At this point, I would disconnect all the wires non-ground wires from the switches labeling them somehow as to where they went, just in case and recheck just what is hot with the breaker on.

    At the point the switch with the hot in it can be wired with the hot going to the common and both travelers hooked up. Then check at the other switch; depending on whether the installed switch is up or down you should find two wires that become hot, one at a time. Those are the travelers and the only one left is the switch leg that goes to the common on that switch.

    I'm fairly confident that the "hot spur" is the hot wire from the panel, which would mean that your "switch two" contains the hot and "switch one" has the switch leg to the light, but I may be missing something. Thank you for your reply once again Dan.

    Wiring a 2-Way Switch

    I did some sorting out. Here are my observations. The light is only on when both switch one hallway by front door and switch two bedroom are in the "up" position. This is why I identified the hallway switch as "switch one", and the bedroom switch as "switch two". Switch one hallway is further away from the panel box. Is the switch that is closest to the panel box on a three-way connection always identified as " switch one"? Here are some AC tester observations on the switch two wire connections.

    Switch one was closed up while only switch two was opened up. But first, a couple of notes:. Switch two is an old one pole switch that I will replace with a three pole switch with a piece of black electrical tape on the hot wire, and no tape on the non-missing traveler. When both switch one and switch two are up light on , Then both the hot wire and the NON-missing traveler on switch two are "hot". The nonmissing traveler on switch two goes up the same romex 2-rope cable as the same white neutral wire that I found disconnected from the other three neutral wires in this double gang both switches are on double gangs switch which I suspect is the missing traveler.

    Could I have possibly misidentified switch one and switch two? You're right - in a properly wired set up both wires cannot be hot. One will be, but the other is going to the light and thus cannot be hot all the time or the light would be on all the time. Sounds like it is seriously mixed up, maybe with one of the travelers going to the light instead of the other switch.

    You have some work ahead of you, to sort out just what wires are going where. I have another question about my 3 way switches. I have not yet installed both switches in part for this reason. Am I missing something here? Or is this a dangerous bad connection? Remember, I said that BOTH the original 3 way switches were replaced with 1 way switches for some mysterious reason years ago. Could some handyman not familiar with 3 way wiring have installed 1 way switches after experiencing problems?

    No, I didn't disable any printing. But the hosting company, HubPages dot com may have decided that that isn't something they want to see. Not sure - I've never tried to print comments and haven't heard any other complaints about it. Could be something about the avatar pictures? Thank-you Dan for your second reply! I believe it will prove very helpful. I was able to print your article re: Did you disable the printing of the comments?

    It is fine to splice 4 hots together with a pigtail your "spur" to a switch. But that pigtail should go to the "common" screw on the switch, not a traveler. Traveler wires ONLY go to the other switch. I think you have the idea: I'm assuming that the second switch has the switch leg going to the light, along with a neutral - if so using the extra white as a traveler after taping it black on both ends is fine.

    Just don't splice any additional wires to that traveler or any other traveler. No wire nut on a traveler should ever have more than 2 wires in it, simply continuing the same wire without adding any more to it. All grounds should always be nutted together, along with pigtails to any switch, outlet or other device.

    Technically it is a double THROW switch, connecting one wire to one or two other wires, not only one at a time. It has two "on" positions, which a double POLE switch does not. An outlet or something? In the bedroom 2 gang switch box, one of the romex neutrals was disconnected from the other three romex neutrals, with a piece of electrical tape covering the bare end. In the hallway 2 gang switch box, two of the neutrals had white masking tape on them to mark them I since replaced with white electrical tape.

    The other two neutrals did not have any marker tape. I since replaced the hallway one pole with a new 3 pole, and intend to do likewise in the bedroom. An inherited renter who said he was an electrician lived in the unit in I acquired the condo in , and rented it out until , when I moved in. He said he installed the track lighting in the living room different circuit which was different from the lighting fixture that was installed when I lived in that unit before from to I believe he may have fiddled around with the 3 pole connection for some reason. Anyway, that track lighting "blew up" in when my sister was renting the unit from me, according to my sister I now live in the unit as owner-occupier.

    Two outlets in the living room are part of the same circuit as all the bedroom outlets. One of the bedroom 2 gang box romexes is a , but it is used to power a switch controlled outlet in the bedroom, which is original construction. When I lived there before, I had no electrical problems of any kind. I also connected the grounds in the 2 gang boxes in the bathroom and the hallway the bedroom is next. All four black hot wires are pigtailed together in the bedroom 2 gang box, with black wire spurs connected to the switches. All four ground wires in the hallway 2 gang box are now connected together.

    But I originally found them with one connected to only one other times 2. All four ground wires in the bedroom 2 gang box are properly connected together, but the swit;ches are not grounded which I intend to correct shortly. The one traveler that IS hooked up in the bedroom 2 gang box is a black spur that is hooked up to all four romex black wires see 9. Therefore, if I hook up one of the 4 romex neutrals to it, I will have to relabel it with black electrical tape to signify that it is now hot.

    But first, I have to do a continuity test to determine the other end of that SAME wire at the other hallway 2 gang switch. Anyway, I hope this helps you to help me with my situation. I thank you very much for what you have told me thus far. If you have 2 wires running between the switches, and have wooden studs almost certainly and plastic boxes probably then you can make it work with what you have.

    You will have to figure out which cable is which in each switch box and then color both ends of one of the white wires. Make it any color but white or green. At this point you have all the wires you need to make the 3 way switches and the light work. But are you sure that someone in the past hasn't used what used to be a traveler to power something else? I live in a vintage apartment building in the US. My bedroom entry light is controlled by two three way switches that are housed inside two separate double gang light switch boxes. The way it is now, one switch must be left in the up position all the time, in order for the other switch to turn the light on or off.

    But the two switches should be able to work fully independently if each other. There is no cable used for the three-way connection. There are only cables available for this connection. Black wires are used for the common and one of the travelers on the three pole switches, but the other traveler is missing. But I suspect that it originally had a white neutral spur connect from the other traveler terminal on each switch up to the four neutral wires all spliced together in both double gang boxes. I know this does not meet present code, but did it meet the latest code back in ?

    My real question is do I absolutely have to have a new wire added into the circuit to have a safe 3 pole switch connection? It sounds like you have a very old home and that can be a problem. If the wires are Romex two or three insulated wires encased in an outer sheath you could replace the box with an "old work" or "cut in" plastic box - that isn't a difficult thing to do and it's very inexpensive. If the wires aren't Romex, but old knob and tube, it isn't something you really want to deal with, so if you can't see that those wires are all enclosed together in an outer sheath, or each wire enters the box separately, don't try it.

    Outside of that, the only thing left is to protect those screws on the side - I'm not aware of any switches available to day with screws on the back. One possibility would be to use electrical tape and wrap the entire switch, going up the side, across the top and completely around, completing the circle several times, covering those screws with several layers of tape.

    Many electricians will do this as a matter of course. But if the screws are already touching, that's probably not a real good solution, as movement over the years could wear a hole in the tape. Better would be to cut a piece of rigid plastic not a piece of plastic bag , as thick as possible, and slide it alongside the switch, keeping the screws away from the wall of the box. Do both sides of the switch. There is also insulating material available, similar to what a circuit board is made out of, that will work as well and is quite thin. We have a 3-way switch in our bathroom for the light, fan, and night light.

    We decided to put in a new one as we re-did our bathroom and wanted the colors to match. The old switch had the screws on the back of it, but the new one has metal screws on the side and they touch the metal box. This causes it to spark when he turns on the power. What can we do? Hopefully this made sense--I know nothing about wiring.

    You cannot do that with three way switches. Consider that if they are both down, and the light off, you would have to flip both of them to the up position to turn it on, defeating the purpose of three way switches. What you CAN do, though, is set them so that they have to be either both up or both down to be on - when they are opposite each other the light is off. Wire them, try it and see what happens. If it isn't what you wish, either turn one over or reverse the traveler wires on just one of them.

    This isnt really a comment more of a question. I think I got had a few years back a coworker showed me a way to wire three way switched so that you would always have the two three way switches in the down position when off and the two in the up position when on. If he did do this which at the time seemed like he did , I would like to know how think it is not possible. Am I right I just never had anybody even try it. Your article was and thank for all your insight and knowledge. The best you will be able to do is to wire the outlet to the common terminal of the switch rather than the traveler terminals.

    If it is the power coming in the outlet will be on all the time, if it is the light the outlet will go on and off. But there is another problem as well. Unless you can absolutely guarantee that the white wire is a neutral and it might not be you may be wiring the outlet in series with the light and it will not work properly. If I am understanding it properly, that white wire is terminated on the switch: It is a hazard this way and must not be done.

    Unless there are additional wires than the three you mentioned, all in one cable, you cannot make the outlet work. There must be an additional cable, with a white and a black wire in it, in the box to make the outlet work at all. I have light switch on the wall of my stairs at the top 2nd level of house and at the bottom 1st level of house. It operates as a two way switch. Turn on going up, turn off once up or turn on upstairs going down and off once down.

    I put a duplex outlet on the opposite side of the wall from the light switch at the bottom of the stairs and intended to power off of the light switch. The light switch has 3 wires and a ground connection. One red, one hot black, one white neutral all wired from the back of switch and ground wire to the box screw.

    I wired the duplex expecting it to work but have some issues. When I turn the light switch on, the power on the duplex goes off. When I turn the light switch off the power to the duplex is on. I Have switched wires around but still have not had success. I did notice however that if I touch the light switch neutral to the ground screw it all works like as I expect. Can you help shed some light on this? Piet, you will have to have a power line in that box, plus at least 3 wires going out; one to each light.

    It would be possible to put two of them on one 3 wire romex, though, using the black and red as switch legs one for each light and the neutral. And thanks for the pat; 3 way switches really aren't that difficult, just a little different than most people are used to thinking of for switches. I was just looking to see if the Code called for color specific wires for the travelers and happened upon your site. I am happy to see that there are individuals out there that take the time to describe the functioning of a 3-way circuit in understandable detail as you have. Pat on the back.

    I have a question. What article calls for there to be a neutral in every switch box?

    3 Way Switch Wiring Diagram

    Haven't been in "The Book" for sometime and it makes sense to me. However it would be benificial to be able to show a customer they have to pay more for a job! You will need to install the new 4 way switch in between the two 3 way switch. In between meaning electrically, not necessarily physically. You will need a from a 3 way, to the 4 way and on to the other 3 way.

    I have a 3 way switch that is working correctly In my basement. I want to add another switch, to make it a 4 way, in between the existing two switches. I have run from switch to switch. The power to the lights comes out of switch one with Is that possible without taking drywall off?

    Doesn't sound as if your motion sensors are 3 way. Are you absolutely positive that they are? In addition, the old switches, if 3 way, had three terminals on them, plus a ground, that all had to have a wire. I have a 3 way in my hall way my 2 new motion sensors have the 3 red black and ground but the old switches have 2 black wires I know witch one is the common but with only 3 wires how do I hook up the 4th wire. It is almost certain that at one or the other of the switches the common wire has been switched with a traveler. Check at the switch where the power originates and verify that first one and then other other traveler is powered when the switch is flipped.