How To Fix Your 3-Way Switches

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

Common Problems with 3-Way Switches and How to Fix Them: Basic Wiring Method for 3Way Switches, 3-Wire Cable Connects the Switches, Easy to Understand 3 Way Switch Diagrams.

Wiring 3Way Switches

Electrical Question: I have a problem wiring the 3way switches in my hallway.

  • I have two 3way switches in the hallway.
  • You can turn on the lights at either end separately.
  • If I turn on the light at one end of the hall, then turn it off at the other end, I cannot turn the light back on at the other end, where the switch is already in the On position.
  • I can turn it back on where I turned it Off.
  • What’s the solution for me to be able to turn on at the original end, where the switch is at the On position already?

This electrical wiring question came from: Ted, a Homeowner from Baton Rouge, LA.
Additional Comments: Love the site!

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Ted.

How to Wire 3Way Switches

Application: Wiring 3Way Light Switches.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience and ability to work with tools.
Precaution: Identify the light circuit, turn it OFF and  Tag it with a Note before working with the wiring.
Notice: Installing additional fixture wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes with a permit and be inspected.
Materials: Make sure the replacement light switch has the same amperage and voltage rating as the original switch, and is fully compatible with the electrical circuit, the light fixture and the type of light bulbs being used.

Three Way Switch Basics

  • 3-Way Switches are typically used to control one or more fixtures from two different locations.
  • This is a common configuration in hallways and staircases.
  • There are many ways to wire a 3-Way Switch.
  • The power can start at a fixture or either of the two switches.
  • Without a switch-wiring-diagram it can be very easy to make a serious mistake that will cause the circuit to malfunction and possibly become a hazard.

The Wiring Components of 3Way Switches

  • The Power Source
    The power source will enter at either the light fixture or at one of the switch boxes. Identify the power source and connect it to the Dark Point Screw, or the Single screw at one end of the 3-way switch at the first switch location.
  • 3-Wire Cable Connects the Switches
    A 3-wire cable with a ground wire is installed between the two 3-way switches which provides the switching between the two switches and returns power back to the first 3way light switch.
  • The Pair of Traveler Wires
    Typically the red and white wire of the 3-wire cable are used as the Traveler pair or wires which are connected to the two brass terminal screws at the other end of the 3-way switches. The orientation of the travelers to the screws does not matter. The white wire of the traveler set of wires must be identified with black electrical tape or permanent marker to indicate that the white wire is not a neutral wire.
  • The Point Screw Terminal at the Second Switch
    The black wire of the 3-wire cable at the second 3-way switch is connected to the Point screw terminal.
  • Switched Power to the Light Fixture
    At the first 3-way switch the black wire that leads up to the light fixture is connected to the black wire of the 3-wire cable.
  • Grounding the 3Way Switches
    The ground wires are all bonded together and one of the ground wires is attached to the ground screw found on each 3-way switch frame.

Common Problems with 3Way Switches and How to Fix Them

  • Incorrect Wiring Configuration
    When the wiring configuration is incorrect the switches will not function properly, or one switch will tun on the lights, but not the other switch. The problem is generally caused when two wires are placed in the wrong position on one of the 3way switches. The most common solution is to identify the wiring and reverse the incorrect configuration.
  • Typical Configuration Problems:
  • Reversed Power Source Wire and a Traveler Wire.
  • Reversed Light Feed Wire and a Traveler Wire.

NOTE: This is one of the most common methods for wiring 3-way switches, however there are several other wiring methods as described in the following resources

More about Wiring Three Way Switches

3 Way Switch Wiring Diagram

Easy to Understand 3 Way Switch Diagrams
3 Way Switch Diagrams Fully Explained. Detailed Electrical Wiring Diagrams and Pictures assist your Home Electrical Projects.

For more information about Troubleshooting
Troubleshooting Electrical Wiring
Licensed Electrician Reveals the Secrets of Successful Electrical Troubleshooting Methods used to solve the majority of the home electrical problems and wiring failures encountered.

How to Use Electrical Testers

Understanding Electrical Testers

When working on home electrical wiring using voltage testers can play an important part in electrical safety. Electrical testers enable you to identify electrical circuits and help prevent the possibility of accidental electrical shock.
Types of Electrical Testers

You Can Fix Your Three Way Switches TODAY!


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FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments

2 Responses to “How To Fix Your 3-Way Switches”
  1. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Richard,
    If you have replaced existing three way switches then you will need to review the wiring configurations with the diagrams provided in the wiring diagrams section of this website.
    If you have added a three way switch to a single switch application, or this is new wiring then be sure you are not wiring a neutral wire into the switching configuration.
    I hope this helps,

  2. Richard says:

    I have a 3-way switch problem. One of the switches trips the breaker while the other works flawlessly. Both switches are brand new.



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