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Electrical Wire and Cable

Wiring 3 Way Switches and Dimmer Switches

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

How are 3-way switches wired? The Key to Wiring 3 Way Switch and 3 Way Dimmer Switch Wiring, Wiring Configurations for 3 way Switch Wiring.

3Way Dimmers and 3Way Light Switches

Electrical Question: How are 3-way switches wired?

I am confused, can you please help?

This electrical wiring question came from: Andrew, a Handyman from Tower City, Pennsylvania.

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

How to Wire 3Way Dimmers and 3Way Light Switches

Application: 3Way Light Switches.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best installed by a Licensed Electrician.
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 lighting circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the wiring.
Notice: Installing additional 3-way switch wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes with a permit and be inspected.
Materials: Make sure replacement 3-way light switches have the same amperage and voltage rating as the original three way light switch, and is the switch is fully compatible with the electrical circuit, the light fixture and the type of light bulbs being used.

The Most Common Mistake When Replacing 3 Way Switches

One of the biggest problems that occurs when replacing 3 way switches is when the existing switch is removed before identifying the wiring and taking too many wire connections apart.

Three way switch wiring for a dimmer and a standard 3 way switch is the same except that the dimmer switch has a set of wires and not terminal screws to make up the wiring.

The Key to Wiring 3 Way Switch and 3 Way Dimmer Switch Wiring

Question about Wiring 3-Way Switches: I understand how to wire a single pole or 3 way switch, but I am having trouble replacing a single pole and adding a 3-way switch.

This electrical wiring question came from Wally, a Homeowner, in Newman, Georgia.

NOTE: There are only three connections for both the 3 Way Dimmer and the 3 Way Switch.

  1. The Power In or Power Out
    • The Dimmer Power is typically the Black Wire.
    • The Switch Terminal is typically the single screw terminal at one end of the switch and is usually a Black Screw.
  2.  The Two Travelers (or Jockeys-electrician terminology)
    • The Dimmer Travelers are typically the two Red Wires.
    • The Switch Travelers are typically the two screw terminals at one end of the switch and are usually brass.
    • The Ground Wiring is typically a green insulated wire on the dimmer switch and green or bare copper wire in the switch boxes and they bond together and a pigtail wire is attached to the green ground screw on the 3 way switch frame.

Wiring Configurations for 3 way Switch Wiring

When the wiring has been taken apart or the configuration is unknown the electrician should start by using a voltage tester to identify all of the cables with regard to the key connections as described above.

Please Note: These are typical connections for standard 3 way switches. This does not apply to wireless dimmer switches and some Lutron Light Switches.

More about Wiring 3 Way Switches and Dimmer Switches

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