How To Fix Your 3-Way Switches
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!
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
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.
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!
The following may also be helpful for you:
Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all Electric Wiring Projects.
The Safest Way to Test Electrical Devices and Identify Electric Wires!The Non-Contact Electrical Tester
This is a testing tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and is the first test tool I grab to help identify electrical wiring. It is a Non-contact tester that I use to easily Detect Voltage in Cables, Cords, Circuit Breakers, Lighting Fixtures, Switches, Outlets and Wires. Simply insert the end of the tester into an outlet, lamp socket, or hold the end of the tester against the wire you wish to test. Very handy and easy to use.
The Quickest Way to Check for Faulty Electrical Wiring!The Plug-In Outlet Tester
This is the first tool I grab to troubleshoot a problem with outlet circuit wiring. This popular tester is also used by most inspectors to test for power and check the polarity of circuit wiring.
It detects probable improper wiring conditions in standard 110-125 VAC outlets Provides 6 probable wiring conditions that are quick and easy to read for ultimate efficiency Lights indicate if wiring is correct and indicator light chart is included Tests standard 3-wire outlets UL Listed Light indicates if wiring is incorrect Very handy and easy to use.
Strip Off Wire Insulation without Nicking and Damaging the Electric Wire!The Wire Stripper and Wire Cutter
My absolute favorite wire stripping tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and this is the tool I use to safely strip electrical wires.
This handy tool has multiple uses:
The wire gauges are shown on the side of the tool so you know which slot to use for stripping insulation.
The end of the tool can be used to grip and bend wire which is handy for attaching wire onto the screw terminals of switches and outlets..
The wire stripper will work on both solid and stranded wire. This tool is Very Handy and Easy to Use.
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I have a 3-way switch problem. One of the switches trips the breaker while the other works flawlessly. Both switches are brand new.
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,