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Wiring a 3-Way Switch

Don’t be confused by the 3-way switch!  This article and detailed wiring diagram explains how to easily wire a 3-way switch.

The 3-way circuit is a very common system found within most residential installations.

3-ways are used any time that you want two switches to operate one light (or lights). The best example of this would be at either end of a long hallway, or at the top and bottom of a stairwell.

At a glance, 3-way switches look the same as the common single pole switch, but instead of having only two screws on which to make your connections, they have two connections on one side, and one on the other.

One of the three terminals is “identified” (by using a different color) and is usually the bottom screw on the side with two screws. It is referred to as the “common” terminal, and the other two are known as “travelers”. This is because the electrical connection either goes from the common screw, to one or the other travelers, depending on the switch position.

How to Wire a Basic 3-Way Switch:

There are several ways to wire up a 3-way circuit, and it would be very difficult to cover them all.

I will touch on one of the most common and easy to follow methods. Follow the instructions below to wire your basic 3-way switch.

Step One

Bring the power supply in to one of the switch boxes (one hot, and one neutral), on a #14/2-wire cable.

Step Two

Then, run a #14/3-wire to the other switch location.

Step Three

From the second switch, run a #14/2-wire up to the light box.

Step Four

In the first box, splice the neutral (white) wire from the power supply to the white wire in the 3-wire cable going to the other switch.

Step Five

Attach the hot (black) wire to the common screw on the 3-way switch.

Step Six

The red and the black conductor from the #14/3 cable will be called the “travellers”, and will hook up to the two remaining screws on the switch.

Step Seven

At the other switch location, you will hook the white wire from the #14/3 to the white wire going up to the light.

Step Eight

The “travelers” (black and red) from the #14/3 will connect to the same screws as on the other 3-way switch, and the black wire going to the light will tie on to the “common” screw.

Different 3-Way Wiring Configurations

Different 3-way Wiring configurations are covered in the ‘Wiring Diagrams’ portion of the website (click here to access).

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  • Ken McLeod

    I’m looking for a schematic diagram that would have a 3 way switch with;

    Switch, light, light, switch (with power coming into the first switch)

    I have been on the internet extensively but couldn’t find such a diagram. I do understand how to do a 3 way switch with one light, but want to be sure that I understand how to do it with just one more light. If you can help me, that would be greatly appreciated.

    • admin

      The problem with wiring the circuit this way is that you need 4 conductors in between the light fixtures. 4-wire romex is hard to find and is not stocked in most home improvement stores. For this reason it is so much easier to wire the circuit by taking power to the first switch, switch to switch, and then up to the light, and light to light.

      • Bill

        This diagram is all well and good but… I have a second light switch in the 2nd/3-way box and I want to locate where the constant power is to energize that second switch on the second 3-way switch ??? Will I need a separate power wire to energize that second switch???

  • Oli

    Regarding the previous reply; if you don’t run a 14-3 (4 conductors) you won’t have a 3 way switch. You’ll have a switch that is dependent on whichever one is wired closest to the power supply, which is completely useless and defeats the purpose of having a 3-way, like one might need in a stairwell.

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  • Maurice

    The solution given is the best.
    In your method, someone seeing the wiring has no idea that it is a 3 way installation.
    14-3 wire IS commonly available in hardware and building supply houses.
    The 3rd wire in this type of cable is insulated with a red jacket, which also aids in identification and safety.

    • admin

      14/3 is very common, correct. I was talking about 14/4 cable.

      • admin

        Now reading the other comments here, I see the confusion about 14/3 and 14/4. In residential wiring cable such as Romex, only the current carrying conductors are counted, and the bare ground wire is assumed, so 14/3 cable has 3 conductors (red, black, and white) PLUS a bare ground wire (total of 4 wires). 14/4 has an additional insulated conductor that is sometimes colored blue, but can also have a black, white, red, and white with a red stripe (PLUS a bare ground (total of 5 wires).
        Terry.

  • http://insomniarint.com Berneice Celentano

    I have to admit that i sometimes get bored to read the whole thing but i think that your blog can be an exception. Cheers !

  • Andrew

    thanks for the help

  • Jim

    If I have two switched connected for 3 way switch in my upstairs hall, does a third switch also have to be 3 way or can it be a single stand alone switch?

  • fikadu

    hi I am electrician

  • Dan

    The key thing to remember is that in between each switch, you create 2 circuits. The first 3-way switch sends the power through ONE OR the OTHER circuit, and is received by the second switch which either transfers the power on OR interrupts the circuit, depending on it’s position. Either switch has the ability interrupt the circuit, but is dependent on the position of the ‘other’ switch. :)

  • Steve

    It is called 14/3 with ground. that has a black, white, red and a bare copper(ground)

  • Mike

    I found this to be very helpful, the electrician left me with a mess and now it is resolved.
    Thanks,
    Mike

  • Beach

    I’ve never had any issues finding 4 wire Romex at Home Depot. In fact last night I mistakingly bought 50′ of the three conductor instead of two conductor for another wiring project.

  • Confused

    I’m having trouble finding a diagram for my situation. Power comes into the light switch (A) and from there branches to another Switch (B) and a Light (C). There isn’t a direct link between B&C. Any Suggestions?

  • billy tao

    14/3 actually has 4 conductors red white black and bare. 14/2 has 3 conductors white black and bare. check it out sometime at the hardware store..

  • Richard Brown

    Is it OK if one of the switches is a three wire dimmer switch? Will the dimmer work?

  • jeewan

    The problem with wiring the circuit this way is that you need 4 conductors in between the light fixtures. 4-wire romex is hard to find and is not stocked in most home improvement stores. For this reason it is so much easier to wire the circuit by taking power to the first switch, switch to switch, an

  • Dan

    hey thanks alot for the info. I have been doing some basic electrical, that 3 way switch had me very confused. Not anymore, thanks again.

  • irene

    Can you put up a 3 way switch and with a HOT receptacle down below? I am trying to find a diagram for that particular part.

  • Eddy

    ??? please help me i have 2 different
    3-way switches 1 with 3 screws all on 1 side
    the other 1 top left and 2 on the right
    there is 3 color wires Red, White and Black
    Red goes top left white goes top right Black goes bottom right but i cant figure out what to do with the switch that has 3 screws on one side please help.

  • jerry

    I have tried everything I know and am frustrated. I have a house built in the 60′s. Two—three way switches control two sconce lights. Top of the stairway, the white wires are nutted together, leaving a red and two blacks. At the bottom of the stairs are a red and two blacks. Problem….I can only get one switch to operate at any given time. There are no visible ground wires.

    Thanks….Jerry

  • Tfk3012

    I’m not a wiring expert, but I have to say that these instructions on wiring a 3-way switch were the easiest instructions I have ever used. Thanks a million for the help.

  • Joelshanejackson

    i have a existing fan light switched at one location. i have added two more switches at anouyher location pulling two three wires from switch to switch . i need help with the existing switch. i have a hot wire a 3way switchleg and the two 3wires i just added . help me please

    • The Internet Electrician

      I’d need some more details.

  • Al Jay

    In the UK this would be called two way switching

  • JerryUrt

    Like Tfk3012 says, very clear and helpful.

  • Wondrduck

    if you look atbthe diagram then read step 8 is it me or are they contradicting

  • Mpstonewall

    I have 8 lights total between my garage and the first room of my basement. They are all on the same circuit. I am wanting to keep them on the same circuit but have two 3 way switches control the two garage lights and a single pole switch control the remaining six lights in the basement. Can anyone give me a simple way to do this? O and they are currently wired with two 3 way switches controlling all 8 lights; one switch in the garage and one switch in the basement.

    • chris

      for starters, you would have to break the “daisy chain” that links all 8 lights together.  If you flip either switch and all 8 lights come on, you need to separte the leg that feeds the two lights you are wanting to segregate, then bring a hot from either switch box location (with the neutral and ground) to the lights.  Wire the 14-2 to the two lights that you want to separate.  Get two single pole switches and wire the  and in….are you still needing to do this?

  • Cleopatraschwartz

    thank you very much this is much better than trying to figure out the diagram on the inside of the leviton box

  • Robert j. Veach

    your drawing is not very clear, people I’ve talked to had no idea what the circles were for or what they ment. when I draw a diagram I always use a dotted line showing the BOX, and from the box to box I show the 14/3 wire as it should be (no guess work) each 14/2 wire should be seperated, one going into box #1 and one comming out of box #2 to the fixture you wish to operate. the common wire in each box would have to be connected, using a wire nut, this should be very clear. and if both the 14/2 and the 1/3 have a ground wire as well, this should be shown  as well. the question I get asked most is where is the ground wire? and the 14/2 cables I use always have a ground wire, but some times the 14/3 does not. so I tell them to at last ground the input box. that would be better than nothing.
    I like what your doing, keep up the good work, naything you wish to say to me, my e-mail is: robertjveach@yahoo.com

  • Oldschool98

    Thanks..this was great!..I should have searched the answer first instead of spending all that time i spent without getting it right. Its all about information!

  • Wrichardson1

    Thank you

  • Big Dog

    EASY!!! Been fighting with some other diagrams but this was 1st time easy!!!! THANX

  • Huntjunky

    “There are several ways to wire a three way switch, but it would be difficult to cpver them all”.  In the true fashion of most electricians, if it becomes difficult…just don’t do it.

  • Geermichael

    Thank you !

  • Dcollyer

    Comment 8 notes that “The “travelers” (black and red) from the #14/3 will connect to the same screws as on the other 3-way switch, and the black wire going to the light will tie on to the “common” screw.”  AND YET THE DIAGRAM DOES NOT SHOW THIS.  Does it mater?   The correct diagram (according to point 8) can be found here:  http://www.electrical-online.com/3-way-switch-more-than-one-light/
     

  • PNunn

    Your photo contradicts what you said in Step Eight, “the travelers (black and red) from the #14/3 will connect to the same screws as on the other 3-way switch”. Your diagram shows that you connected the red and black travelers to opposite screws on the second switch. If you were connecting the red and black wires to the same screws on the second switch then the red would go to the screw on the left side of the second switch not the right side. Plus, your pics of the three way switch are not how most three way switches actually look. The most recent switches I have seen have one screw on the top and bottom of the right side and one screw near the middle of the left side. To make matters even more confusion, the two screws near the bottom of the switches say common, so which one should we use as the true common connection?

  • Certantis Laus

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

  • Kurtsims88

    why is my neutral wire not working the fan was working fine for a couple days now when i put the neutral wire from the fan to the neutral wire from the switch it doesn’t run but if i touch the neutral form the fan to the ground wire it runs. could one of my switches be shorted out

  • Tpmauriello

    Thank you so much. I was successful in wiring two switches for a single light that was driving me crazy. The diagram provided showed me what I was doing wrong and showed me how to fix it.

  • Kpeterson412

    Your diagram shows both  switches in the up position .  With the red wire on A on one and B on the other the second switch would have to be  down in order for the light to come on.

  • Pedullaelectric

    L & M Pedulla Electric is a family owned and operated company, the owners and employees of the company truly believe in taken pride in there work, and believe that family brings added value to the customers

  • Jessica Patricia

    Thank :) ..

  • Jessica Patricia

    .. Thank you so MuCh : ) ..

  • Jessica Patricia

    .. Thank yOu sO MuCh : ) ..

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.pazferrari Jessica Patricia

    .. : D ..

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.pazferrari Jessica Patricia

    .. Thank yOu sO MuCh =) ..

  • toomanyspots

    Help. Have a 3way switch going to a plug. 3 wire line into primary to 2nd switch, not through plug. Primary switch has red wire into top screw, white on bottom and black to other side. 2nd switch has red wire on bottom and black to the other 2. I can turn light on/off from both switches but can’t turn on at one and off at the other. Figure the wiring is wrong, should the red wire be in the same place on both??

  • O2plus

    Excellent diagram! Note that there are many types of switches. The one shown in the diagram is the correct one. There are 3 cables–wires within each cable are designated by the big circles. Note that when BOTH switch toggles are up (or both down), the light will be off. The grounding wire likely present in each cable is not shown. It must be connected to the grounding lug of the switch or light.

  • Don

    Thanks for the refresher course on the 3 way I was scratching my head for ai while cause I haven’t done it in so long I just had to look at the picture. Thanks for making it so easy!!!!

  • fuqueueFTW

    the graphic is incorrect

  • shocking

    that is contradicting, so what is the same side or opposite sides, the diagram is not what is written

  • Nelson

    I have what I believe to be a four way switch set up where three switches turn on two hallway lights whenever any of the switches are flipped. In addition up the stairway is a light that goes off if the other two lights are on, but the stairway light goes on when the hall lights are off. An electrician noticed that some ground wires sparked in a sub panel until the circuit breaker in the main panel that controlled the that light circuit was flipped to the off position. Can anyone explain what is going on? Thanks Nelson

  • Al

    Got a bad 3 way switch – wires to one switch are a blue and two blacks —— wires to the other switch are 1 red and two blacks — how do I wire the new 3 way switch to replace the one with the red wire and two blacks? One of the screws on the new switch is black

  • admin

    Show me that ammendment where we are to switch the neutral? I’m from Alberta, so I don’t think you are correct, but will review your information.

 

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