3 way electrical switch hook up

Slide your mouse over it to see it change state requires Javascript enabled:. The switches must create a complete circuit for current to flow and the bulb to light. When both switches are up, the circuit is complete top right. When both switches are down, the circuit is complete bottom right. If one switch is up and one is down, the current reaches a dead end, no current flows and the bulb is off top left and bottom left. Note that the above color scheme does NOT reflect wire color.

3-way Switch Wiring - Electrical

It is functional coloring intended to illustrate the voltage state of each wire segment. For more than two switches, one or more 4-way switches are added between the 3-way switches. A 4-way switch has two positions.

Wire a 3 Way Switch

In the first position, the contacts are connected straight through, so that the switch has no effect. In position two, the switch cross connects the contacts on the left with the contacts on the right, in an "X" connection. Slide your mouse over the image to see the switch change state if you have Javascript enabled in your browser.

How to replace your old, outdated 3-way light switches

To view an animation showing how this works in a complete circuit, see How 4-way switches work -- an animation. This one-minute animation is the clearest illustration of the function of three- and four-way switch function. Don't worry about file size -- it should download in seconds even via a modem. Below is one example of a four-switch light circuit. This circuit also shows rough-in boxes, wire nuts, and proper color code.

Note that the light can be placed anywhere in the return wire, shown above as white. It may be as shown at the end of the run, but it may be between any pair of switch boxes as shown in a later figure , or even between the panel and the first switch box. You can use as many 4-way switches as you like.


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  • Tutorial: 3-Way Switches and 4-Way Switches!
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For the official word, consult the National Electric code. Here I will try to describe a bit of what the color coding is about, and how wires should be colored in lighting circuits and why. Common practice in wiring a multiswitch circuit is to use two-conductor black and white cable from panel to the first switch, and then three-conductor black, red, white cable between pairs of switches. White denotes neutral, a current carrying wire that is bonded to ground in the circuit breaker panel. The lower left screw is the common and gets the black wire from the source 3-cond.

Controlling a light with three or more switches

The upper left screw gets the black wire from the right box 4-cond. The upper right screw gets the red wire from the right box 4-cond. The white wires tie together with a wire nut.

Step 2: Gather your tools

The bare copper wires tie together with a wire nut. Be sure to attach a bare copper wire to the green screw on the switch. The lower left screw is the common and gets the black wire from the load 3-cond.


  • Step 1: Locate your switches.
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  • Swap out those old crappy 3-way light switches for good - CNET;
  • 3 Way Switch Wiring Diagram.
  • Tutorial: How 3-way and 4-way switch circuits work!

The upper left screw gets the red wire from the left box 4-cond. The upper right screw gets the black wire from the left box 4-cond. Follow along with the mouse pointer as we go through this. The source power black wire is coming in from the left. In the 2nd diagram below, blue wires are used for travelers. In the 1st diagram below, a 2- wire NM cable supplies power from the panel to the first switch box. The black line wire connects to the common terminal of the first 3- way switch. A 3- wire NM connects the traveler terminals of the first and second 3- way switch together.

Traveler wires are interchangeable on each switch. The common terminal of the second 3- way switch connects to the light fixture s. The white neutral wires are connected together in each switch box. Diagrams shown on this page are simplified for clarity.