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Home 'Switch and Outlet Wiring Made Easy'

3 Way Switch Circuits

Power Source and Fixture Feed at Same Switch

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For Preparation Instructions Click HERE

STEP 1 - Make certain that the power supply cable is dead - turn off the electrical breaker at the service panel. Make certain that everyone in the house is aware of what you are doing so that they do not get the notion to reset the breaker when another light in the home is not working.

STEP 2 - Make the box openings (if a existing home)

STEP 3 - Feed / Route the wire cables.

STEP 4 -Mount / Install the Electrical Boxes (make sure the electrical boxes are secured as some fixtures are heavy and may require additional support) [The electrical box should not extend beyond the edge of the finished wall or ceiling so that the fixture can mount flush to the ceiling and the wall switch cover will mount flush - but it also should not be recessed too far into the wall or ceiling]; then feed the wire cables into the electrical boxes. Sometimes because of tight openings in existing homes, the wire cable may to be feed into the electrical box then the box put in position and secured.

STEP 5 - Connect the wires...

3 Way Switch Circuit with Power and Feed at Same Switch

3 Way Switch Circuit with Power and Feed at Same Switch

Connection Instructions:

At the Fixture box...

One cables entering this box (wire cable # 1) coming from switch 1.

* a) connect the white wire coming switch 1 to the grounded conductor (neutral) of fixture - if screw type connections then connect to the silver color screw

* c) connect the black wire to the switched ungrounded conductor (hot) of fixture - if screw type connections then connect to the brass color screw.

* d) please see under important notes in regards to the equipment grounding conductor (bare wire).

At switch 1 box...

Three cables entering this box, one is coming from the fixture (wire cable # 1), one cable coming from switch 2, and the 'circuit power supply cable'.

* a) using an insulated wire nut connect / join the white wire coming from fixture + the white wire coming from the 'circuit power supply cable'.

* b) connect the black wire coming from fixture to the common screw of switch 1.

* c) using an insulated wire nut connect / join the black wire coming from switch 2 + the black wire from the 'circuit power supply cable'.

* d) connect the red wire coming from switch 2 to the one of the remaining main screws of switch 1.

* e) connect the white wire coming from switch 2 to the last remaining main screw of switch 1.

* f) please see under important notes in regards to the equipment grounding conductor (bare wire).

At switch 2 box...

One cables entering this box coming from switch 1.

* a) connect the black wire coming from switch 1 to the common screw of switch 2.

* b) connect the white wire coming from switch 1 to one of the remaining main screws of switch 2.

* c) connect the red wire coming from switch 1 to the last remaining main screws of switch 2.

* d) please see under important notes in regards to the equipment grounding conductor (bare wire).

Important Notes:

By electrical codes you MUST have at least 6 inches of wire in the electrical box itself, and also the wire must be able to reach at least 3 inches outside the box, it can fail an electrical inspection if the required min. wire length is not met. You may have the wires a bit longer (within reason) but they cannot be shorter. Also see the note on box fill further down in this article.

You are allowed to re-designate a white wire to be used as a hot (ungrounded conductor) in switch circuits but in those cases where a white wire is used in this manner, you must wrap a piece of black electrical tape around that white wire inside the box to signify that is being used as an ungrounded (hot) conductor.

You cannot re-designate a white wire that is actually connected to the light fixture itself. At the fixture itself, the white wire must be the grounded conductor (neutral) coming from the circuit power supply cable.

In the 3 way configuration depicted on this page, the white wire going from switch 1 and switch 2 has been used to carry a switched ungrounded conductor (hot) part of the circuit and therefore as stated should have a piece of black electrical tape wrapped around that wire in each switch box. The white wire from the 'power supply cable' and on the cable between switch 1 and fixture is a grounded conductor (neutral) and therefore is left as white with NO black tape on it.

If the fixture has screw type connectors, the switched ungrounded conductor (hot) is connected to the brass color screw, and the grounded conductor (neutral) is connected to the silver color screw. If it has black and white wires coming from fixture, then just connect black to black and white to white. Use wire nuts of the correct size to join wires together.

The wire cable running between switch 1 and switch 2 has 3 wires in it - black / red / white (plus the bare equipment grounding wire)

What is not shown in the drawings to avoid confusion, is that each wire cable also has a bare equipment grounding wire included. This wire is connected to a equipment grounding screw in each electrical box (if the box is metal), joined either through the equipment grounding screws in the box itself or via a wire nut to the bare wire of the next cable entering / exiting the box, it is also connected to any equipment grounding screw (if there is one) on the switch itself, as well as any equipment grounding screw at the fixture (green wires that attach to the fixture are grounds). Now if using a plastic box, it is made of a material that is non conductive, however some plastic boxes have a metal strip inside that can still be used to connect equipment grounding wires, in the event that it does not use wire nuts to join the bare grounding wires together. The equipment grounding wire (bare in most cables) must be electrical conductively joined throughout the circuit. Green wires are also equipment grounding conductors.

At the switch itself there are 3 main electrical screws, one of these 3 screws is distinctly different in color (perhaps darker) than the other 2. This screw connection is called the common screw. It is very important that in order for the 2 switches to work as they are intended to that the correct wire is attached to the common screw. Basically as depicted in the drawings one switch has the ungrounded conductor (hot) from the 'circuit power supply' cable attached to the common screw, where the other switch had the switched ungrounded conductor (hot) feed to the light fixture itself.

Please also note that there are a variety of manufactures out there that make 3 way switches so it is possible that the switch you buy may have the common screw located in a different spot or side of the switch then depicted in the drawings in this article, just make sure that the wire depicted to go to the common screw of each of the switches is actually connected to the common screw of the 3 way switch you bought. The other 2 wires going between the remaining screws of one switch to the other switch does not matter as long as one wire of the 2 remaining wires go on each of the remaining 2 screws of the screw.

If there is an equipment grounding screw on the 3 way switch it may be green in color and be separated away from the main connections of the switch and likely part of the metal frame that is also part of the mounting structure of the switch.

For Extension Options to this circuit - CLICK HERE


Foreign Users:

The colors of the wires depicted are based on the standards and code requirements / configuration in the United States and Canada. If you are viewing this site from a foreign country, your wiring standards and color of wires may be different but the principal and sequence of wiring will still remain the same. Therefore the information in this article may still be of use to you regardless of what country you may be in. Just translate the colors used here to the color of wires used in your country in regards to ungrounded (hot) conductors / grounded conductors (neutral) and equipment grounding conductors as well know applicable code requirements in your country.

By: Donald Kerr

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