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|Home 'Switch and Outlet Wiring Made Easy'|
|Fan & Light Switched Together|
3 Way Switches
Power at Fixture
Read the legal disclaimer
page - click the legal link in the menu at bottom of page
At the Fixture box...
At switch 1 box...
* a) using an insulated wire nut connect / join the white
wire coming from fixture + the black wire of cable coming from switch 2.
At switch 2 box...
* a) connect the black wire coming from switch 1 to the
common screw of switch 2.
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 coming from the fixture to switch 1 and the white wire going from switch 1 to switch 2 have 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 the wire in the box. The white wire from the power supply cable that goes to the fixture itself at the fixture box location is a grounded conductor (neutral) and therefore is left as white with NO black tape on it.
Use wire nuts of the correct size to join wires together. For fan / light combination fixtures, most likely it will have wire connections, the white wire will be the grounded conductor (neutral), any green wires are equipment grounding conductors, then there will be two other wires one will be the switched ungrounded conductor (hot) for the light, and one will be the switched ungrounded conductor (hot) for the fan. If you are confused please post to our forums for further clarification.
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 grounding screw in each electrical box (if the box is metal), joined either through the 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 grounding screw (if there is one) on the switch itself, as well as any 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 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.
By: Donald Kerr
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