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3-Way Switches: Ten Top Wiring Tips

By Karin Mangan
3-Way Switches: Ten Top Wiring Tips

The perfect solution whenever you want to operate the same light or ceiling fan from two different switches is a 3-way switch. A 3-way switch is the answer in a room that you can enter through two different doors or at the top and bottom of a staircase. Understanding how a 3-way switch works and how to wire one can be useful because it is a common system found in most residential properties.

Ten Tips on Wiring a 3-Way Switch

  1. Turn off the electricity, before you begin any electrical work and use a circuit tester to make sure the circuit is not live.
  2. There are fours screws in a 3-way switch to which wires are connected--two traveler screws, a common screw, and a ground screw.
  3. The common screw is black or dark colored. The wire that is connected to the common screw depends on the position of the 3-way screw in the circuit, but it is always the hot wire: either the hot wire from the main electrical panel or the hot wire going to the fixture.
  4. The traveler screws are brass or gold colored. The wires that connect one 3-way switch to the next are the red or black hot wires connected to the traveler screws.
  5. The ground screw is green. The grounding screws in each 3-way switch are connected to each other with green or bare wire.
  6. Green or bare wire is also used to connect the grounding screws to the fixture and to the grounding wire from the main electrical panel.
  7. The switch on a 3-way switch transfers the electrical current from the black common screw to one of the traveler screws. When the current is flowing through the same traveler screw in each switch, it completes the circuit and the light is illuminated or the ceiling fan operates.
  8. If the fixture doesn't work when the switch is flipped, check that the wires are connected to the correct traveler switch.
  9. The power supply into the switch box should be on 2-wire cable. The 2-wire cable should also be used to connect the second switch to the light fixture or ceiling fan.
  10. Connect the switches to each other using 3-wire cable.

When properly installed, a 3-way switch is a safe and convenient way to activate your electrical fixtures, but never take risks with electrics. If you have any concerns about the circuit, call on the services of a professional electrician.

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