How to wire a three-way light switch

Written by ezmeralda lee
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Sometimes it is necessary to control a light from two different places; for example, the top and bottom of a stairway. When wired correctly, the light can be turned on or off from either switch. This can be done with two (2) three-way switches. To control a light from more than two switches, use four-way switches. There are several ways to wire three-way switches to a fixture. This is the simplest way.

Skill level:
Challenging

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Things you need

  • Flat screwdriver
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire nuts
  • Electrical tape
  • (2) Three-way switches
  • Light fixture
  • Two-wire cable
  • Three-wire cable
  • Feed wire (from power source)

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Between the fixture and the first switch, run two-wire cable. Then, between the two switches, run three-wire cable.

  2. 2

    The feed wire (from the power source) should be two-wire and will have a black wire and a white wire. Using a wire nut, attach the white wire from the feed to the white wire at the fixture.

  3. 3

    The black wire from the feed will run straight through the fixture to the two-wire cable running between the fixture and the first switch. Using a wire nut, attach the black wire from the feed to the white wire of the two-wire cable running between the fixture and the first switch.

  4. 4

    Using a wire nut, attach the black wire from the fixture to the black wire of the two-wire cable running between the fixture and the first switch.

  5. 5

    Go to the first switch. The white wire coming from the fixture should be attached to the dark coloured screw on the switch. It is a good idea to mark this screw with paint or a permanent marker to indicate that it is “hot”.

  6. 6

    Take the red and white wires from the three-wire cable running between the two switches and attach them to the light coloured screws on the first switch.

  7. 7

    Attach the black wire coming from the fixture directly to the black wire running between the two switches with a wire nut. The black wire should not be attached to the first switch.

  8. 8

    Go to the second switch. Attach the red and white wires to the light coloured screws and the black wire to the dark screw.

  9. 9

    Test your switches. You should be able to turn the fixture on or off from either switch.

Tips and warnings

  • When stripping your wires, only strip the amount you need. Be sure you do not have bare wires touching each other. This can cause a short, which can result in a tripped breaker, blown fuse, or (worst case scenario) fire.
  • Always tape connections made with wire nuts to avoid bare wires contacting other bare wires.
  • BE SURE TO CUT THE POWER TO THE AREA BY TRIPPING THE BREAKER OR
  • PULLING THE FUSE BEFORE WORKING.
  • Always replace switch covers to avoid the risk of electric shock.

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