Home ImprovementHome Maintenance Guides

How to Wire a 3 Way Light Switch

Simple 3-Way Wiring Diagram - To Change Light from Single-Pole to 3-way switch

How to wire a 3-way light switch and connect two 3-way switches to an existing or new light fixture is one of those DIY projects a homeowner can tackle on their own. By doing it yourself you can also save a lot of money and make a significant improvement to your home. Our easy to follow 3-way wiring diagram,  changing from a single-pole to a 3-way light switch, allows you to turn on a light on from multiple locations, such as at the top and bottom of a staircase or both ends of a hallway.

How to Install a 3-way light switch – “Overview”

While wiring a 3-way switch is more involved than something simple like installing an electrical box for an Electric Fireplace, the task can be simple enough – If you follow along with these instructions:

1) Purchase Materials:

  • 3-way switch (2)
  • 3-way wire (which has black, white, and red (coated) wires – and of course a copper ground wire),
  • electrical boxes of appropriate size to hold 3-way switch and wire
  • wire cutters and strippers
  • standard electrical tape
  • a non-contact voltage tester
  • 3-Way light switch wiring diagram – See below.

Depending on the current setup and the fixture you’re wiring the switch into, you may also need some additional wire nuts to create secure connections to your home’s existing wiring.

For the instructions below, we’re assuming that you are converting an existing 2-way switch to a 3-way version by changing the current single switch and adding a second one in another location nearby. However, the basic principles also apply to replace existing 3-way switches or if you are installing them into new residential construction.

2)  Follow 3-Way Switch Diagram:

 

3 Way Switch Diagram
Basic 3-Way Switch Diagram

How To Wire 3-Way Light Switch – Step By Step

 

Step 1: Turn the Power Off at Circuit Breaker

The first step in any electrical project is to make sure there is no power going to the circuit you plan to be working on. Be sure to identify the electrical circuit correctly you’ll be wiring into, and turn off the breaker at your home’s main electrical panel. To make sure there’s no room for doubt, you can use a Non-contact voltage tester such as this bestselling Voltage tester at Amazon, to check whether there is power being supplied to the wires at the existing switch you’ll be working on. 

Ok – Have you Turned The Power Off to the Circuit Breaker you will be working on yet?  

Step 2:  Install the Correct Electrical Boxes

Before you can install your new three-way switch, you’ll need to put an electrical box in to accommodate it. Make sure the outlet box you choose is large enough, as 3-way switches usually require a bit of extra room due to their third wire. For the same reason, there’s a good chance you’ll have to change the box on the existing single pole switch to make room for the additional wiring.

Once your boxes are in place, you can start the process of installing and wiring the switches themselves.  Refer to the above 3-way switch diagram

Step 3:  Run New Cable (Romex) Between the 3- Way Switches

Regardless of what 3-way switch wiring diagram, you’re following, you’ll need to use a 3-wire cable to connect the two 3-way light switches.  So what you should see if you have correct 3-wire electrical cable (Romex) is a black (power) white (neutral) and now a 3rd (Red) wire.  This is the 3-wire cable which you must have to wire a 3-way light switch.

The exact cable you use depends on the gauge of the existing wiring in the rest of the circuit, but in most cases, the correct cable will be either 12-3 or 14-3.

Step 4:  Make The Connections for 3-Way Switches 

  • A)  At the existing single pole light switch (the switch which is currently connected to the circuit breaker) remove this existing switch from the box. You will be replacing it with a new 3-Way light switch.  Wire nut the neutral (white) wires together.
  • This is the existing White neutral wire coming into the box, and the New white neutral wire from the 3 wire Romex you’re going to use to connect the other 3-way switch – you will install in a minute.  This first step will eventually send power directly to the Light fixture.
  • B)  Connect the Black (hot) wire (coming from the Romex cable that leads to your circuit panel) to your New 3-way light switch (#1) – you will connect the hot wire to the hot terminal on the 3-way switch, which is usually Black and stands alone).
  • C)  Now, connect the traveler (red & black) wires from the new 3- wire Romex cable to the two traveler terminals at the top of 3-way switch #1 the first switch.  Keep in mind that the traveler terminals for red & black wires, are universal and will work regardless of which one the traveler wire is connected to. Finally,  attach the existing copper ground wire to the 3-way light switch #1.
  • D)  Repeat this process with the other 3-way switch (#2) using the same 3-wire Romex cable you just connected to switch #1.   The only exception here is that the black wire coming from the Light fixture will now connect to the standalone hot terminal on switch #2 – this common black wire will send power to the light fixture from the circuit breaker.
  • E) Lastly, If your light fixture isn’t wired yet, connect the light fixture to the 2 wire Romex (black and white wires only) which leads to your new 3-way light switch #2, and you should have completed your 3-way light switch circuit.

Note: If your 3-way light switch #2 is connected between the power supply and the light fixture, as is most common; the existing 2-wire (black and white) Romex can still be used to connect a 3-way switch #2,  and the light fixture.

Note:  Make sure all of your Ground connections are completed and securely fastened.

Step 5:  Finish Your Work and Test

Now that you have wired the switches to each other and the light fixture, it’s time to do a bit of finish work and test the circuit. Before turning the power back on, wrap a piece of black electrical tape around the white wires if you used them as travelers.

By convention, the white wire in a 3- wire cable is neutral, and it’s important to leave an indication that the wire is hot for yourself or anyone else who may someday need to work on the switches. The white wire that runs to the fixture should be marked in the same way to avoid any confusion.

Final Steps:  Test 3-Way Switches

Now you just have to screw the switches to the boxes, put the faceplates on, and restore power to the circuit. Test the switches to be sure they work. If you have any trouble, be sure to turn the power back off before inspecting the wiring connections or trying to troubleshoot.

To troubleshoot 3-way switch – Simply cut the power.  Then, trace your way back to each connection and confirm all wires are connected properly, and that all the wire connectors are tight.

For all of you “Visual Learners” out there – and anyone else – we recommend watching this short Video How to wire a 3-way switch:

 

 

Optional Installation Method: Wiring “Multiple Lights” on a 3-way switch

The steps above describe installing a 3-way switch and provide a 3-way switch diagram utilizing one light fixture.

If you intend to add multiple lights with a 3-way switch – Use the 3-way switch for multiple lights diagram:

 

wiring 3 way switch to multiple lights

Important Note About Your Safety:

Before you grab your toolbox and set out to wire a three-way switch, Wire a ceiling fan, or any other electrical work, be sure to take proper safety precautions. This type of electrical work isn’t overly complicated, but any electrical work can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Always be sure to work with the power turned off and to proceed with care and caution at each stage of an electrical project. If you aren’t sure you know how to proceed or aren’t comfortable doing the work safely, it would be a good idea to hire a professional electrician to do this job instead.

Also, be sure to check the type of wiring in your home. These instructions are offered for installing switches using standard Copper wiring.

Some homes, however, do use aluminum wiring instead. If your house has aluminum wires, it’s generally best to hire a professional to do your electrical work.

Looking to warm up your Patio or Garden this Year?  Check out the Top 5 Best Gas Fire Pit Tables!

Thanks for visiting BestHomeGear.Com and Best Success on Your Home Wiring Project!

References & Additional Reading

 

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.9 / 5. Vote count: 15

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Show More

Kevin

As a Homeowner, Builder, and Property Developer/Manager for 30+ years, I’ve worn a lot of “different hats”, and In that capacity, owned or used about every tool or piece of home equipment one can think of. Managing property in Michigan, Arizona, and Florida, also allows us to test many of the products we review firsthand, and in vastly different climates and conditions. Our goal at BestHomeGear.Com is to share the first-hand experience by providing exceptional Home & Garden Techniques, Product Reviews, and useful DIY Guides for our faithful readers - Homeowners like you. We trust you will find BestHomeGear.Com very informative - and extremely helpful.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Kevin,
    Really helpful instruction for 3-Way light switch wire installation with simple tools. Your step by step guideline makes me confident to do it in my home.
    Thanks and Regards

  2. Very informative article. Read your article and got some good ideas about the installation of a 3 way light switch wire. Now it’s an easier installation and I know that I can install it on my own.

    Thanks for your valuable post.

  3. Had to move three way switch at bottom of stairs. Problems rewiring. I have power coming into bottom switch from nearby outlet. 14/2. I have another cable in box 12/2. And another cable of 14/2. I believe one goes to switch at top of stairs and other to lights? Tried all combinations. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. Robert
      Thanks for contacting us. It sounds like you have the wrong Romex currently in place – It should be 14-3 or 12-3. When you talk about 14-3 or 12-3, the Romex cable actually has 4 wires. The 14 or 12 is the wire size. #12 is a heavier gauge, can handle up to 20 amps and usually has a yellow sheath. #14 has a white sheath and is good for up to 15 amps – This is what you find with 14-3 or 12-3 in either case:
      Black – Hot
      White – Neutral
      Bare Copper – Ground
      Red – Usually an extra ‘Hot’
      Most circuits in a modern house are wired with 14-2 Romex (Black, White, Bare)

      It is very common to use 14-3 or 12-3 when you have a Fan with a light and you want two different switches controlling it. OR you have a situation where you want 2 switches to control one light (called a 3-way) where the Red wire is designated as a ‘traveler’. Follow our guide with the correct wire run to each switch, and you should be fine. Any doubts, hire an electrician!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
Close