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Fixing 3 Way Switch & 4 Way Switch Wiring Problems

Solving 3 Way Switch & 4 Way Switch Wiring Problems

Existing 3 Way Switches

Virtually every house has at least one set of three way switches. They may be at the bottom and the top of stairways. Often they can be found at either end of a hallway. If one breaks or you wish to replace them with more decorative switches, you can often confuse the wires.

How to Wire a 3 Way Switch Video

If you hook up either one or both of the three way switches incorrectly, they will not operate properly. One switch may turn the lights on and off, while the other switch does nothing.

Which Wire is What?

Let's assume you are in a mess right now. The switches don't work. You don't have a continuity tester. Here is how to fix them. The first thing that must be done is to identify the two common wires. There will be one in each switch location. One of these wires is 'hot' continuously. The other one leads directly to the light fixture. Isolating them is usually not too hard.

Locate the circuit breaker in your electric panel that powers this light circuit. Turn it off. Go to each switch, take the cover plate off and remove the switch from the electric box. Unhook the wires from the switch. Don't allow them to touch one another. Hopefully you will also have two neutral (white) wires wire-nutted together in each box. Remove the wire nuts from both joints but keep the white wires together. Make SURE no black wires are touching each other or the white wires! Turn the circuit back on. Now it's time to be CAREFUL.

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12 Responses to Fixing 3 Way Switch & 4 Way Switch Wiring Problems

  1. I understand how to wire a 4 way switch between two 3 way switches to give me 3 switch positions to turn on/off a light. BUT how do I wire it so I can turn on/off a light from FOUR different positions? Do I just install another 4 way switch between to two 3 way switches? Please answer as soon as possible! THANK YOU!

  2. I am trying to follow your drections in the following "Fixing 3 Way Switch & 4 Way Switch Wiring Problems". It appears that some of the instructions are incomplete. I believe there should be more detail after "Now it's time to be CAREFUL." Can you provide me with a complete set of instructions as soon as possible.

    Thank you!

    • Al,

      Did you watch my videos? Tens of thousands have commented the instructions are the best on the Internet. Maybe your monitor is covered in dust or something. :-)

    • I agree with the Al DePresco. It's impossible to find where on your posting the relevant video link is. You're likely not aware of how your page shows on some computers, like mine. I clicked on something that I thought was the video and antivirus software started to be downloaded on my computer without my permission. Someone, like one of your sponsors, has taken control of your website and made it useless, at least on my browser (Firefox)

  3. I installed three hallway light fixtures in place of one all were working now a week later none do could my three way switches at each end of hallway have gone out I rechecked all wiring from box in ceiling to each light and there are no circuits blown do three way switches go out will none work then

    • Rarely do the switches go bad. Check to see if you have power coming into one of the 3-way switches. If not, that means a breaker is blown or a wire is loose downstream between the switches and the electric panel.

  4. I have a circuit of 2 three way switches and 1 four way switch. When the four way switch is in the power on position, I can turn the lights on and off with the three way switches. When the four way switch is in the off position, none of the switches work. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  5. Is there such a thing as having two 3 way switches operating a light in a way that up is always on regardless of the position of the other switch? In other words, I can't stand having to flip a switch down to turn the light on.

    Thanks,
    Jon

    • Nope. What you desire is impossible. It all depends on the orientation of the switch the LAST TIME you flipped it to make the light go on and off. Then add in the random factor of entering the hallway or staircase from a different direction and operating the switch.

      If you flip a switch up side down and try to do what you want, sooner or later you'll be at one switch and you want the light to go ON, but the switch is pointing up. Go ahead and try it. You'll see what I mean.

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