The right way to Wire A three Way Wall Switch

A 3-way switch is a mechanism for controlling a fixture or a light box from two different locations. They are ideal in long hallways and at the top and bottom of stairwells. A 3-way switch contains three terminals or screws. Two terminals are for the “traveler wire,” and the third is for the “common wire.” The common connection is usually a black screw, while the travelers are of the same color. If you possibly can keep track of the traveler wires, connecting a 3-way switch will likely be easy for you.

Things You will Need
Two 3-way switches
One 14/2 or 12/2 electric wire
One 14/3 or 12/3 electric wire
Light fixture
Wire nuts
Wire stripper
Preparation

Connect the 12/2 wire to a circuit breaker on the electrical panel. The 12/2 wire has two wires—each a 12 gauge. One is a white wire (neutral) and one is a black wire (hot). Run the wires to the location of the primary 3-way switch, and secure it in place.

Run the 12/3 wire from the first 3-way switch location to the second. The 12/3 wire contains three wires, one white, one black and one red. The red and black wires on the 12/3 wire are the traveler wires.

Run a 12/2 wire from the second 3-way switch to the sunshine fixture, the black wire from the fixture to the second switch is the common wire, and the white wire is the one coming from the electric panel.

Connection

Splice the wire, then connect the white wire from the 12/2 wire—coming from the electric panel—to the neutral wire on the 12/3 wire—going from the first switch to the second one. Neutral wires are usually not attached to any terminal screws on the 3-way switch; they run continuously from the electric panel to the sunshine fixture. All white wires are connected to one another using wire nuts.

Connect the black wire on the 12/2 wire—coming from the electric panel—to the common terminal screw on the primary switch. The common terminal screw is on the switch’s side and is generally black or in a distinct color from the opposite two screws in the identical location.

Join the 12/3 wire to the remaining two terminal screws on the three-way switch. The white wires connect with the white wire coming form the electric panel, using a wire nut. The black and red wires hook up with the other two terminal screws. It doesn’t matter which color goes to which terminal, so long as you connect them the same exact way on the second 3-way switch. Some electricians prefer to keep black wires on one side of the 3-way switch and red wires on the other side, for ease of installation.

Connect the 12/3 wire on the second switch, as follows: The neutral or white wire can be connected to the white wire going to the light fixture. The traveller wires from the 12/3 wire might be connected to the same screws as on the primary 3-way switch.

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Join the black wire going to the light fixture to the common screw on the second 3-way switch.

Tips & Warnings
Keep the black wires on the side that has the two terminal screws, so that you should not have to worry about which traveler wire is connected to what side of the 3-way switch.
Use electrical safety precautions when coping with electricity.
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References
“The final word Wiring Guide,” ed. Fran J. Donegan, Feb. 2010.

Photo Credit toggle switch image by Sergey Danilov from Fotolia.com wire nuts image by Paul Moore from Fotolia.com
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