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How to Wire a 3-Way Switch: The Complete DIY Guide

How to Wire a 3-Way Switch: The Complete DIY Guide

Okay, so you’ve decided to tackle installing a 3-way switch in your home. Great idea – being able to control lights from multiple locations is incredibly handy. But wiring a 3-way switch circuit can seem complicated if you’ve never done it before. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This DIY guide will walk you through the entire process step-by-step, with pictures to help along the way. By the end, you’ll be flipping switches with the best of them. A few basic tools, a little patience, and you’ll have this checked off your list in no time. Ready to become an expert in 3-way switch wiring? Let’s do this!

Understanding 3-Way Switch Wiring

To wire a 3-way switch, you’ll need to understand how the circuit works. A 3-way switch circuit allows you to control a light fixture from two separate locations, like at the top and bottom of a staircase.

The Parts

For a basic 3-way setup, you’ll need:

  • Two 3-way switches
  • One light fixture
  • Electrical cable
  • Wire cutters and strippers

The 3-way switches have three terminals: the common (COM), and two travelers (TRAV1 and TRAV2). The COM terminal is where the hot wire connects. The TRAV terminals are connected to the matching terminal on the other 3-way switch.

The Wiring

Here’s how it works:

  1. Connect the hot wire (black) to the COM terminal on one 3-way switch.
  2. Connect the neutral (white) wire to the light fixture.
  3. Connect the grounding (bare) wire to the green grounding screw on each switch and the light fixture.
  4. Connect one traveler (red) between the TRAV1 terminals on both switches.
  5. Connect the other traveler (black) between the TRAV2 terminals.
  6. Connect the switched hot (black) wire from the 3-way switch to the light fixture.
  7. Turn the power back on and test both switches to ensure the light turns on and off from both locations.

If wired correctly, flipping either 3-way switch should control the light fixture, allowing you to turn it on or off from two places. Take your time and be careful, and you’ll be enjoying the convenience of a 3-way switch in no time!

Step-by-Step Guide to Wiring a 3-Way Switch

To wire a 3-way switch, you’ll need a few basic tools and parts, as well as some patience. But follow these steps and you’ll be flipping lights from multiple locations in no time.

Gather Your Supplies

You’ll need:

  • Two 3-way switches
  • Wire cutters/strippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Electrical tape
  • 14/2 or 12/2 wire (depending on how much power the circuit needs)

Turn Off Power and Install Boxes

  1. Turn off the power to the circuit at the breaker. Double check that it’s off!
  2. Install two electrical boxes where you want to place the switches. Make sure they’re large enough to fit the switches.

Run the Cables

  1. Run the 14/2 or 12/2 wire between the two boxes. Leave about 6 to 8 inches of slack in each box.
  2. Attach a grounding wire to each box if there isn’t one already.

Connect the Switches

  1. Connect the “common” terminal on one switch to the “common” terminal on the other switch.
  2. Connect the “traveler” terminal on each switch to the “traveler” terminal on the other switch.
  3. Attach the grounding wire to the grounding screw on each switch.
  4. Connect the “common” terminal on one switch to the incoming power.
  5. Connect the outgoing wires to the two remaining terminals on either switch.
  6. Flip the breaker back on and test the switches!

With some time and patience, you’ll be enjoying the convenience of 3-way switches in no time. Let there be light!

3-Way Switch Wiring Diagrams and Tips

To wire a 3-way switch, you’ll need some basic tools and supplies:

  • Wire cutters/strippers
  • Flathead screwdrivers
  • Voltmeter
  • 14/2 or 12/2 NM cable
  • Wire nuts
  • 3-way switches (two)

Tips for 3-Way Switch Wiring

Double check that you shut off power to the circuit at the breaker before starting any wiring work.

Identify the “common” terminal on the new 3-way switches – it will be marked as COM or COMMON. The other two terminals will be marked 1 and 2.

Use a voltmeter to determine which wire is the “hot” wire supplying power to the circuit. Attach this wire to the COM terminal on one of the new switches.

Connect the neutral or ground wire to the other new switch. Attach the remaining wire to either terminal 1 or 2 on each switch.

Twist matching color-coded wires together with wire nuts and wrap electrical tape around the nuts to prevent them from coming loose.

Once everything is connected, turn the power back on and test the new 3-way switches to ensure they are working properly before closing up the wall.

If the new 3-way switches don’t seem to be working right, double check that all connections are secure and on the correct terminals. It may also help to refer to a wiring diagram to ensure the proper connections. With a little troubleshooting, you’ll get your new 3-way switches operating in no time!

Wiring a 3-way switch yourself can save you money versus hiring an electrician. Take

your time and be extremely cautious working with live wires. If at any point you feel unsure or unsafe about the wiring, don’t hesitate to call an expert. Your safety is most important!


You now have all the steps and diagrams you need to successfully install new 3-way switches in your home. While it may seem intimidating, taking it slow and double checking your work will help ensure you get it right the first time. Once you’ve completed your first 3-way switch installation, the others will seem like a breeze. No more fumbling around in the dark – you’ll be turning on lights in style from multiple locations. And just think of the satisfaction you’ll get from completing this yourself and improving your home’s functionality. You’ve got this – now go wire those switches!

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