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Understanding 3-Way And 4-Way Switches

Wireless Touch Switch White 2 Gang 1 Way Touch Switch For LampYou have got you might have a room that has two or more entrances and also you want to have a switch at each entrance to manage a light Or more commonly, did your electrician set one up for you and now you’ve replaced a broken switch but cannot get it to work right Fear not, some simple diagrams should help sort it out.

To start with, there are 2-way, 3-way, and 4-way switches; each with a special purpose. Two-way switches are commonest and only have two terminals along with the ground screw. These are quite simple in nature and simply either break or complete the circuit to show a light on or off.

When you’ve got two switches that control a light, you have to use 3-way switches (more on 4-ways later when you’ve got more than 2 switches). Usually we see people get in trouble after they need to replace one switch with a dimmer. The dimmer in this case have to be a three way and the three wires must go to the correct terminals. (at the tip of this article we explain how to have a look at a switch and most of the time get the hook-up correct. When all else fails, use a continuity tester.) Three-way switches can have 3 terminals along with the ground screw. One hot(usually black) wire either comes from the ability panel into the switch or one hot wire exits the switch and goes to the light. In between the switches are two wires called travelers. These are considered switched hot wires and can be typically black, red, or sometimes a white wire has black tape wrapped around it at each end to designate it as a hot and never a neutral wire.

Four way switches are used when you will have 3 or more switches to manage a light. As might be seen in the diagrams below, there may be always a 3-way switch firstly and end of the circuit, with 1 or more 4-ways in between. The 4-way switches simply have the two travelers coming in after which going out to the next switch down the line.

Let’s have a look a some diagrams to understand how the circuit and switches work.
First here is an example of a 3-way switch setup. Light is off as there isn’t a path for the new.

—- —- OFF
—-|1 | | 1|—-| Light |

| 3|——-+3 / | ——-
—- —- Neutral|

Switch 2 is moved, Light is ON as there may be now a path for the new.
Switch 1 Switch 2

—- —- ON
Hot | / 2|——-+2 | ——-

—-|1 | | 1|—–| Light |
| 3|——-+3 | ——-

—- —- Neutral |

Either moving Switch 1 or Switch 2 will break the new. And from the Off state, either Switch will make the connection.

Now for an example of a 4-way switch setup. The 4-way switch must be in-between the 3-ways.
—- —- —- ON

Hot | / 2|—–|1–3|—–|2 | ——-
—-|1 | | | | 1|—–| Light |

| 3|—–|2–4|—–|3 | ——-
—- —- —- Neutral |

Moving either switch 1 or 3 like before will turn the sunshine off.

3-way 4-way 3-way
Switch 1 Switch 2 Switch 3

—- —– —- OFF
Hot | / 2|—–|1 3|—–|2 | ——-

—-|1 | | X | | 1|—–| Light |
| 3|—–|2 4|—–|3 | ——-

—- —– —- Neutral |

Switch 2 either connects 1to3 and 2to4 like shown or when it’s flipped it cross connects 1to4 and 2to3. So within the case shown, if switch 2 was flipped, the trail would go from switch 1 1-2, then switch 2 1to4, but would stop a switch 3 since there isn’t a path and thus the sunshine goes off.

Chances are you’ll add additional 4-way switches into the middle of the wiring. The 3-way switches must always be in the beginning and at the end of the circuit.

The wires in-between the the three-way switches are called travelers. If you are pulling wire through conduit, best to make use of different colored wire like blue and orange. If you’re using Romex, I prefer to make use of the 4 wire version which has a ground, a white neutral, and a black and a red. Little more expensive but from a safety perspective I prefer not to wrap a black piece of tape around the white wire to mark it as a hot.

So use the red and the black in your travelers between switches. On the 3-way switches, you can not just connect the new to one of the terminals and the travelers to the remaining two. Have a look at a diagram on the switch or most times there is a single terminal on the top or bottom for the in/out hot and then two terminals (one on each side) at the opposite end are for the travelers. Connecting the new to the side that has one terminal and the travelers to the side that has two terminals is usually NOT the method to do it.

Same goes for the travelers in and out of a 4-way switch. The in is typically both sides of the top of the switch and the out goes on both side of the bottom of the switch. You possibly can verify what is correct or wrong using a simple continuity buzzer and comparing the results against the diagram above.

If you happen to did not get the wires on the proper terminals, then you will see that it sometimes takes flipping two of the switches to get the sunshine to turn on or off. With the correct wiring, any single switch that’s flipped should cause the sunshine to go on or off.

And please remember to turn the facility off first. BZZZT sounds or wall outlet switch arc welding your switch is just not a superb thing.

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