3-way switch - Could it be wrong?


Old 07-17-04, 10:49 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Wisconsin
Posts: 59
3-way switch - Could it be wrong?

Is it possible to wire a 3-way switch in such a way that it works, but it is not safe/correct?

I had to replace some 3-way switches recently and the old switch had the 2 hot screws on the same side of the switch and the neutral on the opposite side (compared to the hot screws on opposite sides for new switches). My house was built in the last 1940s and it is often very difficult to determine what wire is what - esp. for a 3-way switch.

Needless to say, I had to try several different combinations (or is it permutations?) before getting it to work right.

Eventually, I'll replace the wires, but in the meantime I want to check that just because it is working does that mean it is correct? (at least for wiring a 3-way switch)
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Old 07-18-04, 02:15 AM
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this is not micro-biology. Every wire has an exact location for its existance. When you wire a 3-way switch, you need to make sure to identify the common terminal on the type of switch you are using, and hook the correct common wire to the terminal along with the travelers. Pay close attention to the wires on the old switch before you hook up the new switch.
Old 07-18-04, 09:28 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
Not all white wires are neutral. Nobody should touch home wiring unless they understand that statement.

There are fewer dangerous mistakes to make when wiring switches than when wiring fixtures. The only safety issue I can think of is the possibility that you are switching the neutral rather than the hot. This could result in an installation that is unsafe but functional.

As long as you never connect a neutral wire to a switch (understanding that not all white wires are neutral), you can usually safely experiment when wiring a switch. I often recommend controlled experimentation when wiring switches. Of course, this assumes that you didn't miswire the fixture that the switch controls.

If you are attaching exactly the same three wires to the new switch that were attached to the old switch, and as long as you only attach grounding wires to grounding screws, then experiment away--you can't create a hazard.
Old 07-18-04, 09:37 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Wisconsin
Posts: 59
Thanks alot! I'll be double-checking my work today.

The fact that the old switches were configured differently than the new ones compounded with the fact that the coloring of the old wiring made it difficult to determine what is what, is what led to this. All 3 wires are now basically black in color. The original white paint on the black rubber wire covering has chipped/peeled/disintegrated (sp?) completely. The 2 "hot" wires appear to never have been marked - so they all look the same. At least the other switch for this 3-way I replaced the wiring and "neutral" is connected correctly.

Sorry about the incorrect nomenclature.

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