3-Way Switch Wiring Issue

Old 05-02-16, 10:34 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 1
Upvotes: 0
Received 0 Upvotes on 0 Posts
3-Way Switch Wiring Issue


My house was built in 1954. I am replacing all of the old switches / receptacles in the house with Decora style switches and white outlets.

In our living room, we have four outlets (receptacles) that have one of the plugs controlled by two switches (so half of each outlet is controlled by the switches while half is always live). There are only two switches that control these outlets, so I purchased two three-way switches to replace the old switches. One switch is a stand-alone switch while the other is in a 3-gang box with two other single-pole switches that control an outside light and closet light.

I have done 3-way switches in the past in new construction so I am somewhat familiar with them. I understand there are two traveler (brass screws) wires. The live feed should go into the black/common on one switch and then the feed to the outlets should go on the black/common on the other switch.

Unfortunately, when i disconnected the three wires from each switch, I turn the power on, and each box has a live feed. Regarding the wires I disconnected from the switches (no other wires have been disconnected), each box has a red, a black, and an old, cloth-wrapped black (or white? -- hard to tell, but I'm just calling it white for the sake of clarity). The black in each box is live when I turn the power on with no wires connected to anything.

I got a connectivity tester (not sure if proper name, but when you touch one probe to one wire and the other in another spot -- it beeps if its the same wire). When we do this, the red in one box connects with the red in the other, the black in one with the black in the other, and the white in one with the white in the other. Furthermore, the reds connect with half of the outlets that are controlled by the switches. The blacks connect with the lower half of the outlets (always live and not controlled by the switches). And the whites only connect with each other (i.e. do not connect to the outlets at all).

I've tried a bunch of wiring combinations with the 3-way switches. I plugged lamps into the outlets to make it easy to tell if they are working. I either get power all the time (i.e. the switches dont do anything no matter which one is up or down), or I get it so that one switch has to be up or down for the other to function.

The old switches have four holes in the back of them to connect wires and there are no screws. There are no markings on the old switches (i.e. common, etc.). My only thought (besides that I'm doing something wrong) is that maybe they used 4-way switches?

Any suggestions?
Old 05-02-16, 12:53 PM
pcboss's Avatar
Forum Topic Moderator
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Maryland
Posts: 13,904
Received 167 Upvotes on 146 Posts
If you replaced a receptacle, but did not break the tab on the brass side it will override the switch.

A 4W switch has connections for 4 wires, plus a ground. Look closely on the back of the old switches for a label.

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Ask a Question
Question Title:
Your question will be posted in: