This process can be tricky, so read through the steps before you start your project. In some cases, it might be best -- and safest -- to contact an electrician. The most basic three-way switch setup has two switches that connect and control one light fixture, like switches on either end of a hallway, staircase or large living area.
In most cases the light or array of lights they operate sit on the ceiling above. Specifically these are hard wired lights, not merely lamps plugged into outlets. You won't need many tools for this job. The necessary supplies though are critical so make sure you have them on hand. Here's the list:.
Safety should be a priority with this project and that starts with killing power to your outlets. Before you do anything, switch off the breaker on your main electrical panel. Now it's time to get at your wiring. There is often a pair of screws holding each faceplate in place, at the top and bottom. Unscrew these screws then remove the plates covering each switch. A common practice is to wrap switch terminals with electrical tape once their wires are connected. In my case, the old switches had exposed terminals so I made a mental note to tape them later.
Just to be safe, use a voltage pen to check for a live current. With your voltage pen turned on, tap the edges of the switch. If the pen starts to flash and sound its alarm then watch out! There's likely high voltage volts electricity running nearby. Of course if you need to measure the actual voltage of live wires, a multimeter is the way to go. This gadget can sniff out voltage and amperage of electrical circuits, components and connections.
Learning to use this tool is a valuable skill.
How-to Install a Dimmer or Light Switch | Porch Daydreamer
Once your pen gives the all clear you can proceed. If not you'll have to switch more breakers off at the main panel until the warnings stop. Next, remove the screws that hold the old switches in place. They're in tabs on the top and bottom of each switch. The screws also bore into holes on the electrical box behind them.
Where should you install your wall lights?
To access the wiring, gently pull the switches out of the electrical boxes. Be careful not to dislodge any wires from the switch terminals -- the wires should still be firmly attached to the screws on the switch holding them in place. Before you dive in, take a second to snap a picture of the switches and visible wiring. In fact, take photos before and after you tinker with anything. This way, you'll have a record of how everything was connected and working properly initially. Think of it as extra insurance in case you run into trouble along the way.
You should now have a good view inside each box. I must stress that there are many possible ways a set of three-way light switches can be connected. This step-by-step is reflective of a common wiring scenario and the one in my own home. Inside each of the two electrical boxes you should see two bundles of wires.
Let's call each box "Box 1" and "Box 2. If so then the direction wires enter each box is important. It will help you deduce their origin and ultimately identify them. Box 1. In box 1, one of the wire bundles enters the box from the bottom. This three-wire bundle should consist of two colored wires black, white plus one of bare copper.
These wires come from your home's main electrical panel usually in the basement below and provide power to your lighting circuit. The other 4-wire bundle will enter the box from the top and have three colored wires black, white, red and a copper bare one.
How-to Install a Dimmer or Light Switch
They connect the switch in this box to the other switch in box 2. Box 2. Here, both wire bundles should enter the electrical box from its top side. Besides their direction of entry the wires are constructed the same way.
One three-wire bundle will have two colored wires black, white plus one of bare copper. These link the switch to your light fixture. A second bundle four-wire should contain three colored wires black, white, red and a copper bare. The wires here connect this local switch to the other in box 1 across the room.
The wiring you see may not match what I've described. For instance, there may not be any white wires.
This scenario tends to happen with switches in older homes. One of your electrical boxes might have just one bundle of wires while the other is packed with three bundles. It isn't uncommon either to have one three-way switch in the same box as two or even three others. All those switches, terminals and wires can confuse experienced electricians, let alone novice DIYers. Take a look at these two diagrams below. The first is an outline of what you should see.
It's the simple three-way circuit I anticipated and encountered in my home. Notice the fixture says TOP, so you install it into the wall fixture box correctly. Usually the brand name gives you a clue too, so you can read it when the fixture is upright. Next, match up the wires and reattach with your screw driver. I always start with the green grounding wire.
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Sometimes they are stubborn and the needle nose pliers come in handy to bend the wire around the screw. Using a little force, push the fixture and wires back into the wall box. Make SURE the wires stay attached! Tighten them again if they pop off the light fixture. Reattach the two screws to the box fixture in the wall. Top and bottom. Use the needle nose pliers for this process.
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