How to Wire a 3-Way Switch

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A three-way switch is actually two switches in a room controlling the same thing. Watch as a professional home repairman shows how to fix a three-way switch in this free video.

Part of the Video Series: Home Improvement & Repair Tips
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm James with JNC Home Repair. Today I'm going to show you how to replace a 3 way switch. The first thing you want to know about a 3 way switch is the basic principle behind a 3 way switch is it's actually two switches controlling the same thing. You'll usually have one switch on one side of the room, and then there's another switch on the other side of the room that actually controls the same light or the same fan, or maybe even the same plug. It's just basically there for your convenience so you don't have to walk all the way across the room to turn on the switch. OKay? They're not wired, typically, like a standard switch. What you need to do is make sure, before you actually pull the switch out, you always want to make note of where the wire locations are and mark them, make a little diagram so you don't get confused when you go to put the new wiring back in and you put them in the wrong place and short something out or burn something up. These things happen, but I'm going to show you the right way to do it. The first thing you do is you remove these two screws off of the trim plate. After you remove the trim plate, make sure that there's no power on to this switch. Whatever this light switch controls, makes sure, you know, if it controls a light or a fan, just go out, turn your breaker box off and cut power to that circuit. You can cut power to the whole house if you want to, but if you isolate it, you don't have to shut everything off, you can just shut off that particular circuit. Once you have the power cut off to that switch, you go ahead and remove the two screws on the cover plate, and then once that's off there's going to be two more screws on the switch, OKay? You're going to need a flat head screwdriver to do both of these, their both connected with a flat head screwdriver. Once you've got the switch, you've removed the two screws on the switch, you pull the switch out. After you've got the switch out, make you a little diagram of where the locations of where the wires are. There's going to be some black wires, and there's going to be one red wire, and there might be a white wire depending on whether or not where this circuit, if this particular switch is in the beginning of the circuit, if it's in the middle of the circuit, or if it's in the end of the circuit. The basic home owner that's trying to do something like this will not know this, you need to contact an electrician if you're confused about that. But, just to be able to just swap the switch out, all you need to do is just make a diagram of where the wires are, what color wires go in which hole and you won't get confused. It's just a lot easier, you know, don't try to remember, oh I know this wire goes there and this wire goes there, just write it down and you'll know. Once you've got the switch out, remove the switch, you pull the switch out from the box in the wall, and there's going to be one wire connected to it by a screw. You're actually going to use the flat head screwdriver to remove that wire. Once you have that wire out of the way, the other wires you're going to have to clip out. You're either going to need a pair of wire cutters or wire strippers, which actually have an attachment where you can cut wire. Go ahead and clip those wires and then you'll be left with your switch. OKay, once you have your switch, you're going to go ahead and put your new switch in. What you're going to need to do is you're going to need to strip those wires that you just clipped because there's not going to be any exposed copper on them. And you're not going to be able to connect them that way. So, you're going to use your wire strippers, go ahead and strip your wires back. You don't want to strip them back to far. Maybe 1/2 inch, maybe 3/4 of an inch. You can even look at the back of the switch and there's a little gage there that will actually show you how much to do it. But, it's no more than 1/2 an inch, 3/4 of an inch, that's all you want. You don't want a bunch of exposed copper in there where other wires can touch it and arc out and short out, OKay? Once you got your little diagram, you take your wires, you connect your wires back to your switch. Once you've got your wires connected back to your switch, you fold your wires up back in a manner that they fit neatly into the box. You don't want to just try to cram them in the box. You want to actually fold them in where you've got enough room to work. OKay? Once you've got the wires folded back in, you push the switch back into place. These things are kind of fragile, you don't want to try to force it in there, you're just going to crack it or break it. OKay? So, what you need to do is just work it in there, get your wires back in there with some room to play. Get your switch back in place, connect the two screws. There's going to be one on top one on the bottom. Once you've got the two screws attached, make sure that your plug is actually centered. The heads of the screws should be right in the middle of the hole on the switch. You don't want it cockeyed on one way, or cockeyed on the other way, because when you go back in to put your trim plate on, the trim plate actually mounts to the switch. So, if the switch is crooked, then the plate's going to be crooked. There's just no way around it. So makes sure you get your switch nice and straight and then when you put your plate back on, the plate will be nice and straight. Once you've got the the switch back in, you've got the screws in on the switch, make sure that they're lined up, make sure that it's straight, go ahead and reattach your trim plate, put your two flat head screws in, connect the screws, and you're ready to go.

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