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Ler0y Jenkins 02-27-2012 07:20 PM

Two 3-way switches, one acting as a master switch?
Hi everyone,

I have a strange problem... I replaced two switches in a small hallway in my master bedroom... there's one light fixture that I replaced with a recessed light... I also replaced both switches (we're replacing our beige switches and outlets with white). Before switching out the switches, they operated as typical three-way switches (either one would control the light).

After change the switches and installing the light, one switch is acting as a master switch that has to be on for the other one to control the light. Meaning, if the master switch is off, the other switch does nothing. If the master switch is on, the other switch will work to turn it off or on.

When I replaced the switches, I just hooked up the new switches like the old ones were hooked up... I ran the common wire to the terminal marked common, and then the other two wires to the remaining terminals.

Any idea what I did wrong?


oh'mike 02-27-2012 07:28 PM

Did you use the screws or the back stab holes---back stab holes don't always line up with the screw.

You have power on a traveler---

hawkeye11 02-27-2012 07:44 PM


Originally Posted by Ler0y Jenkins (Post 865143)
Hi everyone,
When I replaced the switches, I just hooked up the new switches like the old ones were hooked up...


No, you didn't. You have power on a traveler. Post pictures and we can help you.

Daltex 02-27-2012 07:48 PM

Since you are only working with two switches it's not hard to trial and error it out. If it's wired with 14-3 wire where one is red then that even makes it easier as most of the time the red is one of the travelers.

Take the red and run it from the top right of one switch to the top left of the other. Run the white from the other top screws. Black on bottom screws.

If that doesn't work or if only black and whites then process of elimination: disconnect all 3 from one switch and check for voltage. If you get voltage then flip the other switch and see if the voltage switches to another wire. If so then those are probably travelers going on the top screws. If flipping the switch keeps the same wire hot then that's the line in and it goes on the bottom and the others are travelers. If so then do the same (remove 3 wires from other switch) and repeat.

frenchelectrican 02-27-2012 07:49 PM

X3 as well.

There is a chance one out of 3 you will hit it right and what colour you have in the switch box ?

A photo will help us alot.


Ler0y Jenkins 02-27-2012 08:07 PM

Thanks for all the replies... I'm obviously no expert when it comes to electrical, but I figured I could handle just removing some switches and hooking up new switches in their place... maybe I was wrong.

Anyway, I'll post pictures later but I think I'm understanding what I've done wrong based upon the replies... I also checked out some websites discussing the fundamentals of wiring a three-way switch.

hammerlane 02-28-2012 06:11 AM

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You'll need an understanding on how a 3-way functions because you are going to have to identify which wire is your always HOT wire and which wire connects to the load(in your case the light).

Below is a crude drawing. For ease I dont show any grounds or neutrals that may accompany. Note on your 3-way switches that one terminal is black. This is called the common terminal. Two(2) terminals are brass colored. These are called the travelers.

Power will go to the common of switch #1.
The common of switch #2 will connect to the load.
The remaining travellers on each switch need to connect to each other. Does not matter which traveller on switch #1 connects to which traveller on switch #2.

hammerlane 02-28-2012 06:48 AM

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Heres a little more detailed depiction where the incoming power is coming into one of the switch boxes. This is a switch -switch-load configuration.

hammerlane 02-28-2012 06:49 AM

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Heres a configuration where the incoming power is coming into load(light in your case) and the load is between the two 3-way switches.
Note in this case how the white wires at each switch are being used as travellers whereas in the above configuartion where the power comes into the switch box, the whites are part of the neutral at the switches.

hammerlane 02-28-2012 06:57 AM

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Here is a similar configuration as post #9. The load is BETWEEN the two 3-way switches. But here the incoming power is coming into one of the 3-way switch boxes where as above the incoming power is coming into the load.

JeepNick 02-28-2012 12:01 PM

It can also make a difference what kind of switch you are using. Some of the newer 3-way dimmers require a "master" switch and then subsequent "slave" switches. They are not the same model numbers and they wont work with other 3-way switches of different brand.

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