3-Way Switch (Traveler)

1 reply [Last post]
robtoe81's picture
Joined: 2016-11-16


I was having trouble with my 3-way switches in a house I recently purchased. When I went to replace the two 3-way switches I noticed that there were not two travelers but only one. I located the hot wire, and a brown wire connected to the traveler terminal. This brown wire is connected to one traveler post, then the same wire without being cut runs to the second traveler post. I have never seen this and always thought you had to have both travelers for the 3-way lighting to work. Why would this be like this and how does it still work?



sparky49's picture
Joined: 2016-12-13

If you are talking about two three-terminal, three-way switches, then it will not work. You said you were having trouble with the three-way switches. What is the trouble? In the last sentence you ask, "how does it still work?" Do you mean that the light is turning on and off, but not in a normal way? You said, "This brown wire is connected to one traveler post, then the same wire without being cut runs to the second traveler post." Do you mean this brown wire is connected to one switch's traveler post, then the same wire without being cut runs to the second (other) switch's traveler post? If so, then you have in effect two single-pole switches wired in series, which would mean that either switch could turn the light off, but both switches must be in a certain position to turn the light on.
Yes, you need two travelers except for some new smartphone-controlled dimmers. They are electronic switches and use the neutral conductor to control the master dimmer electronically from the other switches. There is no electrical power as such flowing through the control conductor. That is the only switch I have seen that does not require two travelers. The basic arrangement of three-way switches is illustrated on many websites and in books available in the stores and libraries.
Further, a brown insulated wire is typically not part of a cable that would normally be used in a house AFAIK. The situation is suspicious and some photos would be helpful.
The only way I have seen a three-way switch work when wired wrong was when two three-way switches were wired to a light so that the terminals on the light were alternately connected to hot or neutral. Each switch was connected to both hot and neutral on its travelers' terminals. The common terminal from each switch was then wired to the light socket. When the switches both were in a position sending the same Hot or Neutral to the light, the light was off. When one switch was connected to the Hot and one to the Neutral the light was on. No travelers were needed. This resulted in a potentially (pun not intended) shocking situation since the shell of the light socket would be hot at times. And, both wires to the socket could be hot when the light was off. (I saw it in a Knob-and-Tube wired house.)

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