How To Identify Traveler Wire in a Three-Way Switch? 3 Steps

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The traveler wires are used in three-way switches to offer two alternative ways for the current coming from the hot black-colored wire to pass through to the other switches. The three-way has several different parts, such as the hot, ground, and traveler wires, so how to identify a traveler wire?

How To Identify a Traveler Wire?

To identify the traveler wire, you have to look for two lighters that have a brass color inside the three-way switch; the traveler wires are connected to the two screws, and they offer two different ways for the current to flow through from one switch to another. The two screws can also be found on the other switch’s side.

However, the two screws can be located on the same side as the switch in some other brands. The three-way switch consists of other parts such as the ground terminal and the common terminal; each terminal has a specified task.

How To Test Traveler Wire and Other Parts in 3-Way Switch?

To check the traveler wire and the other parts of a there-way switch like the hot wire, ground wire, and the common terminal, you need to check the switch itself. You can do this by checking the breaker and the bulb, checking the power, or testing if there is continuity.

Checking The Breaker and The Bulb

Check the breaker used to supply the switch if it has power, and then check the light bulb to see if it’s burned out. The next step is to the light switches and confirm that the breaker used to supply the circuit is in the ON position. The breaker can sometimes be tripped due to overcurrent; check if the breaker is tripped.

If the breaker trips every time you reset it, you have a problem with your circuit, which can be either a short circuit or an overcurrent; you need to consult a qualified electrician to fix this problem and make your switch get back working again.

Check The Power

Shut down the breaker supplying the circuit because it is safer to check the switch when the power is disconnected and then grab a voltage checker with a light bulb and two probes. Connect the probes to one of the traveler wires and the hot wire; if the light bulb doesn’t light up, you have no problem with the switch.

Another way to check the power is the noncontact voltage checker, which can sense the power in a switch without touching it. If the noncontact voltage checker senses power in the switch while the breaker is turned off, you have a problem with the switch, and you should consult a qualified electrician to fix this problem.

Testing For Continuity

Disconnect the switch from power and then remove the cover of the switch from the wall by pulling it out of the wall but remove the wires connected. Next, grab a continuity tester to test the switch for continuity, and attach one of the alligator-shaped clips to the common terminal connected to a black wire.

Connect one of the probes to the traveler wire and turn the switch on and off; in one of the positions, the probe should light up, connect the probe to the other traveler wire and turn the switch off and on; the probe should light in the opposite position. If the probes light up every time you turn the switch, or it doesn’t light up.

The switch has a fault and must be replaced, and you should consult a qualified electrician to fix this problem.

What Are the Other Parts of a Three-Way Switch?

The three-way switch has two more parts other than the traveler wire: the common terminal and the ground terminal. The ground terminal is connected to a green-colored screw connected to a metal strap in the switch. It’s usually either a green wire or a bare wire, and it’s the only one in the circuit.

The ground screws are not always used in three-way switches; therefore, if you change an old three-way switch, you may not find the ground screws in it. The common terminal can have a dark, copper, or dark brass color. The common terminal’s color is always darker than the traveler’s color, and it has two tasks.

The common part can do two tasks, but it only does one of them simultaneously, and it depends on its position in the circuit. The first task is receiving the current from the hot wire, which has a black color coming from the source; meanwhile, the second color connects the black color to the light fixture.

What Is the Three-Way Switch Wiring?

The three-way switch wiring is how the wires in the three-way are connected, and there are many ways to wire a three-way switch. The wiring depends on the switch location in the circuit related to the light fixture location. For example, the switch can be placed so that the feeding cable goes first to the switch.

Then, the cable runs to the box of the light fixture and at last to the second switch, or the feeder cable can run into the two switches first and then to the box of the light fixture. The feeder to the two switches is the most common configuration in three-way wiring, and it can be explained throw theses steps:

  • The ground and the feeder wires coming from the power source are 2-wire cables, which can be found in the first switch location. This means a neutral white-colored wire, a hot black-colored wire, and a copper bare grounding wire.
  • At the first switch, the common screw is connected to the black feeding wire; the ground wire is connected to the switch using a pigtail wire and then connected to the second cable, which connects to the next switch.
  • The box needs to be grounded using a pigtail wire to protect the user from any short circuit or overcurrent conditions that can cause shocks and injuries in metal switch boxes.
  • The switches are connected using a cable 3-wire cable, where the red colored and black colored wires are the traveler wires, and they are connected to the two switches through the traveler screws. The switch can turn off and on the power or lights flexible because of the traveler wires
  • The hot wire has two ways to follow through freely, which gives the switch flexibility. However, these switches don’t have neutral wire connections; therefore, the two boxes of the switch’s neutral wires are connected, so they flow through to the light fixture.

The Second Switch Box

At the location of the second switch box, the wiring is similar to the wiring of the first switch box, where the traveler wires passing from the first switch to the second switch are connected to the traveler terminals. However, in the second switch box, the common screw terminal is connected to the hot wire, connecting to the light fixture.

If the second switch has a metal box, the box needs to be grounded using a pigtail wire to protect the user from any short circuit or overcurrent conditions that can cause shocks and injuries; in addition, these switches don’t have neutral wire connections; therefore, the two boxes of the switch’s neutral wires are connected, so they flow through to the light fixture.

Conclusion

To sum up, to identify a traveler wire in a three-way switch, you have to look for two lighters that have a brass color inside the three-way switch; the traveler wires are connected to the two screws, and they offer two different ways for the current to flow through from one switch to another. The two screws can also be found on the other switch’s side.

The three-way switch has two more parts other than the traveler wire: the common terminal and the ground terminal. The ground terminal is connected to a green-colored screw connected to a metal strap in the switch. It’s usually either a green wire or a bare wire, and it’s the only one in the circuit. 

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