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AssuredElectrical
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Experience:  Contractor-40 Years in the ElectricalTrade
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I have a question for an electrician. On two light switches

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I have a question for an electrician. On two light switches that control one light and I think that is called a 3-way switch. Is that right.I was in a motel in November over Thanksgiving and there was a switch bedside the door as you came into living room area and a switch over on wall by kitchen area. There were no walls just open space between the living room area and the kitchen area. In the middle of the two areas there was a space of so many feet of a dropped ceiling of gold aluminum with cut out circles where the light came through. I don't know if there was one or two light fixtures up there. I threw me for a loop because one switch would be on and the other switch off when the light would be off and also would that occur when the light would be on, one switch would be on position and the other off position or would they both have to be in on positions.When I left motel I made sure they were both in off positions. Do they both have to be in in off positions all the time when the light is off so they wouldn't cause a fire. Also would those two switches have controlled two different light fixtures if there was two different light fixtures under the aluminum drop down or just one fixture. I don't know if there was one or two light fixtures. I worried about all of this and could not figure it out. Could you explain it to me. I think I have a fear of me doing something wrong with the switches and hurting someone or burning the place down. I think I have a touch of OCD. Thank you for listening.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.

Welcome. My name is XXXXX XXXXX would be glad to assist.

The first thing to remember on 3 way switches and 4 way switches for that matter, is that they DO NOT have an on/off position.

ON can be up or it can be down
Same with off.

Only way to know is looking at the light itself, whether it is on or not.

3 ways operate different than standard single poles (one location switch)

3 ways will actually swap which terminal the power is on between the 2 switches.
That is what makes them work at either location.

In one position power is transferred to one screw terminal that makes contact with another one on the switch and light goes on.
Then flipping the switch the other direction, it disconnects that terminal from the other one, and that turns the light off, but at the same time, it makes contact with the 3rd terminal that passe power to the Other switch.

That is what allows for flip flopping.

Below is a diagram and maybe that will help understand the wiring, just imagine how the wires are changing connections inside each switch back and forth.

Just reply for any other information.

Also, part of your question:
There is no danger when leaving any of the switches in any position, if the light is on, it is on and it is still safe.
If off, the same holds true just the light is off.

 

CLICK HERE and you can watch a nice video presentation by a gentleman with animation of the operations of 3 way switches.

graphic

AssuredElectrical, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 2904
Experience: Contractor-40 Years in the ElectricalTrade
AssuredElectrical and 2 other Electrical Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.


I think I understand what you are saying but could there have two light fixtures under the dropped ceiling or I guess you would say two different light fixtures with separate bulbs. Would that 3-way switch have controlled both of them at the same time allowing both to be off or both to be on at the same time

Expert:  AssuredElectrical replied 1 year ago.
Yes, that is correct.

When you have one or more lights controlled by 3 way switches, they all are ON or OFF at the same time.
There isn't a limit on how many lights, unless you get to an overload point of course.

But they all work together, there cannot be one on and one off .

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