I have a 3 way configuration between 2 switches in my house.

Switch 1 has: Neutral, Ground, one red [traveler], one black

Switch 2 has: Neutral, Ground, one red [traveler], one black

Neither of these switches is a 3 way switch with 2 traveler wires. I am trying to replace both these switches with GE Z-wave smart switch and add-on switch.

I am very confused on how this is working. I am trying to read online to get myself familiar with this design. Apparently, I cannot find anything related on the internet [very possible I am not looking for the right keywords].

Can you please help me with below questions or redirect to me a web link that explains similar setup?

  1. how is this working.
  2. Is this considered a 3 way switch?
  3. What do I need to do to make it wire properly? [if needed]


Edit on 10/26:

Thank you so much for all the tips and suggestions. The boxes have two more switches which makes it really harder to get clear picture of what is all going on in there. But, probably may makes more sense if you are used to these boxes more.

I also ran into something interesting on the switch which is connected to the lights. There is a bundle of black wires back in the box with a wire nut. When I tied my load wire into that nut, my lights turned on. So, those wires must be a bundle of line wires. I am wondering if I can completely ditch my 3 way setup for these lights and simply go with a regular smart switch? so, line + load + neutral + ground connect to the one smart switch. I can put wire nuts on the wires on other switch and just put them back into the box.

I am just afraid if I am doing anything dumb this way. Is there any reason I should avoid that?

secondary switch

primary switch

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    Yes, please post photos of this wiring Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 1:58
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    We need to see what else is going on in these junction boxes: Protip: just because it's white doesn't mean it's neutral, and there are always 2 travelers. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:23
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    The white wire connected to that switch is 99.9% certain to be a traveler along with the red. Black would be the common in/out with one switch connected through to the supply and the other connected to the light. The real neutral must be somewhere too, but there's not enough info in your photo. Maybe post a pic of the inside of each box.
    – brhans
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:32
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    Can you get us shots looking into the backs of the boxes? Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:39
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    We still need photos looking into the backs of the boxes to see what's going in -- we can see things that most folks don't pick up on. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 3:20

2 Answers 2


I think you may be mistaken about what the wires are. Since it's not a "smart" switch, there's likely not a neutral connected to it. Instead, I would suspect that the white wire is actually being used as a traveler. This was a fairly common wiring method, before the neutral was required at all switch locations.

enter image description here

If this is the case, then you should mark the white wire at both ends with a black marker or tape. This would also mean that you're not going to be able to install the "smart" switch, as there's not a neutral in the box.

Remember, not all neutrals are white, and not all white wires are neutral.

I'm no good at ASCII art, so here's a crappy MSPaint digram of what the wiring might look like.

enter image description here

  • That is very interesting tip. But, my house is fairly new built in last 2 years. So, probably neutral is required by code.
    – Vick
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 1:45
  • Unfortunately, it seems as though you're only giving us bits and pieces of information about the setup. So we're basing our answers on the limited information you're providing. If you included photos of all the wiring, we might be able to provide more accurate answers.
    – Tester101
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 9:41
  • Don't mind your artwork at all, but what do the red rectangles represent? How would it be any different if they weren't there? Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 15:26
  • The red rectangles are twist-on wire connectors.
    – Tester101
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 15:31

Your "three way switch" is a single pole double throw switch (SPDT). The following AsciiArt diagram attempts to show how they are connected:


The slashes are the switches. When both switches have selected the same conductor, the circuit is closed and the lamp is lit. Flip either switch and the circuit is opened.

A standard circuit for comparison:


EDIT: On reviewing your photo, the white wire is connected to your switch as well. You may see a black and white wire joined in the gangbox. The installer may have crossed them on the lateral between switches or performed a more exotic T style circuit. Check out some of the diagrams on wikipedia.

  • Wondering if this means that both the switches should be in on position to turn the light on?
    – Vick
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 4:32
  • Does it currently work properly? Are there any extra wires in the box? Could you get a picture inside the box?
    – psaxton
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 4:42
  • Oh yeah, it works. But, I am trying to replace these two switches with GE smart zwave switches. Apparently, the GE primary switch expects both load and line wires and their add-on switch expects the traveler wires.
    – Vick
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 4:48
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    Not sure why you're using ASCII art when the internet is flush with diagrams of how 3-way switch circuits actually work. Anyway your diagram shows an idealized 3-way setup with power at one endpoint and lamp at the other; real-world ones are often more...practical... and require things like using white as a messenger. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 6:20
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    @harper trying to include images from Android is less ideal than tapping out lines for me :) feel free to add another answer if you like.
    – psaxton
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 7:15

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