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Do 3-way switches exist that don't "stick" in UP / DOWN position? Is there a name for this concept that would help me search for products?

"Momentary Toggle" looks like the interaction I want, but those don't match standard 3-way switch lighting. (looks like they only make contact temporarily, vs. toggling full contact on/off with each press)

Core issue is that I don't like having a house full of light switches where UP = ON, DOWN = OFF, then a couple 3-way switches that stick in random up/down positions reversed from normal ON/OFF. Ideally I'd like a rocker switch that rests in the neutral position, with UP or DOWN both toggling the light's state before springing back to the neutral position.

It seems this would be easy to create mechanically. It's just swapping a toggle switch for a push-button toggle between the two switch states. Why can't I find something that seems so simple and obvious?

  • I'm going to flag this as answered, appreciate the feedback everyone. Looks like this is a gap in the market for 3-way switches with a UX consistent with the single pole switches. – E.N. Banks Nov 13 '16 at 20:09
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If you're willing to go with Electronic switches you can have what you are looking for.

Insteon is one manufacturer of such switches, and they can be configured in a 3 way mode such that flipping any of the switches in the group toggles the light on and off.

The Infinite 3-Way With traditional wall switches, control from multiple locations, like in a long hallway, requires special dedicated wiring. Great if you're building anew, but almost impossible to retrofit. With Insteon, every wall switch can control every other wall switch, no extra wires needed. Just a few taps of the set button and you've made a 3-way switch. Want to add another? Make it a 4-way - or 5-way. There's no limit to Insteon's multiway switching.

Most of their switches come in the flat "decora" style, but they do have some with a traditional looking toggle. Just like what you've described, these toggle switches stay in the middle neutral position, then you push it up or down to make momentary contact to turn the light on/off. Up is always on and "down" is always off, even when linked in a 3 way switch configuration.

The biggest drawback is the price - each switch costs around $40 - $50. Other drawbacks include that they are much larger than a traditional physical switch, so take up more room in the box, and they require both hot and neutral connections in the box (which may not be present in an older home). Though one nice upside is that they can be controlled remotely from a variety of different controllers.

  • Thanks - yeah I've seen these digital/electronic switches in the $40+ price range. It's somewhat tempting, but seems like overkill for what I'm thinking a mechanical switch or button could accomplish. – E.N. Banks Nov 13 '16 at 4:23
  • I am going to try this Lutron Maestro digital push-button 3-way switch (master+companion), although I'm not certain if the 8amp maximum would be a problem if this is controlling an overhead LED light on a 15amp circuit. homedepot.com/p/… – E.N. Banks Nov 13 '16 at 20:15
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The problem is that you need some thing to "remember your state". A simple mechanical switch shows it's state externally. Now you are talking about something that toggles every time you push. Probably possible to invent some rotary mechanism to do that... but there is this ROI issue.

There is a technology, used in commercial settings, not sure if it's cheap enough for residential, where a relay is installed on the light, and on/off low voltage wires are run (in parallel) to any number of operational push buttons. This allows n-way operation and even automation options.

http://www.kyleswitchplates.com/low-voltage-switches-plates/

  • Remembering the on/off state is a solved problem. There are hundreds of models of SPDT and DPDT latching pushbutton switches available. The problem here is the form factor. OP and I want a SPDT or DPDT latching pushbutton switch that looks like a domestic light switch and is rated and listed by UL. – A. I. Breveleri Nov 12 '16 at 16:18
  • You're right, it's a matter of ROI. Now that smart switches are all the fad I don't expect any vendor to invest any R&D in a new kind of simple mechanical switch instead of electronic types. Even the low-voltage relay system cited above is being driven from the market by wi-fi and bluetooth and (God help us) TCP/IP. – A. I. Breveleri Nov 12 '16 at 16:18
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Lutron makes the Maestro electronic dimmer, where you can install a master on one end of a run and a slave on the other, just like a 3-way switch. Each dimmer is essentially a single push button to toggle between off and a certain level of light; there's also a rocker to set the dimming level. If you've turned the lights on at one end, you can turn it off at the other. You don't need the dimming, but consider it a bonus.

  • I had those in my last home, you tap the down side and the light fades to off, they look nice and if you have multiples a tap on the bottom of each would turn the lights off or on if you tap up at any of the locations.+ – Ed Beal Dec 12 '18 at 21:53
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It's not as straight forward with either functionality or circuit-wise as you are thinking.

Let's start with the method you propose: "Center rest state switch" (not "center off"), moving the switch as you propose would change the internal "toggle" state of the switch. This method would work with traditional 3/4-way switch wiring using travelers. However when you, the human arrive at any switch in circuit you would have no way to know whether to effect change in the state of the light by pushing up or down. You would have to "try" pushing one way and if that didn't produce the result that you desired then push it the other way. With toggle switches used today it's obvious what will happen, changing the switch state will change the state of the light. Today's toggle switches have two positions and two switching states regardless of single pole, 3-way, or 4-way changing the state of the switch changes the state of the light. Add a 3rd switch position, whatever the functionality, and it's no longer obvious.

There are in fact many older "low voltage switching systems". That in fact did exactly as you suggested. Every switch in the home remains at a center rest state, push up for on and down for off. The switch didn't actually switch the load tho, there was a panel full of relay's someplace that actually handled the switching of the load. Review this question for more info. These systems were tried residentially but never caught on. (Our service company does have about a dozen systems in older homes that we still maintain, it's virtually impossible to change to a "traditional" switching system after the fact.)

For a modern 2016 answer to this issue discover newer (and more expensive) switching technologies like "Insteon" (that's a brand name and very googleable) that are usable with existing traveler style wiring but make every switch work the same way. (As a bonus, add a hub and you can control via your smart phone from anywhere in the world.)

  • I knew when OP said "rests in the neutral position" that his intention would be misunderstood. He is attempting to describe another form of simple mechanical 3-way or 4-way switch. You are talking about something considerably more sophisticated and futuristic. - It's interesting that these relay systems never caught on, but making a phone call to turn on your porch light is becoming the method of choice today. – A. I. Breveleri Nov 12 '16 at 16:43
  • @A.I.Breveleri it's interesting that you "knew" so much about what the OP had in mind. It seems to me that OP very much described a situation with a "center rest" position, that can in fact be achieved if the switch is controlling a relay rather than the state of the load. As to why LV switching never caught on in residential, no one needs the reconfigurabilty. Bedroom walls are not moved around the way cubicle walls are commercially. – Tyson Nov 12 '16 at 17:54
  • I deduced his intention from his wording "with UP or DOWN both toggling the light's state before springing back to the neutral position". The relay system does not "toggle" the lights, it sets them to follow the switch motion regardless of previous state. - Of course he may have written carelessly, but if we assume that he didn't write what he meant, then what answer can anyone make? – A. I. Breveleri Nov 12 '16 at 21:14
  • "You would have to "try" pushing one way and if that didn't produce the result that you desired then push it the other way. " - I was thinking of a mechanism where up and down would both always toggle the state, regardless of what the current state is. (Not sure if that describes the relay Tyson is talking about) – E.N. Banks Nov 13 '16 at 4:19
  • @E.N.Banks (up AND down) vs. (up OR down) are two different things resulting from imprecise use of language. My interpretation of your statement is Up always means on, and down always means off. That functionality exists with low voltage switching which requires a relay. If you actually mean "bump up or down" to reverse the state then that was a.i.breveleri interpretation and requires a switch that doesn't exist in the "wall toggle" form factor. – Tyson Nov 13 '16 at 4:37
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I have been searching for something like this for years. No manufacturer seems interested in developing and vending such a switch.

The usual excuse for an unavailable obvious product is that the market is too small, but I don't see how the market is any smaller than that for three-way and four-way switches, which are everywhere. In fact I think all three-way and four-way switches should work this way.

I believe that the reason such devices are not made is that no manufacturer wants to invest the sunk cost of testing and certifying a device for which there is no expressed demand and which might not catch on, and in any case would only displace a product that they already sell.

The closest thing I've ever found is the Honeywell Tap Lite, a kind of 1+1/8" round SPDT latching pushbutton. I bought a couple but I didn't use them, because they require way too much force to activate. They're no longer available except on eBay.

Actually I think you don't want a switch that rests in the middle position. The switch should rest in the down position, and change state when momentarily pushed up. This would look nice alongside your other switches, and would have a very natural and easy action.

You might be able to make some for your own use, but they would be unlikely to pass an electrical inspection because they wouldn't be listed. And if you ever gave or sold any to anyone else, the liability burden would be unacceptable.

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