I changed a switch in my room with a Lutron dimmer. The switch was sharing the same receptacle as 2 other switches. I pulled it out of the wall and there were 5 wires coming out of it - red, white, two blacks, bare copper. The red and black are part of the switch and the second black is ganged to the other two switches to provide power. The copper is safety ground. Why is there an additional white wire (neutral) going to the switch? Note that it feeds directly into the switch housing and is not wrapped around any external screw. I ended up connecting this white wire to the pigtail with all of the other white neutrals since my dimmer didn't need it.

The other 2 switches in the same spot don't have this hole for the white wire and there isn't another switch for this light. All three switches are functioning properly.

enter image description here

I understand that some smart switches may need neutral to power in existing electronics but this was the original switch which has no intelligent capability.

  • 1
    White isn’t always neutral in function especially in older construction where it was often used as a switch leg or traveller. Is there another switch that operates the same light?
    – Tyson
    Apr 29, 2018 at 3:29
  • There isn't another switch in the room but it may have at one point since this is in a remodeled area of the house with previous owners.
    – Kevin
    Apr 29, 2018 at 3:34
  • Can you post a photo that looks into the back of that box please? Apr 29, 2018 at 4:06
  • 3
    I suspect that’s one end of a 3-way from the colors used. Another view would be helpful, or a picture of the old switch showing all screws. If someone did eliminate a switch they apparently made the choice to abandon the white. If the switch on the other end is still there, like a forgotten switch around the corner that’s never used, flipping it may cause the breaker to immediately trip. If this is in fact a 3-way traveller with an unknown other end my advice would be to unconnect the wire you added to the neutral bundle, cap it alone as abandoned.
    – Tyson
    Apr 29, 2018 at 11:40

2 Answers 2


You have correctly identified supply, and ground.

Now look closely at the legend (labeling) on the switch handle. See where it says "off" and if you flip it, "on"? No, you don't see that? That's because

It's a 3-way switch

The dead giveaway is the black screw on the supply being unlike the brass screw also in sight.

The other two wires (the brass screws) are travelers. When you throw the switch, it alternates which one is connected. As such, they are interchangeable, and I like to mark them both with the same color of tape, e.g. Yellow. In my world, two wires in a switch circuit, taped the same odd color, are always 3-way travelers.

There will be another 3-way switch somewhere, also with those same two wire colors going to its traveler terminals.

3-ways are complicated to add dimmers. In some locations Code requires both locations can turn on the light for safety reasons, and that fails if the dimmer at the far location is set to "very dim".

We would need to know more about your circuit and location to give further advice. This won't be the drop-in you were hoping for.


After this question was posted and answered, I managed to find the other 3-way switch behind a bookcase.

  • Thanks for reporting on your experience! Aug 16, 2019 at 10:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.