So, I recently moved into a house with some old fabric like covered wiring. In attempting to put in a fan I have a switch wired to control a plug on a 20a circuit. The weird part is I have a red, a black and a yellow wire. I’m used to standard 12/2 Romex but am unsure how to proceed. So questions are...

  1. What type of wire do I need to buy to run from a new junction box I will place in the attic?
  2. I will wire the fan and light together so the finished product will have the blue wire tied in but without a white wire I am not sure how to wire the fan.

Thanks in advance for all your help. If it’s at all helpful I included a pick of the switch that I’m trying to tap into. enter image description here

  • Also, worth noting the red and black wires are hot the yellow is not.
    – Dstollery
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 11:20
  • Is there another switch that controls that plug? Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 11:43
  • I really hope that's dirt on the red wire or else there is some cause for concern.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 13:06
  • That wiring looks dangerous, with nicks in the jackets, the burned part on the end of the red wire, excessive jacket removed from the ends. It appears unsafe. A properly grounded circuit will have a conductor to ground that is separate from the neutral all the way to the first termination of the service. That is step one. Step two is to determine the load and condition of the circuit you wish to modify or add. What are the requirements of the load you are going to add: what is the fan’s motor rating? Almost all modern (fixed) equipment needs a proper ground. Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 13:21
  • 1
    That looks like a 3 way switch see the black screw that the white wire is connected to (I think it is white) make sure to torque the screw on the red wire a loose connection will cause overheating that appears to have been a problem in the past. See if you can find the other switch that also controls the outlet. More info will be needed to know how things are wired
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


You can't generally tap a 3-way complex like that.

- That is a 3-way switch. It's partner to another 3-way switch in a different location. Further, it is on a "spur", meaning the only wires that are here are 2 travelers (red and black) and a hot wire (presumably always-hot).

Given that it is hot, the white wire must be re-marked with tape, paint or sleeving to indicate that. Typically black is used, but other legal hot colors are allowed. The two traveler wires, it's my advice to mark those both yellow since they go on brass screws. Markings should be done the same at both ends of the cable.

Anyway, since you want the switch to control a fan, you will need switched-hot and neutral. You don't have either one of those here.

Possibly: Flip it around

It really depends what the wiring is in the other 3-way box. It might be possible to reallocate the wires so that the white wire becomes a neutral, the red and black remain travelers (remarked yellow), and then you feed the fan onward from this box. White would become neutral and switched-hot would be the "common" (black) screw on the 3-way.

You'd need some help with this at your skill level.

Hail-mary play: rearrange the entire 3-way circuit to be smart switches - only if other things are also true

Nowadays, there are "smart switches". In some cases, they allow you to rearrange how the existing wiring is used. This may allow you to get the wires you need here. We'd need more info about the other switch box and whatever else they connect to.

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