Installing a new 3 way dimmer switch - on the back of it there is the green grounding wire, the white neutral wire, 2 'traveler' outlets and 1 line/load outlet. However, the wiring when I removed the switch has 1 wire (it was white but wrapped in black electrical tape), and then another black and red wire (which I assume are the 2 traveler wires) and the ground wire which I connected to the green wire from the dimmer switch....so I only have 3 other wires, but 4 more connections on the dimmer switch...

  • Can you post photos of the insides of the boxes involved please? Also, what make/model is your dimmer, and is it a "smart" dimmer perchance? Aug 23, 2020 at 18:14

2 Answers 2



Ordinary switches don't need neutral. Many (but not all) dimmers, timers, smart switches, motion detectors, etc. need neutral. There are some exceptions that:

  • Leak a little current through the circuit when "off" - works fine with incandescent but often not very well with LEDs
  • Use ground - permitted for very low current in limited circumstances. But you can't just "use ground instead of neutral"
  • Battery backup

but a lot of devices now need neutral and hot in the box, so that they can complete a circuit to power the switch itself even when the lights are off. Because of that, code now requires neutral to be available (or easily added via conduit, but the cables you described are not a conduit installation). But older houses often don't have neutral in switch boxes.

Based on your description, you have either 2 travelers + hot (i.e., first switch in the group, so hot comes in from the panel and travelers go out to the 2nd switch) or 2 travelers + switched hot (i.e., last switch in the group, so travelers come in from another switch and switched hot goes out to the fixture). But in any case, it doesn't sound like you have neutral available.

Take a look at the other 3-way switch. You may have better luck there - i.e., 2 cables - one to this switch and another either to the panel or to the fixture. There are a few different possibilities, including:

  • Panel -> Switch 1 -> Switch 2 -> Fixture


  • Panel -> Fixture -> Switch 1 -> Switch 2

and depending on a number of factors, you may or may not have neutral available in the other switch box. If you do, then install the dimmer there. If you don't, then you have to do some rewiring to make this work. You can't just add a neutral wire - you have to replace (e.g., 2 wire + ground with 3 wire + ground, or 3 wire + ground with 4 wire + ground) entire cables.


What seems to be missing is the neutral wire, which was not required until recently.

  • Sorry - ground wire is there, and connected to the green wire from the dimmer switch. So that leaves a red and black wire, plus the white wire wrapped in black tape for the 4 connections on the dimmer switch...
    – Jeff
    Aug 23, 2020 at 16:02
  • 2
    The neutral appears to be missing. the white marked with black electrical tape is probably a hot.
    – JACK
    Aug 23, 2020 at 17:03

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