3-way switch 13-way switch 2Switch 3 Hi all.

I have a single hallway light that I decided to replace with two new fixtures. It is a 3-way with a switch in the office (3-way switch 2) and another in the hall (3-way switch 1). It appears that the source cable to the bathroom also pigtails from this box (switch 3).

Additionally, it appears that none of the switches are grounded…they don’t even have a ground screw. The house was built in 1979. Does this mean I need to update my switches? Plus, I keep trying to figure out how/why a black wire and a white wire are connected in switch 2’s box. Isn’t that black wire hot and that white wire neutral? I would have expected it to short out.

My plan is to pigtail a cable from the current fixture box to the new fixture box. My concern is the best way to get all of the wires properly connected. In my existing fixture box (which I will be replacing with a roomier box) I have my source cable, a cable to the bathroom, and a cable to switch 2. I will also need to add a 4th cable that goes to my new fixture box. So, should I combine all 4 wires (of each type) with the (5th) wire from the light fixture into one connector? If so, is there a wire nut that can safely accommodate this configuration? If not, what are my options? Existing cables have 14 gauge wires.

Lastly, I am installing the new light fixture in the ceiling of the first floor (so, no attic or crawl space access). There isn’t a stud conveniently located to attach the fixture box. Any suggestions on putting in a brace without having to dismantle the ceiling? I abhor drywalling. ; - P

Oh, one more thing…my terminology above is subject to my limited knowledge and may not be correct. Although I grew up helping my father with doubling the size of our house, I didn’t listen so good to what things are called. In doing research I have picked up some of the lingo, but keep having to google what things are referring to. I appreciate your patience.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions/answers/help.

  • 1
    You have an answer but that site rules ask you to keep it to 1 question at a time.
    – Ed Beal
    Feb 9, 2021 at 23:29
  • You have plastic boxes and there don't appear to be ground wires. There's no way to ground the switches without running new wires.
    – DoxyLover
    Feb 10, 2021 at 5:33
  • 1
    These are 3 distinct enough questions that they each deserve their own post. If you'll take the tour and browse the help center, specifically the section on Asking, you'll see that site rules require one question per Question. You won't be able to select one answer as the "best" (i.e. the one that helped you the most) if 3 people each provide one stellar answer to each of your questions...
    – FreeMan
    Feb 10, 2021 at 11:47

2 Answers 2


Think of it this way. A pair of 3-way switches, together, acts like a simple switch.

enter image description here

So when one of the 3-ways is on a spur like that, it's pretty simple. The 2 travelers (brass screws) can be ignored, and treat it as 1 plain switch between the wires that are on the "common" (black) screws.

So that would be the white from the /2 cable, and the black from the /2 cable.

That is a classic switch loop.

I very strongly recommend using colored tape to re-mark wire colors so they match their function. In particular up in the lamp box, the black to the lamp and the black *from the switch are both switched-hot. I would strongly advise marking them with red tape.

As far as the white wire being as a hot in the switch loop, that's not an option, Code requires you to mark that black (well technically any hot color will do). So mark that black at both ends.

This makes it easy to see what is going on in your boxes. Hopefully it will then be obvious that your fourth cable should attach to white and blacks if you want the cable to be always-hot, or white and red if you want it switched with this light.

As far as braced junction boxes designed to be installed through the final hole into existing drywall, they make "old work" fan-rated boxes. If you put a lamp in a fan-rated boxes, I promise not to tell :)


Key question: In the "3-way switch 2" box, is the white wire in the "black and white together" actually the white of the black/red/white cable, and the white on the switch actually the white that is in a cable with the black of the "black and white together"?

If so, I think you have the following:

  • 3-way switch 2
    • Cable 1
      • Black = outgoing switched hot
      • White = incoming hot (tied to black hot at the fixture - goes to the switch)
    • Cable 2
      • Black and Red = Travelers - go to the other switch
      • White = Switched hot - comes from the other switch, connected to outgoing switched hot

This has two cables coming in. The 2-wire appears to be a switch loop. In a switch loop, one wire is hot and one wire is switched hot, but since it is a standard cable, one of those wires is white!

  • 3-way switch 1

  • Black and Red = Travelers - go to the other switch

  • White = Switched hot - goes to the outgoing switched hot in the other box

The last picture is a simple regular switch and not a switch loop. The switch has black in & out (hot & switched hot) and the whites are neutrals connected together.

Based on all of this, you can pull power for other stuff from the last box (figure out which black is hot and of course neutrals all go together. Or you can pull from the 3-way switched fixture, which should have something like:

  • Cable 1:
    • Black = hot, connected to cable 2 white to 3-way switch 2 box
    • White = neutral, connected to fixture
  • Cable 2:
    • Black = switched hot from 3-way switch 2 box
    • White = hot, connected to cable 1 black and going to 3-way switch 2 box

There may be additional cables already in the fixture box going to other locations. If you are not sure, take pictures and ask another question.

As far as grounds, switches don't necessarily need grounds, particularly if they are not timers/smart switches/etc.

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