I've added a ceiling fan with separate switches for light and fan control. There's a 3-way switch that controls a couple outlets, I'm using the constant power that feeds this switch to power the other switches too. Currently, all switches are working as expected. However, when the ceiling fan is on one of the lamps powered by the 3-way is dimly lighting up, even with this 3-way switch in the drawing turned off. I don't have a picture or wiring info on the other 3-way switch, other than I haven't touched it and wired the new 3-way switch the same way as the older one. Any idea what I've done wrong here? Here's a crappy drawing


1 Answer 1


3-way switches cannot be tapped

I'm using the constant power that feeds this switch

Um, no. This is an "I need it, therefore it must be there" cognitive bias.

You are expecting the colors on the 3-way switch to reflect the actual job of the wires. Which they never do on 3-way circuits.

The problem is, 3-way switches don't have power! That's why you must physically throw them with force, and can't control them with your phone. (foreshadowing here!)

Or to be more precise, no switch has both "always-hot" and "neutral". Let's look at how 3-way switches are wired. You need always-hot (black) and neutral (white).

enter image description here

Yellow here is the pair of travelers. You notice you've never seen a cable with two yellows? That's because all cables are made with standard colors. And in 3-way circuits, the travelers are designated by the installer based on surprisingly few rules. (NEC 200.7(C) is it).

You also notice that neither switch has both always-hot and neutral going to it (the two you need). Heck, the right side switch does not have either one!

Welcome to the world of 3-ways.

The lesson here is "3-way switches are poison, never tap them". The better lesson is "Never tap any plain switch".

Hold on though. Smart switches to the rescue!

Now don't get too excited. You'll need to do a bit more skilling-up.

But... "smart switches" handle 3-way switching in a very different way. They have a smart switch "master" that actually switches the lamp. And smart switch "remotes" that use either wired or wireless signaling to talk to the master. Power is rearranged so that all smart switches get power all the time (so they do indeed after all have both always-hot and neutral at each switch).

Again, the topology of your wiring will decide which smart switch is workable. However, once you wire all that up, the side-effect will be that there will be power, after all at the spur 3-way switch that you tried to tap. And now you will be able to tap it successfully.

  • Upon trying to understand your diagram I found the flaw in my assumption: the lamp, just by being plugged-in, is completing a circuit and made me think it was constant. Oops! I'll tap an unswitched outlet instead and join the list of people fooled by tapping a 3-way
    – Saweet
    Jun 3, 2022 at 13:45

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.