I'm wiring the new workshop and want to use 3 way switches to control four outlets running across the ceiling for plug in lights. Right now, each switch is functioning like a single pole, turning on/off the string of outlets rather than controlling the outlets as intended. Power comes into the first 3-way; Red traveler is continuous from first to second switch; black traveler runs from first switch, ties into each outlet, and ends at second switch common; white neutral comes from power and ties into each outlet; white wire is used as hot wire from last outlet to second switch.

Where did I make the mistake? Thanks for the help.

multiple outlets controlled by 3-way

  • Your drawing is way, way wrong, e.g. why are there two wires to two of the outlets, and three wires to the third? – Daniel Griscom Nov 27 '15 at 1:36

The "white" side of the outlets should never be connected to the switch. The white you have connected to the second switch is actually playing the role of another black wire. Look at the diagram below. The white wire going to the switch has a black stripe of electrical tape to mark it. That white wire is never connected to the lamps (which are the outlets in your diagram).

3-way wiring diagram

  • The white neutral doesn't hit either switch, yet I can see my problem. I need to disconnect the black traveler from outlet 1 and tie into a fourth wire that will connect to the now hot white wire at the last outlet. Rather than tie red traveler to black, as shown above the lights in this drawing, could I just as easily swap posts with the red and white hot at switch 2, in which case the white wire will have red tape and red wire will have black tape? – Dennis Nov 16 '15 at 19:13
  • Ok, I misinterpreted your drawing. I see now the white wire comes from the "black side" of the outlet. And you're right - each outlet box will end up having 4 wires (+ground) in it. – JPhi1618 Nov 16 '15 at 19:24
  • Thanks. I'll pick up a length of fourth wire and break out the red and black tape. – Dennis Nov 16 '15 at 19:26
  • It's all good now, thanks JPhil1618. Not sure how I missed running the fourth wire yet good to know we have this site. – Dennis Nov 16 '15 at 22:49

To explain a bit:

Both travelers (Red and Black) must be continuous from the first to the second switch. Then from the second switch you would connect the non-traveler (now the switched wire) to each outlet.

If the outlets are along the path of the travelers then that means that each outlet will have 4 wires (+ground): the neutral, the switched wire and the 2 travelers.

Convention for the color codes in the switches are

  • red and marked white = traveler.
  • black = switched wire
  • white = neutral.

current code also requires you to pull the neutral to the second switch (left capped off if not used) as future proofing for when you want to connect a timer or motion sensor.

  • Thanks. This makes perfect sense, now. I still don't know how I initially got off track, especially after dissecting a 3-way in the (new) house that had been wired with a borrowed neutral from a second circuit and caused the new arc fault breaker to trip in the new main panel. It's amazing what can be found in a home once upgrades are introduced, ha! – Dennis Nov 17 '15 at 15:08

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