I have a 3 way switch at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom that control the lights in the stairway/hall way. The problem that I have is that you can only turn the lights on from the same switch that the lights were last turned off from.

I have looked at many websites and videos and haven't quite seen the setup that I have. The home is not that old (13 years). I am not the original owner but I suspect that the house was originally wired this way because when I took off the wall plate, I had to cut the paint away from the wall plate and the screws looked fairly new still.

Unlike everything that I have seen online, the junction box with the hot black wire has another cable that examples don't show. For the sake of this description, I'll name Cable #1 as the cable housing the hot black wire. It is a 14-2 cable. Cable #2 is a 14-3 wire houses the red wire. Cable #3 is another 14-2 cable. Anyway, here is what I found.

Switch 1 has the following connections:

All ground wires are connected together.

From 14-2 Cable #1 with the hot wire: Hot Black wire connected to common screw. White neutral is to another 14-2 Cable #3 and is connected to the black wire.

Cable #2 is a 14-3 wire: Black and Red are connected to switch 1 gold terminals The white is connected to the white wire from Cable #3

I do not know where Cable #3 is going. I am assuming it is to one of the light fixtures.

Switch 2

The black wire is connected to the common screw. The red and white wires are connected to the gold terminals.

I have checked the voltage in switch 2 with the power on and switch one in the up position, I have 120v at the black and white screws with switch 2 in the up position. The red screw shows a voltage of about 60V. When I put switch 2 in the down position, the red screw now shows a voltage of 120V as well as the black common screw. The white now has very little current showing (about 3V). When switch 1 is in the down position (so that current should flow through the red wire), there is no current at switch 2.

I tried disregarding Cable #3 and connected the white wires together from cables 1 and 2. This resulted in blowing the circuit.

Also, I have moved all of the wires around at switch 2. The effect was that the lights came on with the switch in the down position but I still could not turn the lights on at switch 1.

I know this is a lot of information. Perhaps, I should either call a pro or live with the way it is but, I wanted to try and figure this out. Thanks for any help you can give.

Switch 1

  • Welcome to SE. Sorry about stomping on your first post, but I've renamed your cables for reasons pertaining to copyright and regional unfamiliarity. I hope it hasn't detracted from the clarity of the question.
    – isherwood
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 2:23
  • 1
    Also, consider sketching this up and posting a pic. Anyone short of the tradesman version of Rain Man attempting to help will probably have to do so himself, so you'll get more assistance if you do it.
    – isherwood
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 2:27
  • You might also want to open up the lights, and take a look at the wiring in those boxes. Then you'll have a better understanding of the wiring. Trial-and-error wiring is almost never a good idea.
    – Tester101
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 2:50
  • Has this ever worked?
    – Tester101
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 2:54
  • 1
    I have owned the home for 1 1/2 years. It hasn't worked properly since I have owned it. I will come up with a diagram. I thought about taking the light fixtures down and at least seeing if I can trace the wires. Maybe that will be next weekends project.
    – CanthonyC
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 3:05

2 Answers 2


This is a guess!!!

This is only a guess. Further investigation is needed to determine how the circuit is wired, and nothing further should be done until you have a complete understanding of the current wiring.

Based on your description, this is how I think it may be wired.

enter image description here

If this is indeed the case, then changing the wiring as follows, should get things working.

enter image description here

Notice I've swapped the black and white wires at Switch 2. I've also swapped the black and white wires from Cable #3, in the first switch box. Finally, I've marked the white wire from Cable #2 at both ends, to indicate that it is being used as a ungrounded (hot) conductor.


This answer is only a GUESS. You'll have to verify this wiring yourself, before making any changes. Trial-and-error wiring is not safe, and should never be done.

If you need further assistance once you have more information, please comment on this answer. I will be happy to help you.

  • Thanks for the information. I will try and trace the 3rd cable and determine for sure where it is going.
    – CanthonyC
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 4:06

Update, I was able to confirm the path of the wires from cable 3 by using a multi-meter and testing for and confirming continuity. Even though it would seem logical that cable 2 goes from switch one to switch two, I tested the wires there as well just to confirm. After studying the diagram from "tester101", I was able to understand the chart which makes sense to me. I did make the suggested connections and now the light works as it should. The 3-way switches now allow me to turn the lights on and off from either switch. Thanks so much for your help Tester101.

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