I'm trying to wire up a new ceiling fan that has built in lights where my old light fixture used to be but am a little confused with the wiring. In the electrical box (pic below) there are two black wires connected together and two white wires connected together. Then the old light fixture was connected between two red wires. Any idea why it was connected like that and how should I connect my new fan/light to it?

The room had two switches to control the old light, one with a dimmer on it. Is that perhaps why there is this weird wiring? Should I just wire the new fan/light up to the 2 red wires like the old light was?

enter image description here

  • 1
    The 2 switches that control 1 light are called 3 way switches. The 2 red in your case are the correct ones to hook up to. Fans usually require a reinforced box to handle the extra weight, this may be a fan rated box but it is hard to tell. (the "Hicky" in the center of the box makes me think this).
    – Ed Beal
    Jul 19, 2016 at 19:07
  • @EdBeal Where is the neutral connection?
    – bib
    Jul 19, 2016 at 19:13
  • @bb the fixture is hot/neutral agnostic. All that matters is that the ground line be properly connected to a ground post. Jul 19, 2016 at 19:30
  • Can you post photos of the insides of the switch boxes? This smells fishy -- at the very least, someone's used the wrong color wire for a neutral.... Jul 19, 2016 at 22:28
  • Does the right hand red wire have white tape on it, or is that stray paint? If tape, then someone was marking that wire as neutral.
    – TomG
    Dec 26, 2017 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


It looks like a standard "power on the end, lamp in the middle" 3-way arrangement. However (for whatever reason) they chose to make the travelers black and white on both segments.

Travelers can be quite a dog's breakfast, I've seen 3-way circuits where the travelers change colors on every segment. Choosing the same colors thru makes some sense -- however white should not be one of the chosen colors. though the far, far better way is to pick a colored tape color such as yellow, and mark both travelers yellow (they are interchangeable, they can be the same color).

That's because white is special in Code rules. Colored wires (hots) cannot be remarked to be neutral. But white wires can be remarked to be a hot wire. The last guy should've made red and black the travelers and tagged white with colored tape in the segment where it served as switched-hot. That would've been reasonable.


Three way light switches can be wired several ways, and yes, there is often red wires involved in the traveler or perhaps a 14/3 split power feed going to another circuit. So my advise, without back tracing and figuring out exactly where each wire goes and is used for, is to use the exact same two red wires. If possible, use a voltage meter or proximity voltage checker to see which one is actually the positive hot lead and connect that to your black and maybe blue wires from the fan/light. Then of course, the other would connect to the white wire from the fixture. You should mark the hot side with some black electrical tape and/or white tape on the wire that is actually the return or virtual neutral. The idea is that you don't want to connect the switched hot feed to the neutral side of the new fan/light. It wants to go to the hot fan feed and center hot bulb feed. Also, do not use an old incandescent dimmer to run the fan.

  • With the older switch loops you would put neutral White on 1 red and the black on the other, I don't see a copper ground in the box but would anchor the ground to the box.
    – Ed Beal
    Jul 19, 2016 at 19:19
  • 1
    In what cases would a wire color other than white be allowed for a neutral, or would a lamp not be required to have the socket side connected to a (white) neutral wire? Two red wires seems to me awful indicative of the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching#Carter_system which is clever, and sometimes saves wire, but was banned in 1923.
    – supercat
    Jul 27, 2016 at 16:18

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.