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Helpful Tips for Three-Way Switch Installation and Wall Outlet Replacement


A good number of the calls I get during an average day at work fall into two categories:

  1. Customers who call to have something installed in their electrical system; and,
  2. Customers who tried to install it themselves and are calling me to come and fix the mistakes they made.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to perform basic electrical work yourself if you have a good grasp on proper electrical safety techniques and what you’re doing. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with calling a top Dallas electrician to do the work for you either.

The best way to ensure the job is done right every time is to hire an honest, hardworking professional electrician who’ll stand behind his work.

Two Things to Know Before You Start the Three-Way Switch Installation Process

Even tasks that can seem quite simple can be treacherous if you’re not sure what you’re doing. This comes into play a lot when a homeowner is trying to perform a three-way switch installation. It seems a lot easier to install than it really is. I generally recommend homeowners not attempt to install three-way switches without at least an electrician on the phone to walk you through the process.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Identify the wires before you remove the switch. There are three wires hooked into your three-way switch. One is the switch leg (or power), and the other two are called travelers. Identify the travelers before you remove the switch. This is important because the design of three-way switches isn’t standardized; the leads may not go in the same place on the new switch that they went on the old switch. Knowing this ahead of time will save you from lengthy rewiring and a lot of heartaches.
  • Know what switches you have installed. Because of the way they work, you can never have just one three-way switch; they are always installed in pairs. If you’re having a problem with a three-way switch, you may want to go ahead and replace both of the three-way switches to ensure you get the faulty one. “But what about that light in my house that is on three-switches?” you’re no doubt asking yourself. Whenever you see a light or appliance that’s controlled by an odd number of switches (usually three), one of the switches will be a four-way switch. Four-way switches are a totally different animal than a three-way switch and are hooked up in a completely different way. You should NOT try to wire a four-way switch where a three-way switch used to be without contacting a top Dallas

There are tasks well suited for the do-it-yourself minded homeowner, though. The easiest is wall outlet replacement, which is usually a very simple, straightforward procedure. That doesn’t mean the haystack isn’t free of the odd needle that you can hurt yourself on, though.

3 Problems You May Run Into When Installing a Three-Way Switch

Here are some of the more common problems I run into, along with some typical solutions or hints to keep them from happening to you:

  1. Replacing a simplex (single-plug) outlet. If you have a simplex outlet (these are typically found in garages), it was probably designed to have one specific appliance or device plugged into it; usually, this is something like a refrigerator or AC unit. As such, it’s usually on a different circuit than the rest of the room (especially in a garage, where a refrigerator could easily trip the GFCI installed on the other circuits) and is rated specifically for that device. If you plan to replace this with a duplex (dual-plug) outlet, you may need to rewire the circuit to allow the circuit to handle the additional item that can now be plugged in there. If you are not adding another appliance to this yet still installing a duplex outlet please consult an electrician to discuss safety issues.
  2. Replacing a duplex outlet. Duplex outlets are generally pretty easy; the black wire is the power in, and the white the power out. If your outlet is controlled by a switch, this isn’t so easy, though. These outlets will have two powers in wires; one that connects it to the switch and the other that provides constant power and is attached to the bronze screw inside the outlet. The metal tab between the screw and the connector must be completely broken off to complete the installation; if you get stuck, a good-hearted electrician can walk you through this over the phone.
  3. Replacing a GFCI outlet. Notice that the back of the outlet has connections that say Line and Load. Line controls the power in; the power lead and neutral should be hooked up here, with the power outline connected to load. If you don’t wire these leads correctly or if any of the outlets are wired into the Line side of the outlet, they will not be properly protected by the GFCI.

For more information and other tips Electric Man to the rescue. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so don’t ever hesitate to give us a call!