# Pulling from three way switch

### Help Support House Repair Talk:

#### Kylek

##### Member
I’m installing some recessed lights in our dining room and the switch is going to be right next to our kitchen three way switch. I’m wondering if I should pull power from that three way switch or should I just run a new line?

#### Snoonyb

##### Well-Known Member
You need to determine if you have a hot pair in the "J" box, and if not, you'll need to find that.

#### jeffmattero76

##### Well-Known Member
As Snooby said you need to determine 8f there is an "always hot" feed in that Junction box.

With 3way switches, there is a "Master" switch and a "Slave" switch. Power comes into the master switch (the always hot wire) and power is fed from the master switch to the slave switch via the traveller wires.

To test, with the switches off, test for voltage between the common screw and the bare wire. If that shows 120 volts, or if it lights up your neon tester, that means you have an "always hot" in that switchbox.

#### Kylek

##### Member
I tested both switches and they both have power to them when off.

#### jeffmattero76

##### Well-Known Member
Sorry, but that is not possible with two three-way switches. What are you using to test?

Again, you need to test the wire connected to the COMMON screw and the bare on each switch with both switches off. Just because a 3way is in the down position does not mean that it is off. If testing that way shows power at both, move one switch to the other position, and test again. Do that at both switches. On one switch, the common will always be hot. On the other switch, the common will be hot with the switch in one position, and not hot with the switch in the other position.

#### hornetd

##### Member
I tested both switches and they both have power to them when off.
The first thing we need to know is the size of the box. That will tell us whether it has enough space for the additional conductors you would have to add to have a second switch and a new cable in that box. Don't get too worried if it is not large enough because there are other ways to accomplish what you want to do which we will explain separately.

If you turn the circuit off, and extend all of the wires out of the box, you could then take photographs that show how all the wires are connected and what color they are. If the wires are cloth or fiber covered do not manipulate them at all and let us know. Then post the photographs in a new posting. You needn't remove the switch from the wires or open any splices to take the photographs since the way the wires are connected to the switch and to each other will tell us things we need to know to be of help to you. Be gentle with the wires and avoid creating sharp bends in them.

Tell us if there are wires from one cable or two connected to the 3 way switch in the device box which you are interested in, The biggest clue here will be a white wire, which may have been marked or tagged to indicate that it is not a Grounded Current Carrying Conductor, connected to the 3 way switch and that wire comes from the same cable as the other 2 wires that are attached to the switch. If there is only one cable connected to the switch and no other cables in that box you will have to run another source of power to that box in order to supply a new set of lights from a switch that will be mounted in that same box.

If there are 2 cables in the box, were you would like to take power from, and a splice which connects white wires together then here is the test procedure:
De-energize the circuit and test all of the conductors in that box with a non contact voltage probe.
If that test does not indicate any wire being energized then test all of the wires connected to the 3 way switch to the bare ground wires in the box using a contact tester.
If there is no voltage present remove the switch from the box and let it hang by it's wires. Do not disconnect any wires from anything! Do not open any splice!
In order to be able to connect the tester probe to the white wire, without breaking the splice, gently roll the wire nut so that it's tip points into the box.
Since there will soon be energized terminal screws and wires in the box you must guard those exposed energized conductors against contact by anyone.
Re-energize the circuit.
The common terminal of the switch is the one which is a different color from the other 2 terminals.
Test between the common terminal screw of the 3way switch and the white wire when the light is off. To make contact with the white wire you will insert one of the testers probes into the wire end of the wire nut which you turned around prior to re-energizing the circuit. Do not test to the bare or green wire because that will not tell you what you need to know. If the common terminal is still energized when the light it controls is off then it is at the end were the power comes from and will remain energized at all times. The wire which is connected to that common terminal is the wire that you can take power from.
If that common terminal is deenergized when the light is off then it is at the switched end of the three way circuit and cannot be used as a source of power for anything else.

--
Tom Horne

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#### jeffmattero76

##### Well-Known Member
The first thing we need to know is the size of the box. That will tell us whether it has enough space for the additional conductors you would have to add to have a second switch and a new cable in that box. Don't get too worried if it is not large enough because there are other ways to accomplish what you want to do which we will explain separately.

If you turn the circuit off, and extend all of the wires out of the box, you could then take photographs that show how all the wires are connected and what color they are. If the wires are cloth or fiber covered do not manipulate them at all and let us know. Then post the photographs in a new posting. You needn't remove the switch from the wires or open any splices to take the photographs since the way the wires are connected to the switch and to each other will tell us things we need to know to be of help to you. Be gentle with the wires and avoid creating sharp bends in them.

Tell us if there are wires from one cable or two connected to the 3 way switch in the device box which you are interested in, The biggest clue here will be a white wire, which may have been marked or tagged to indicate that it is not a Grounded Current Carrying Conductor, connected to the 3 way switch and that wire comes from the same cable as the other 2 wires that are attached to the switch. If there is only one cable connected to the switch and no other cables in that box you will have to run another source of power to that box in order to supply a new set of lights from a switch that will be mounted in that same box.

If there are 2 cables in the box, were you would like to take power from, and a splice which connects white wires together then here is the test procedure:
De-energize the circuit and test all of the conductors in that box with a non contact voltage probe.
If that test does not indicate any wire being energized then test all of the wires connected to the 3 way switch to the bare ground wires in the box using a contact tester.
If there is no voltage present remove the switch from the box and let it hang by it's wires. Do not disconnect any wires from anything! Do not open any splice!
In order to be able to connect the tester probe to the white wire, without breaking the splice, gently roll the wire nut so that it's tip points into the box.
Since there are now energized terminal screws and wires in the box you must have guarded those exposed energized conductors against contact by anyone.
Re-energize the circuit.
The common terminal of the switch is the one which is a different color from the other 2 terminals.

Test between the common terminal screw of the 3way switch and the white wire when the light is off. To make contact with the white wire you will insert one of the testers probes into the wire end of the wire nut which you turned around prior to re-energizing the circuit. Do not test to the bare or green wire because that will not tell you what you need to know. If the common terminal is still energized when the light it controls is off then it is at the end were the power comes from and will remain energized at all times. The wire which is connected to that common terminal is the wire that you can take power from.
If that common terminal is deenergized when the light is off then it is at the switched end of the three way circuit and cannot be used as a source of power for anything else.

--
Tom Horne
Why do you say that testing between the hot and the ground will not identify the always hot wire?

I would prefer that he test between the hot and the ground rather than trying to get a probe inside the wire nut connecting the neutrals.

#### hornetd

##### Member
Why do you say that testing between the hot and the ground will not identify the always hot wire?

I would prefer that he test between the hot and the ground rather than trying to get a probe inside the wire nut connecting the neutrals.
Did I say that? I didn't mean to! I said that using the Equipment Grounding Conductor (EGC) "will not tell you what you need to know." He will need both conductors of a cable that is energized all the time in that box in order to use that cable for a source of power for a new circuit. By testing between the common conductor at the 3 way switch and the white wires in a splice he will be sure that he has both an energized conductor and a Grounded Current Carrying Conductor in that box. I don't yet know if there are other circuits in that box. If there are other circuits in that box spliced white wires might be a traveler junction for a different 3 way circuit which passes through that box but is not switched at that location. Que the old Shadow radio show intro. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of a now retired electrician? Not even the shadow knows! We have no easy way of knowing about how this box was originally wired or what may have been done since then. And he allowed as he was just making sure. Arlo Guthrie in the movie Alice's Restaurant.

--
Tom Horne

#### Snoonyb

##### Well-Known Member
And, the hot pair may not be in the switch"J" box at all, but in the fixture box.

#### Kylek

##### Member
Thank you guys for the help! Unfortunately that switch is the slave switch.

#### jeffmattero76

##### Well-Known Member
And, the hot pair may not be in the switch"J" box at all, but in the fixture box.
Correct me if I am wrong, but even if the incoming power goes first to the fixture box, there would still have to be an always hot at one of the switch locations, wouldn't there?

#### bud16415

##### Fixer Upper
Staff member
Moderator
Correct me if I am wrong, but even if the incoming power goes first to the fixture box, there would still have to be an always hot at one of the switch locations, wouldn't there?
Here are the two options.

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#### JoeD

##### Well-Known Member
Correct me if I am wrong, but even if the incoming power goes first to the fixture box, there would still have to be an always hot at one of the switch locations, wouldn't there?
Yes there would be an always hot at one switch. However there might not be a neutral at either switch.

#### Michael Armstrong

##### Well-Known Member
I once found a 3-way circuit where the neutral was switched via the travelers, so if the light bulb was blown, there was no power at either switch. Drove me nuts. Also, in the old days often the rough-in crew would sometimes show up with 10,000 feet of 12-2 or 14-2 (with ground, maybe), and run just one wire from a cable -- (the other one (or two, if the cables had a ground in them) were snipped off) to simulate the 3rd wire in an x-3 cable, so they didn't have to buy any x-3 cable. I don't think that's allowed any more.

#### Fireguy5674

##### Junior Member
Just for my education, I have never seen 4 wire used to make a three way switch work. I always seen and used 3 wire 14 ga. or 12 ga. wire to make them work. Never seen the white neutral run through and capped off with a wire nut. Is this required by code or just an illustration to account for all the wires? I realize that means you have to use the white wire as one of the travelers.

#### Michael Armstrong

##### Well-Known Member
Just for my education, I have never seen 4 wire used to make a three way switch work. I always seen and used 3 wire 14 ga. or 12 ga. wire to make them work. Never seen the white neutral run through and capped off with a wire nut. Is this required by code or just an illustration to account for all the wires? I realize that means you have to use the white wire as one of the travelers.
It is required as of the 2014 code - NEC 404.2(c). There must be a grounded circuit conductor (neutral) in all switch boxes, although there are some exceptions. Here are a couple illustrations, showing where the 4-conductor cable would be used for dead-end switches:

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#### hornetd

##### Member
Correct me if I am wrong, but even if the incoming power goes first to the fixture box, there would still have to be an always hot at one of the switch locations, wouldn't there?
First lets lay out the 2 basic pathway types for any switch. One is the switched feed. A pair of current carrying conductors; 1 grounded and the other energized come to the switch location and then continue on the load such as a luminaire. The energized conductor of a switched feed goes through the switch to provide control. In all other respects the box in which the switch is mounted is much like a splice box with the Grounded Current Carrying Conductor (Neutral) spliced through the box with a wire nut and the Energized Current Carrying Conductor connected through a switch instead of a wire nut.

The other Control arrangement is a Switch Leg were the pair of current carrying conductors; 1 grounded and the other energized come to the load and then only the energized conductor goes to the switch or switches and returns to the switched terminal of the luminaire.

Their are hybrid variations witch contain parts or each but for our purposes in this instance what we have is a switch Leg.

Yes there would have to be an always hot to have a switch leg through 3 way switches or even a single switch However there would be no need for a Grounded Current Carrying Conductor (Neutral) anywhere in the switch leg. The only place the Grounded Current Carrying Conductor (Neutral) has to be is at the load. Since a Grounded Current Carrying Conductor (Neutral) is never switched; except in rather complex instances like at transfer switches; there is no need to extend it to switching points unless that is the most cost effective way to route it. No neutral means no second half of the circuit to serve the desired additional load supplied from one of the switch points of the existing load.

--
Tom Horne