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Wiring Four Recessed Light Fixtures Controlled by Two 3-way Switches

November 18, 2007

Craig asks:
I am hooking up four recessed light fixtures in a bedroom to be controlled by two three way switches with power coming from the fixtures. I bought a book at Lowes.

I am coming into the first light fixture with 12-2 wire as the book says to. I then go to the the remaining three light fixtures with 14-3 wire as the book says. I go from the last light down to the first switch with 12-2 wire and on to the final switch with 14-3. So, I only have 12-2 between the power and lights and between the lights and first switch. I have 14-3 between the light and between the switches, as the book says.

My final result is that the first three lights work but the final light in the chain does not. Also when the first switch is turned off it throws the breaker. If I turn the breaker back on with the second switch on they work too but when I flip either switch the breaker is tripped again.

My first problem was with the red wire at the first light. I was told by my book to hook it to the silver terminal but the fixtures don’t have a silver terminal. The book says to connect the white wire from the other lights into the final light’s silver terminal as well but of course, no silver terminal.

Tech help for Juno lighting said it’ll work and two electricians (friends and family) say it will work but no one can tell me how to fix it without suggesting I go through the switches with the power instead of through the fixture which would create a lot more work in this 65 year old house. Confused yet?! Thanks in advance!

I was a little confused, but after writing this down I was able to figure it out. There are a couple of mistakes that I see and I believe the reason you are tripping the breaker is a connection in the last light.

I’m not sure if the book you bought is telling you to mix 14 AWG and 12 AWG wire or not, but this is wrong. Since you already have the wiring in place, you need to ensure that this circuit in protected by a 15 amp circuit breaker maximum. Your circuit breaker is rated by the wire size and the wire size is determined by the load being served. 12 AWG wire is rated for 20 amps maximum and 14 AWG wire is rated for 15 amps maximum. In the future, be sure to use the same size wire for the entire circuit.

I believe that the problem causing your circuit breaker to trip is a termination in the last fixture. I created a wiring diagram below that will solve the problem. I understand that recessed light fixtures do not have terminals like I used in the diagram. I used these just to simplify the diagram. I also noted the 2 conductor cables as 14/2 instead of the 12/2 that you are using.

Please note the terminations in the final light. The white wire in the 14/2 is connected to the black (power supply) wire in the 14/3. According to the National Electrical Code (NEC), when using a 2 conductor cable for switching you are required to make the white wire the “hot” or power supply wire. However, you are also required to identify this wire as a “hot” wire. You can do this by either wrapping some black electrical tape around the wire or using a black permanent marker. I tried to note this in the diagram with the short sections of black at the end of each white wire.

Regarding the silver terminals, these are for the neutral or white wires only.

Wiring Diagram for 4 Recessed Light Fixtures Controlled by Two 3-way Switches


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7 Responses to “Wiring Four Recessed Light Fixtures Controlled by Two 3-way Switches”

  1. liverules » Wiring Four Recessed Light Fixtures Controlled by Two 3-way Switches on November 18th, 2007 10:42 pm

    […] more here […]

  2. robert hogan on December 11th, 2008 7:07 pm

    i replaced a 3 way light switch with a 3 way dimmer switch to a bank of 5 recessed lights…… 120 v and 15w. The dimmer would not dim the lights. I did notice that the common wire in one box is black whereas the common wire tn the second box is white. How can that be??

  3. Adam on November 20th, 2009 5:19 pm

    I have installed 6 recessed lights in a room in my house and now need to wire them up. I intend to run a new circuit for the lights and they will be operated by a singular switch (possible dimmer). I am familiar with wiring, but on airplanes, not houses! A written explanation will work, but I think a diagram would be great if you could provide one. Thanks!

  4. susan on December 15th, 2009 7:08 pm

    have 2 wall switches for recessed lites. #1 has ten lights. #2 has only two. Is it possible to move two lights from # 1 and add them to #2. (how, if possible?) Contractor went overboard in the kitchen and underboard in the dining area!

  5. Tim on August 15th, 2010 1:29 pm

    I have installed 9 Utilitech  3″ Non-IC recessed lights. How do I wire them to an existing 14-3 wire? As it was wiring for a old ceiling fan light combo.

  6. linda on September 29th, 2010 2:13 pm

    can a whole house be wired with 12-2 wire? using 15amps breakers

  7. pete on August 19th, 2011 10:40 am

    can i wire recessed lights to a plug with a switch in the middle?only 3 lights facing up the wall.can i wire them from the socket if not with the plug?as it is i have the lights working off a 3 plug but they trip when i add a standard wall switch.