What Is a 4 Way Switch?

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At one time they were relatively simple, but light switches have become more functional and complex. There are different types to choose from. Some serve specific wiring needs while others are programmable. However, all possess the same basic function of turning on to let electricity flow and off to stop that flow by breaking the circuit. Here, we will look at one type in detail—the 4-way switch, how it works, and the wiring requirements for installing light switches with one or more of them.

How a 4-Way Switch Works

A single-pole switch has two terminals and controls one light fixture from one location. A 3-way switch has three terminals and can control a fixture from two locations. Like these, a 4-way device has a ground terminal, but can control one fixture from at least three different locations. There are four terminals connecting to wires serving your lighting. Four-way switches are used in combination with 3-way devices, which are placed on either side of the circuit, with the 4-way unit in the middle.

From the four terminals, there are two sets of toggle positions. Flicking the switch up allows current to flow through two terminals. And when the switch is down, current can pass through the other two terminals. A 4-way switch is most often used in large rooms that have multiple entrances; it lets occupants control the same light fixture from wherever they decide to enter or leave a room (i.e., a living room with three openings). It’s often used in “T”-shaped hallways as well.

Wiring a 4-Way Switch

The switch often has two brass-colored terminal screws and two black or other darker-colored ones. It also has a green ground terminal. Traveler wires run between the 4-way and 3-way switches in the circuit. They feed power to a light from more than one switch.

Wire colors can vary with these types of switches. Traveler wires will be black and red if non-metallic (NM) cable is used (with 3-wire cable). But they can be any color if conduit is used. A typical wiring configuration also has a 2-wire NM cable that supplies power from the breaker panel to the first switch box, and a black wire that connects to the first 3-way switch’s common terminal.

The first 3-way and first 4-way switch are connected by a 3-wire NM cable. If a second 4-way is used, it’s connected to the first with a 3-wire NM, while one also connects the terminals of the last 4-way unit and second 3-way device. White neutral wires are attached in each switch box. A manufacturer’s diagram should be consulted to view the positions of each terminal and the wire pairings. If you’re not certain which terminals go together, an ohm meter can be used to test them and determine the toggle positions.

Depending on circuit capacity, 14/3 or 12/3 wiring is used to link 3-way and 4-way switches.

Service Today Can Help with Switch, Outlet, and Dimmer Installation

Wiring light switches can be complex if you don’t have the right experience, especially a 4-way switch. Whether you’re upgrading your home’s lighting, a switch no longer works, or is malfunctioning, Service Today can provide professional repair and installation. Our licensed electricians provide safe and reliable lighting services in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. For same-day service, a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and to learn about opportunities to save, request an appointment online or call (888) 395-0085 today!