Understanding the basics of electrical circuits and color-coding will help you assess existing wiring and avoid some common mistakes with new installations.
Observe the layout of the wires. You should see two black wires, each connecting to a different screw on the right side of the switch. These are called terminal screws. You should also see a green wire, called a ground wire, which attaches to a screw on the lower-left side of the light switch. Loosen the screws holding the terminal wires in place. Once done, free the terminal wires, using pliers if necessary to undo a tight coil. Likewise, free the ground wire.
At this point, you should be able to remove the switch from the wall; if it makes your job any easier, go ahead and bend the dangling wires out of the way. Examine the ends of the wires for evidence of fraying. Clip off any degraded portions with a multitool or wire cutters.
Remember to leave about a half-inch of wire exposed on each length. Because electrical wires experience stress over time and can weaken with usage, you must ensure that when the wires are reattached to the replacement switch, any portion of the wire that makes contact with the screws is undamaged.
Three-way switches can be wired in a number of different ways, depending on where they are located relative to the light fixture in the circuit cable runs. For example, they can be arranged so that the feed cable runs to the first three-way switch, then to the light fixture box, then to the second three-way switch.
Or, as shown here, they can be wired so that the cables run through both three-way switches, then to the light fixture. This is a relatively common configuration, in which the wiring connections are done in this manner:. Note that wiring configurations can vary greatly depending on how the circuit is arranged. But if you keep in mind the path of electrical flow, and remember that traveler wires must connect the two switches, it should be easy enough to correctly wire a light fixture controlled by two three-way switches.
Unscrew the switch from the electrical box and pull it out with the wires still attached. Two or three wires will be attached to the switch: an incoming hot wire, which is black; a return wire, which carries the load to the fixture and may be black, red, or any other color except green; and sometimes a grounding wire , which is green or bare copper.
There may be other wires in the box, but you are only dealing with the ones connected directly to the switch. You may find a white wire that has black tape on it connected to the switch. Because the power is off, you can match up the connectors the easy way: Instead of disconnecting all the wires at once and possibly getting confused, unscrew and connect one wire at a time.
Attach the first wire you unscrew to the same-colored screw on the new switch as it was on the old; do the same with the second. The loop must wrap at least two-thirds but no more than three-quarters of the way around the terminal screw.
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