Do three way switches bother you?

Doing electrical work I manage to run into a lot of people who are obsessive compulsive enough to be really bothered by a switch being in the up position when no lights are on or vice versa.

Yesterday it was my father. He had me do some work at his house. He has a stairway to his basement that exits from his kitchen. The basement also has a walk in door from outside. When I did the lights for the basement I put a three way switch in the kitchen and one at the walk in door. When I was done. He saw that the switch in the kitchen was in the up position but the lights were off. After much discussion(mostly me telling him he’s insane) I ended up having to put a single pole switch in the kitchen and removing the wire and switch at the walk in door because it was more preferable for him to have a a switch that is always down when the lights were off then to have a light switch at the other entrance.(No I couldn’t leave the 3wire for future use either because he’s very against having wires that are not in use)

I understand my father needs mental help, for multiple reasons. The Light switch is just a recent example. All five of his children have recommended it. How many people have this issue. I managed to work for a number of people who have complaints about them but my father is the first to have one removed. Explaining there is no cheap solution to allow all switches to be down when the lights are off seems to be a reoccurring conversation. Am I just lucky enough to find a high percentage of these people or are there that many people with this complaint?

I work in a technical field but I have never completely figured them out anywhere that I have lived. Granted, I never really studied the issue that closely but I usually just go around flipping switched in the general proximity of the area I want lit until I get the lighting combination I want. It doesn’t bother me that much or else I would learn what each one does but it is confusing.

In general no. It does throw me for a loop when we have a three way switch where 95% of the time only one switch is being used. I get used to the switch going one way and I have to stop and sort it out when I notice I’m flipping it the other way than I expect.

Couldn’t you just set the switch so the one he uses the most will be down when it’s off? The few that I have I’ve made sure that they are both down when off. While it doesn’t anger me, I do like to have all my switches down so I’ve been known to go down the stairs to turn off the light.

I have mild OCD, and have a 3-way switch on my 1st-2nd floor stairway. The convenience far outweighs the minor issue of switches pointing the “wrong” way. I can totally understand how annoying it would be if my OCD were stronger.

But what’s ***really ***annoying is the switch in my back hall that does absolutely nothing.

I don’t get why some (Read: the jacklegs who wired my house) electricians cannot put in the three-way switches in so that if all the lights are off, then all the switches are down.

Of course, it just takes ten minutes to flip the switch around in the box.

I have basement stairs with an entry from the kitchen. At the top of the stairs is one of two three-way switches, at the bottom is the other.

I LOVE the switches. I can flip the lights on before I get down the stairs or once I get down the stairs. I can turn them off as I ascend or once I’m at the top. If the light gets left on, my roommate (who lives in the basement) can turn it off without having to come up.

Maybe it makes a difference because 1) You can’t see the switches without seeing the light they control 2) You can’t see the switches at all unless you’re in the stairwell (so it’s NBFD if they’re “wrong”) … but I think they rock.

By appeasing him you have violated the National Electrical Code (assuming you’re in the US) and created a potentially dangerous situation. The NEC requires light switches at all entrances for obvious safety reasons.

A better solution would be to get three-way switches that use a button instead of a toggle. The button turns the light on or off from either location but the button itself doesn’t change position, so as not to offend the crazies. Leviton’s True Touch switches are like this.

It bothers me to see a switch up and the lights off or the more likely case of down when the light is on. Currently I just deal with it and try to have the light that I walk past most off be the one that is correct and just go with out of sight out of mind for the other one. I’m planning on taking the time this year to flip the out of sight ones so I’ll know they are all correct.

Basement entrances do not require a switch.

Isn’t that the start of a Steven Wright joke?

It’s ten minutes of wasted time. The switches aren’t powered when we put them in so we don’t know(and don’t care to think about it) what position will be on. It is something your going to mess up in the first ten minutes of living there anyway. Say both switches are down and the lights are off. You flip the lights on at one end of the hall, that switch is now up. You walk to the other end of the hall and to turn the lights off you need to flip it up to turn the lights off. OMG the world just ended switches are up and the lights are off!

Sounds more like an OCD problem than an electrical problem.


If the lights are off, how do you know what position the switch is in?


Seriously, I’m pretty much in the boat with panache45. It tickles my OCD, but I can pretty much ignore it.

Or I’ll arrange my trip so that the switch that would annoy me most is in the ‘correct’ position.

As I understand it, you can know whether the lights are on, or you can know the position of the switch, but you cannot know both simultaneously.


That still won’t work.

You have a light switch at the bottom of the stairs and one at the top, both are wired in the off position. The light is off. You turn the switch at the bottom on, (light is on) then walk up the stairs and in order to turn the light off you need to switch the one at the top to the on position too.

Now the lights are off but both switches are in the on position.

Try to imagine a combination where 2 switches powering the same light will always be in the ‘correct’ position. You can’t. Doesn’t matter which setting you start with, they will soon be out of sync.

Or if you are really concerned about the position of the switch, turn the light on at the bottom of the stairs, climb the stairs, then go back to the bottom to turn the light switch back “off”. You don’t need 2 switches if you are that OCD.

The code here requires two switches. I’m afraid the only choice then is to partially unscrew the light bulb each time. :stuck_out_tongue:


In every house I’ve owned, I replaced most of the toggle switches with Decora-style stitches. In my last house, I used nothing but illuminated Decora switches. For three-way switches, I used three-way Decora switches that were illuminated when the light or circuit was on. The switch may be in the wrong direction, but the glow of the switch indicates its true state. The glow isn’t bright or obnoxious at night; just enough to indicate where the switch is.

Actually - I was talking about my taking ten minutes to flip the switch.

However, I know the jacklegs who wired this house couldn’t take the two minutes to put in a grommet that fit on the garage light fixture. Ten minutes to look at the switches in the off position is too much to ask.

It doesn’t bother me at all. What does bother me, though, is if there are two switches next to each other and one is pointing up and the other down when both are on (or off).