3-way and 4-way switches are two of the commonly used in homes and offices. These switches are used to control an electric appliance from more than one place. So, what are the significant differences between them when it comes to operation?

The main difference in operation between a 3-way switch and a 4-way switch is that they can control a bulb or appliance from 2 and 3 or more different locations respectively. In terms of their physical variance the number of terminals also differ.

In this article my objective is to show you the main differences and similarities as well as the sectors of operation of the two types of switches.

3-way-vs-4-way-switch

3-Way Switch Vs 4-Way Switch: Quick Comparison Table

Let’s look at the differences between the 3 way and 4 way switches.

Features3-way switch4-way switch
Number of TerminalsThreeFour
Number of Controllable locationsTwoThree or more
SizeRegularSlightly wider
ConnectionCan be connected 2 of these to a fixture in two different locations to operateNeeds two 3-way switches in both sides with one or more 4-way switches to control a fixture from 3 or more different locations respectively
PriceCosts more than normal 2 way switchesCosts slightly more than 3 way switches
CostCosts more than regular outlets.Costs less due to the simplification of design.
Number of travelersTwo of the terminals are travelersAll four terminals are travelers
Number of Common terminalsOneZero
3-way VS 4-way switch

What’s The Difference Between 3-Way And 4-Way Switch Based on Features and Connections?

Structure:

3 way switches consist of three terminals. Two of them are travelers, which means they are not fixed or common terminals. The third terminal is a common terminal. There is a moving bar to connect one of the travelers to the common port.

Figure-1-3-way-switch-configuration
Figure 1: 3-way switch configuration

On the other hand, a 4-way switch consists of four terminals. Here all four of the terminals are travelers. There is no common port in a 4-way switch. The terminals can get connected in two different ways when the switch is turned on or off.

Figure-2-4-way-switch-configuration
Figure 2: 4-way switch configuration

As you can see both the switches have different structure according to their work requirement, I would not choose one of them to be better than the other.

Application:

A couple of 3-way switches are used to control an appliance from two different locations. In this case, the number of locations is limited to two.

In case of a 4-way switch, you can control an appliance from 3 or more locations. But in order to do this, you will need both 3-way switches and 4-way switches combined to form the control circuit.

Here, 4-way switches give you the flexibility to control the appliance from 3 or more places. But in this case you will also need the assist of 3-way switches. So, Both the switches are very important.

Connection:

To connect a 3-way switch system, you will only need 2 of such switches. It will help you control an appliance from a maximum of 2 different locations.

Figure-3-3-way-switch-connection-system
Figure 3: 3-way switch connection system

A 4-way switch needs the help of two 3-way switches. For example, if you want to control a light from 3 different positions you will need two 3-way switches and one 4-way switch. If you want to control from 4 different locations, then you will need two 4-way switches along with two 3-way switches.

Figure-3-3-way-switch-connection-system-2

A 4-way switch gives you the flexibility to control your appliance from more than 2 positions. So, it gives us more advantage when it is used with 3-way switches. But then again, it is not possible without the help of 3-way switches. So both are important. There is none to pick over another.

3-Way or 4-Way Switch Which One to Choose?

If you want to control your appliance from 2 different locations, choose 3-way switches.

But if you want to control from more than 2 locations, you will need to choose both of them. There is no winner in this case.

Can You Use 4-Way Switch As 3-Way?

No, you can’t. A 4-way switch is totally different from a 3-way switch. It has no common terminals; all the terminals work as travelers. It will not serve the work of a 3-way switch.

Can You Use 3-Way Switch As 2-Way?

Yes, you can. A 3-way switch is like the combination of two 2-way switches. So, you can easily use a 3-way switch instead of a 2-way switch.

Summary

The article gives you a good view to the comparisons between a 3-way and 4-way switch. It also shows the structural and application distinctions between the two types of switches.

After reading the whole article, you are now knowledgeable enough to apply the correct switch in the right way.

So, if you need to choose between these two, first of all understand what you need, what is the purpose you want to serve. If you need to control an appliance from 2 positions, go for 3-way switches only. If you need more than 2 positions, go for both of the switches. If you face any doubt or questions, feel free to comment in the comment section. Good luck.