Lights are on and off at the same time

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  #1  
Old 08-31-05, 09:20 AM
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Question Lights are on and off at the same time

Hi, I recently had a electrical contractor come in and add a light fixture.
Here's the scenario...
I'm remolding a basement, there is a light switch at the top of the stairs, it turns on a set of lights in the basement, there is also a switch in the basement that controls the same set of lights. However there was no light at the top of the stairs, so I hired a contractor to come in and install a box for a light at the top of the stairs. At the time he installed this I didn't have the light fixture. In the process of wiring this he had to rip out a bunch of drywall, which I have since had replaced and painted. The problem came in when I installed the light fixture.
When I flip the switch the lights downstairs go off and the light at the top of the stairs goes on, and conversely when I flip the switch the other way the light at the top of the stairs goes off and the lights downstairs go on. Obviously this is not what I want to happen. Did he wire the switch or box wrong and it's simply a matter of rewiring those or will we have to rip out the drywall and start over? I've called the contractor, but he doesn't return my calls.
Any advice would be appreciated!
Thanks
 
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  #2  
Old 08-31-05, 09:33 AM
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When he ran the new cable to the new light, he had three options of where to wire it from: (1) an existing light, (2) the switch box at the bottom of the stairs, (3) the switch box at the top of the stairs.

Sounds like maybe he chose the wrong one. Which one was that?

There may be no way of getting it working with the existing wiring, but there might be. We need more details to figure it out. Start by answering the above question.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 09:48 AM
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Hi John,
I'm pretty sure that he wired it to the switch at the top of the stairs, but I'm not 100% sure. I say this because it was the only place he cut holes into the drywall. Wiring it to the switch downstairs would have caused more damage to the drywall, ditto to wiring it to an existing light.
Thanks for your help!
 
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Old 08-31-05, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Elleth
Hi John,
I'm pretty sure that he wired it to the switch at the top of the stairs, but I'm not 100% sure. I say this because it was the only place he cut holes into the drywall. Wiring it to the switch downstairs would have caused more damage to the drywall, ditto to wiring it to an existing light.
Thanks for your help!
The switch at the top of the steps and at the bottom of the steps are called a 3 way system. There are two wires that only go between the switches. If the electrician connected to one of those then you will get this problem.

Like John said we need to know where they connected the wire from this light to. I am guessing that they connected to the upstairs switch and the lights downstairs are connected to the lower switch. If you pull out the upstairs switch and tell us how many wires are in the box and the colors this will help.

It is also possable that they cheated on the neutral and connected the white wire from the light to the bare wire in the box. This is not a good practice.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 11:22 AM
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You refer to this guy as an "electrical contractor". Was he in fact an electrician? It sounds like he didn't know what he was doing.

Did the "electrical contractor" make all the connections except those at the light fixture itself? Or did you touch any of the wiring in either of the switch boxes?

If the "electrical contractor" left you only one black wire, one white wire, and one bare wire at the location of the new fixture, and if he made all the other connections himself, then he royally screwed up. Call him back and discuss how he is going to remedy this problem. Make sure he agrees to pay for the drywall repair and repainting that will be required (again!).

If he still doesn't return your calls, then be sure to report him to the BBB or equivalent.

If you hit the wall and resign yourself to repairing this yourself, we can help. Just let us know when you've reached that point, and we'll guide you through it.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 11:58 AM
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As far as I know was an electrician, at least he said he was, he also said he was licensed...

Rather then try to explain the configuration of the wires to you I thought I would show them to you.
I took some pictures and posted them on the web:
http://www.digitalworldstudios.com/Switch/

The first two pictures show you what I found when I took the switch out of the wall.
I disconnected all the wires, because they were falling out of the connecters anyway, those are the next pictures.
The last picture is the light at the top of the stairs.
Hope this isnt overkill and it helps!
Thanks again guys.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 12:59 PM
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You "disconnected all the wires" before or after you had this problem?

I'd also like to hear your comments on which connections he made and which ones you made.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 01:19 PM
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I disconnected the wires after I had the problem. I did it just a few minutes ago after I unscrewed the switch from the box, for the purposes of trying to discribe the configuration to you. Prior to that I never touched the wiring at the switch.

The first two images I posted show you the wiring as I found it. The next pictures are after I unscrewed the connectors, the reason I did that was because the wires were coming out of the connectors anyway.

The only connection I made was wiring the light fixture (the last picture), which only has two wires, white and black, and the ground wire. I wired white to white and black to black, that didnt work, so I reversed the wires black to white, white to black, and still had the same problem. At that point I shut of the circuit, said a few choice words and called the "contractor", who still, as of this afternoon, has not returned my calls!
 
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Old 08-31-05, 01:35 PM
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Okay, please identify the pictures. Which pictures are of the bottom switch? Which pictures are of the top switch?

It appears that there are no red wires in either switch box. This makes me wonder who wired this in the first place (before the recent changes by the contractor). It seems very non-standard.

Can you tell us what kinds of electrical test instruments you own?
 
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Old 08-31-05, 01:41 PM
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All of the pictures are of the switch at the top of the stairs.
I havent touched, and neither did the guy who did the work, the switch at the bottom of the stairs.
I'll take a look at the bottom switch and see if there's a red wire.
I dont have any electrical test equiptment, but I'll run to home depot and get one. I've been meaning to do that anyway.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 01:49 PM
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So if I'm seeing your pictures correctly, it looks like there is a black/white/bare cable coming into the box from the bottom left, a black/white/bare cable coming into the box from the bottom right, and a black/white/bare cable coming into the box from the top right. Is this correct?

The top right cable has yellow sheathing, so I might guess that this is the new one to the light. Is the sheathing at the new light yellow?
 
  #12  
Old 08-31-05, 02:05 PM
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Yes, that's correct.
There is a black/white/bare cable coming into the box from the bottom left, a black/white/bare cable coming into the box from the bottom right, and a black/white/bare cable with yellow sheathing coming into the box from the top right. The cable at the light is the cable with the yellow sheathing.

I checked the switch at the bottom of the stairs, not a red wire to be found.
 

Last edited by Elleth; 08-31-05 at 02:22 PM.
  #13  
Old 08-31-05, 02:26 PM
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My suspicion is as follows:

This setup was made to work (before this new light junction box was added) utilizing two pieces of two conductor cable (not counting the ground), instead of one piece of three conductor cable (plus ground). This is not necessarily code compliant, and adds to confusion (case in point), but it does work electrically.

Then along comes your "contractor" and adds a second light (or a junction box for one anyway). attempting to wire it from the switch at the top of the stairs. Either this can't be done with the existing wiring, or he did it wrong. Even if he did it right, it's definitely not a good installation.

Whether or not this could be made to work depends on the wiring at the existing light and t the switch at the bottom of the stairs.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 02:52 PM
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I think the next thing to do is to take pictures of the bottom switch, carefully record the connections (so that you could put it back the way it was if necessary), and remove that switch and disconnect all the wiring there. If life is good, you'll find four black/white/bare cables there (the power supply, the cable to the downstairs lights, and two cables to the upstairs switch).

Then use a voltmeter or circuit tester to figure out which pair of wires in which box is the power supply.

Then use the continuity tester (with the breaker off) to verify that Bob's guess is correct that there are two black/white/bare cables that run from the downstairs switch box to the upstairs switch box.

With all that information, we should be able to figure this out.

Fortunately, if all these guesses so far are correct, you may have an extra wire between switch boxes, and this extra wire may allow you to resolve this problem with no drywall damage. We need to get a bit lucky however.
 
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Old 08-31-05, 02:59 PM
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Thanks guys, you've been great!
I'll run off to home depot and get the testers and take pictures of the bottom switch.
Stay tuned...
 
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