3-way switches not working fully

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  #1  
Old 09-06-05, 11:06 PM
Shutterbug
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3-way switches not working fully

I recently replaced many of my toggle switches with dimmers and decora style paddles.

On one circuit I have a 3-way that isn't working 100%. I can turn the lights OFF from both switches in the 3 way, but I can ONLY turn the lights on from the switch last used to turn them off.
i.e. If I turn the lights ON from switch 1, then walk across the kitchen I can turn the lights on and off with switch 2. Now if I switch the lights off from switch 2 and walk back across the kitchen to switch one, I can no longer turn the lights on from switch 1. I have to go back to Switch 2 to turn them on. The same holds true in reverse.

What did I do wrong? I've downloaded about 20 wiring diagrams that all show the same thing and I've checked my wiring several times - I have my 'common' or HOT wire coming into switch 1, and my 'common' or load wire leaves switch 2. The other 2 travelers are wired exactly the same on both switches (i.e. red to red, white to white).

Not only is the wife frustated now but I'm concerned about safety. Could I have done something that may be a fire hazard?
 
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  #2  
Old 09-07-05, 04:39 AM
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I am going to change my reply slightly.

As an initial step prior to sending us the cable map, make certain that you have identified the common and traveler screws on your new switches. Different switches have these terminals in different locations. If you swap the common and a traveler at both switches, you will get exactly the symptoms that you describe.

-Jon

Start by describing _exactly_ what cables and wires are in each switch box and how they are connected. For example:
Switch Box 1:
Two cables.
Cable 1: black/white
Cable 2: black/white/red
cable1 black to switch common
cable2 black to switch traveler
cable2 white to switch traveler
cable1 white to cable 2 red
(Note: the above is an example of a description, not an example of how it should be)

If you wired things the way I think you did, then this isn't particularly a fire hazard, but it is an electrocution hazard, and could leave your light fixture energized at 120V when off.

-Jon
 

Last edited by winnie; 09-07-05 at 06:01 AM.
  #3  
Old 09-07-05, 05:37 AM
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If the lights worked properly before you replaced the switches, then you made a wiring error with the new switches. As Jon said, you probably don't have a fire hazard (unless you made a poor connection), but you may have created an unsafe situation.

The key to replacing three way switches is to either completely understand the role of each wire, or at least take detailed notes as to how the wires are hooked up. It also helps to replace one switch at a time, making sure that the light works properly with every switch combination after replacing the first switch, and then after replacing the second switch.

A common mistake that some people make when replacing 3 way switches is that they attach wires by screw position, and not by screw color. Not all 3 way switches have the travelers and the common in the same position.

Another mistake made is that notes are not taken as to which wires are the travelers and which is the common. Depending on the setup, the white wire, for example, may attach to one switch but not to the other.
 
  #4  
Old 09-07-05, 07:55 AM
Shutterbug
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Switch Box #1 (J-box with line wire)

3-way switch (the common terminal is obvious, it is labeled 'common' and is the only one with a black screw)
-Black line wire (tested as line) attached to common (black screw)
-White traveler wire - connected to brass screw near common
-Red traveler wire - connected to brass screw at opposite end of switch from common
**I know these are the travelers for I toned them out to double check prior to installing the switches.

Switch Box #2 (load)

Same 3 way switch used above (Leviton Interupter)
-Black load wire to lamp attached to common (black screw)
-White traveler wire attached to brass screw near common
-Red traveler wire - connected to brass screw at opposite end of switch from common

both switches have a copper ground attached.
I tested the circuit after install with the power on, the switch in the load box is receiving power on the white traveler.

I'm not at home right now so can't give you the details on the cables themselves other than to tell you this is a 3 gang box with 2 other switches and a total of 5 cables running into the box. neutrals are bound at the back of the box.
 
  #5  
Old 09-07-05, 08:00 AM
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Something is amiss here.

If power comes into the box 1, and you 14-3 running to box 2, and 14-2 running to the light, then you shouldn't have a white wires on the switches at all.

Tell us the entire setup.

Where does power come in. Where does the line running to the light connect?
 
  #6  
Old 09-07-05, 09:23 AM
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[QUOTE=racraft]Something is amiss here.

Tell us the entire setup.

QUOTE]

I'm not sure what else I can offer. Maybe I'm just being dense but let me know specifically what more info I can provide you.

Jbox 1
This box is a 3 gang box to which the power comes in. I have verified the power (line) at 110 with a digital multimeter. It is black and is wired to the black (common) screw on the 3 way switch.
4 wires ran from the old switch, a black line, red, white and ground. I've wired the red and white wires to the traveler terminals on the switch and the ground to the ground screw.

Jbox 2
Here there is a black wire that goes to the load (9 recessed can lights). The old switch had this load wire as well as white, red and ground. I've wired the load wire (black) to the common terminal on the new switch. Red, white and ground wires are also wired to the new switch.

Initially I had my red & white traveler wires reversed (on the opposite traveler terminals from where they are at now) and it didn't work at all.

Am I correct in my assumption that the load (line to the lights) is wired to the common, and not one of the travelers?
 
  #7  
Old 09-07-05, 09:45 AM
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What cables and what wires do you have in box number 2? Please provide a complete inventory of what is in box number 2. You haven't talked about a neutral wire in box 2.

Also please tell me what you did with the black wire that goes from box 1 to box number 2.
 
  #8  
Old 09-07-05, 09:45 AM
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It isn't a question of dense; it is a question of looking further.

The system that you have described is _not_ sufficient to run a lamp, which means that there are other wires someplace else. A lamp requires connection to both hot and neutral to work, and you have not described how the neutral gets to the lamp. My suspicion here is that you have a switched neutral circuit, which is a code violation and unsafe, but I cannot determine this without knowing where the neutral connections are.

It would be helpful to have a description of all wires and _cables_ in each junction box, including the junction box at the light fixture. Just describing the two switches is not sufficient.

In junction box 1, you say that there are four wires going to the switch: black, red, white, ground. Are these all from the same _cable_? If they are all from the same cable, this means something very different from 'the black wire comes from one cable, the red and white are in a second cable, and the white from the first cable connects to the black from the second cable'. Please describe all of the _cables_ in this junction box and how they relate to this switch.

Next, when you say 'tested as hot' and 'these are travelers for I toned them out', please describe your test methods. Where there light bulbs in the sockets (which con provide continuity between wires that under load are 120V apart)? There are a number of ways that testers can lie. Finally, since you have the appropriate testers, why not confirm that the labels on the switches are correct, by checking for continuity between the common and the travelers.

And your assumption is mostly correct. In common three way circuits, the supply goes to the common terminal at one switch, and the load is at the common terminal at the second switch, with travelers in between. But there are other ways that things will work, some of which are quite dangerous, others of which are simply not standard.

-Jon
 
  #9  
Old 09-07-05, 10:21 AM
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First off thank you to everyone for your quick and detailed responses (and patience!!)

I am not at home right now so can't give you details on the actual cables at the jboxes (I'll look tonight and get more details to the forum) but I can answer some of your questions:

1) I'm a network engineer so am used to toning out ethernet, phone, etc... cabling. I realize there are items (such as the light bulb) that might close the circuit and give me a false reading - on the travelers however, they simply run from switch to switch and are open on each end, no? When toning out the travelers I simply put a tone generator on one end and follow it with my wand on the other. Bulbs were indeed in place.

2) My neutral wires are capped together with a wire nut in the back of both jboxes (well, at least there are a group of white wires bound in the back of the box (as there are in every box in my home - newer home, about 4 years old) - I assume these are my neutrals. How can I confirm they are indeed the neutrals?)

3) The 4 wires running to each switch in each jbox are NOT from the same cable, that I do know

4) I see no black wire going from box 1 to box 2. There is a white wire that goes HOT when the switch in box 1 is wired up. There's a red traveler, there's a black load and a copper ground.
 
  #10  
Old 09-07-05, 11:02 AM
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We need to know all the wires in box 2. If box 2 is a switch loop then there won't be a neutral.

Was this working before you replaced the switches, and is the wiring original?
 
  #11  
Old 09-07-05, 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by racraft
We need to know all the wires in box 2. If box 2 is a switch loop then there won't be a neutral.

Was this working before you replaced the switches, and is the wiring original?
Let me give you some background (maybe this will help me explain some other issues I've had).

The house is newer (about 4 years old) and the switches were all working fine (original wiring). I purchased all new insteon dimmers from smarthome and wired them up through my house with no problems (at first). This circuit I'm having the problems with was running an insteon dimmer but began to cause me concern for I noticed the heat coming through the plate was far more than just 'warm' that you would expect from a dimmer. I took the plate off and felt the heat plates on the side of the dimmer, they were scorching (i.e. if I had held onto them for more then 5 seconds I would have burnt myself) The unit was working fine, but it was WAY too hot...

It was a dimmer rated at 600 watts and I was running it at 540. So I pulled 5 of the 8 bulbs on that circuit and my heat problem was barely impacted!! (still hot enough to burn). So it didn't appear to be the load - I simply couldn't figure out why the dimmer was so darn hot.

Well my in-laws arrive tonight and I was running out of time to try and diagnose my dimmer problem, so I thought I'd throw in a couple of 3 way switches (non dimmers) to at least allow me to use the lights while they are here for a few weeks. I pulled my insteon dimmers, I knew which wires were what based on my initial install of the dimmers but double checked the line input and the travelers (or so I thought I did...) and now I have this problem...

Based on input so far I'm beginning to wonder if my heat problem with the dimmers is somehow related...
 
  #12  
Old 09-07-05, 11:41 AM
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Additional question: are the wires run in cables, or are these individual wires in conduit? It would be extremely odd for there to be a white and red wire going from box 1 to box 2 without a black; cables are _usually_ made up black, white, ground, with additional colors added for additional wires, eg. black,white,red, ground. A white and red cable would be an oddity. If your wiring is in conduit, then white should not have been used as a traveler. My hunch is that there is an additional black wire somewhere between the two boxes, possibly pulled out from the back side.

'Toning' as you describe it is not sufficient. 'Toning' is a slang term that can include following a wire using an inductive tracer (what you did), or it can describe doing an actual continuity test. You need to do the actual continuity test to be certain that the 'traveler' wires are actually connected from one box to the other.

If only the travelers go from box 1 to box2, then this circuit was not wired properly.

-Jon
 
  #13  
Old 09-07-05, 02:13 PM
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Originally Posted by winnie
Additional question: are the wires run in cables, or are these individual wires in conduit?


-Jon
Yes, the wires are run in cables (no conduit, no individual wires). I seem to recall several black (hot) wires bundled together in this box. There is another dimmer in this 2 gang box (single pole). If memory serves me correctly the line wire for that single pole switch was capped along with 2 other wires (I will have to look when I get home tonight, but I 'think' that's what was in there).

You note that more than the travelers should be wired to the 2nd box. I'm confused - there should be two travelers running from the 1st box to the 2nd, that switch should then have a load wire and a ground - 4 wires total. If something more than the two travelers is supposed to be wired between them, what's the 5th wire?
 
  #14  
Old 09-07-05, 02:17 PM
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You are not giving us a clear picture of the setup.

We are assuming that the light is wired from the second box, however now you are implying that it isn't

Please provide a complete inventory of EVERY wire in every box and every device and how they are all connected. Include the light itself. You have something wired incorrectly and we are trying to help you sort it out, but without correct information it is very difficult to do so.
 
  #15  
Old 09-07-05, 02:36 PM
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I am doing my best to understand what you have written. But it is quite difficult since the answers are coming in bits and pieces. This is why it is best to start with a complete inventory of _all_ of the wires, including description of the _cables_ that they belong to, in _all_ of the boxes.

You have said that a white and a red go from switch 1 to switch 2 in a cable. You have said that there is a black wire connected to switch 1 that _isn't_ part of this cable. I asked what other wires were in the cable, and said 'if only the travelers go from box 1 to box 2, then this circuit was not wired properly'. My hunch is that there is a black wire in this cable, and you've not told us where it is connected.

Depending upon how the circuit is wired up, you could have a 'switch loop' with travelers and the return switched line, or you could have a setup where you have the travelers and an unswitched neutral. Then there are the unsafe and illegal circuits where you could have a hot and a neutral with a switched line that could be either hot or neutral (dangerous!, this uses switched neutrals and is illegal), or circuits where hot is tapped from one circuit and neutral from another. There are a zillion ways that this can be wrong.

Please, we are trying to help. Take the time to generate a complete inventory of _all_ the wires in _all_ of the relevant boxes. There is the box for switch 1, the box for switch 2, the box for the light itself, and possibly an additional junction box.

-Jon
 
  #16  
Old 09-07-05, 02:59 PM
Shutterbug
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Originally Posted by winnie
Please, we are trying to help. Take the time to generate a complete inventory of _all_ the wires in _all_ of the relevant boxes. There is the box for switch 1, the box for switch 2, the box for the light itself, and possibly an additional junction box.

-Jon
I understand and I appreciate the responses, but as I've said I'm not at home and can't generate a listing of what's in each cable until later this evening at which time I will post it here. I'm just trying to get a grasp on what 'could' be wrong so that I have at least some idea of what I might be looking at when I get home.

Originally Posted by winnie
You have said that there is a black wire connected to switch 1 that _isn't_ part of this cable.
No I haven't, I have no idea what wires are part of what cables - I only know what wires I connected last night. I will again get as many details on cabling as I can when I get home.

Originally Posted by winnie
or you could have a setup where you have the travelers and an unswitched neutral.
I'm almost certain this is what I have. There are a group of unused wires capped together in the back of the box that I am assuming are my neutrals - in fact the dimmer switch I have requires neutral and it is wired to these and working great. How do I confirm these are indeed properly wired neutrals?

Originally Posted by racraft
We are assuming that the light is wired from the second box, however now you are implying that it isn't
I apologize for the bits and pieces of information - I will refrain from posting again until I have a chance to take things apart again and provide more details. The light is indeed wired from the 2nd switch (switch 1 is line, switch 2 is load).
 
  #17  
Old 09-07-05, 03:16 PM
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Gotit; I was under the impression that you'd had a chance to look at the wires. You won't really have an answer until you do so. However:

Thinking about the way your switches are working, they are acting as though you have two single pole switches in series. You could get this _many_ ways. But the two that jump right to the top as 'most likely' are swapping common for traveler at each switch, or having a break in one of the travelers. Less likely (and in addition _illegal_ are things like 'french' threeways where one of the hot or neutral feeds is broken.

Good luck hunting down the various bits!.

-Jon
 
  #18  
Old 09-07-05, 03:28 PM
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Thanks for the update.

When you do inventory the wires, provide as much detail as possible. Reference wires by cable and by wire color. You can omit the grounds, unless for some reason (and I hope this isn't the case) they are connected to something they shouldn't be connected to, such as a black wire.

Examples of detail we need are as follows:

Switch Box 2:
Cable 1 has a black, red, and white wire, B1, R1, and W1
Cable 2 has a black and white wire, B2 and W2.
Three way switch, S1.
B1 is connected to B2 via a wire nut.
W1 is connected to S1 common
etc.

And incidentally, extra wires in the back of the box are extremely important, especially when they are connected together. Don't forget to include them.

Double check your work.

If you leave something out or make a mistake we will either have to guess or we may not be able to come up with the root of the problem and the solution.
 
  #19  
Old 09-12-05, 02:25 PM
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Thanks for everyone's patience, I was out of town this weekend and am just now getting the cabling inventory everyone is asking for.

Here's what I have:

Jbox 1, Switch 1
3 way switch is attached to 3 wires, ALL of the 3 wires are part of the same cable. Black, Red and White.
Black is connected to common
Red and White are travelers

Jbox 2, Switch 2
2 gang box
Cable 1 (3 wire)
Red and white wires to problem switch as travelers
Black wire to bundle of black wires in the back of the box with wirenut

Cable 2 (2 wire)
Black to problem switch (common)
White to bundle of whites at the back of the box (neutral I assume?)

Cable 3 (2 wire)
Black to switch 2 load (this is a second switch in the jbox, not part of this 3way. This switch works fine)
White to bundle of whites at the back of the box (neutral)

Cable 4 (2 wire)
Black to bundle of blacks at the back of the box
White to bundle of whites at the back of the box (neutral)

Pigtail (black) from working switch 2 to bundle of blacks at the back of the box

I do not know where to check the light itself, for there are 8 ceiling cans - which to check I don't know. Hopefully this is enough information to go on.
 

Last edited by Shutterbug; 09-12-05 at 03:02 PM.
  #20  
Old 09-12-05, 03:06 PM
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The wiring sounds correct. How did you determine which is the common and which are the travelers of the three way switches? Have you verified (with an anolog meter or with a tester) that you are getting power to the correct locations?
 
  #21  
Old 09-12-05, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by racraft
The wiring sounds correct. How did you determine which is the common and which are the travelers of the three way switches? Have you verified (with an anolog meter or with a tester) that you are getting power to the correct locations?
I have verified with a digital multimeter that I'm getting power to the black (common) on switch 1 and that power is coming through on the red (switch 2). The black on switch two is simply "assumed" to be load, for the red is HOT and the white was toned out to be a traveler.
 
  #22  
Old 09-12-05, 03:45 PM
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Do not use your digital multimeter, it will only confuse you. Use an analog meter or use a neon light tester.

Verify power on the travelers of switch 1 alternating between the two travelers depending on the position of switch 1.

In the same manner, verify that the travelers at switch have power alternately, as you move switch 1.

Then, verify power to the common of switch 2 as you put switches 1 and in their various positions.

Also, verify proper power at any of the lights.
 
  #23  
Old 09-12-05, 04:23 PM
Shutterbug
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Originally Posted by racraft
Do not use your digital multimeter, it will only confuse you. Use an analog meter or use a neon light tester.
I have a neon light tester as well and used both. After all this it turns out I had everything wired properly, it was the switch. There are the spring clamps and then there are the screws for connecting the wires. I pulled everything from the clamps (even though I had checked and double checked and reseated every wire) and wired up using the screws - it's now working fine.

Thanks to everyone for their patience, I learned alot through this process!
 
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