Dryer wires passing through light switch

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  #1  
Old 01-02-06, 07:15 AM
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Dryer wires passing through light switch

I have a laundry room with a 2-way switch leading to a ceiling fixture. I then have a washer and a dryer, each on its own circuit.

The bulb in the ceiling fixture often (once a month maybe?) blows when either of the switches is used. I took off the switchplate of the switch that is between the electrical box and the dryer. In addition to 2 'regular' wires there are 2 very large wires. Could this possibly be the dryer wires passing through the switch? Is there ANY way that this would be permissible? And would this large voltage therefore go to the bulb when the switch is used?

If this theory is correct, one thing still confuses me. Why would this happen as well when I turn on the switch that is NOT between the electrical box and the dryer (the electrical box is just 'before' the laundry room).

There have been many things electrically that were not up to code to say the least in this house that I bought new 10 years ago. I have slowly discovered and corrected them as I did more DIY projects and learned more about electricity. But this one baffles me and intimidates me a bit.

Thanks for any help you can give me. Theories only are welcome as well, as I'll probably have to call an electrician on this one.

Thanks alot.
 
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  #2  
Old 01-02-06, 08:06 AM
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You only mentioned one switch in your first paragraph, but then you referred to "either switch" in the second paragraph. Are there two switches? If so, what does the second switch control? FYI, when you have two switches that both control the same light, they are called 3-way switches. Did you mean 3-way when you said 2-way? (There really isn't such a thing as a 2-way switch.)

Is your dryer gas or electric?

Yes, the large wires going through the box could be the dryer wires. It's not common for them to go through the switch box, but it's not against code either.

Do you live in the greater Chicago area?

BTW, getting a month's use out of a commonly used light is not that strange. And light bulbs frequently burn out when switched on. Perhaps you've got nothing wrong at all. Try better bulbs.
 
  #3  
Old 01-02-06, 08:16 AM
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Thanks for the reply. Yes I meant 3-way. 2 switches attached to 1 light.

The dryer is electric.

So if the dryer wire goes 'through' the switch, then that voltage will NOT go to the light when the switch is opened? How does the switch let the voltage from the 15 amp wire to the light but not the voltage from the dryer? I'm missing something somewhere.

I know what you mean about bulbs often going out-- I guess that's why I've let it go on for so long. But recently I tried a rough service bulb and it happenef again, so I began to wonder again...

No I'm not in Chicago, I'm in Virginia.

Thanks.
 
  #4  
Old 01-02-06, 08:22 AM
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If I understand your post, the large wires not only "pass through" the box, but the wires actually are connected to the switch somehow?

Is is the case that someone spliced in to the 240 volt dryer cable to get a switch circuit? If this is the case, depending on how they hooked it up, I can see this being the source of the problem. You could have an unbalanced or open neutral at various switch settings.

Sounds like something an electrician needs to take a close look at.
 
  #5  
Old 01-02-06, 08:24 AM
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How does the switch let the voltage from the 15 amp wire to the light but not the voltage from the dryer?
The small wires are attached to the switch, and the big wires are not, right? That's how the switch lets voltage from the 15-amp wire go to the light without letting voltage from the dryer go. Voltage follows the wires.

When the light bulb fails, is it typically when the dryer is running, or when the dryer is off?

Do the large wires pass through the box unspliced? Are they connected in any way to the smaller wires?
 
  #6  
Old 01-02-06, 09:08 AM
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OK, I just opened both switches to refresh my memory.

No, I meant both the 15 amp light wires and what I think are dryer wires are both attached TO the swich. This is what I meant by 'pass through the switch'. I didn't mean 'pass through the box' only.

So this is what I have:

First switch (between main electrical box and dryer):
3 romex wires.
One has a large red and a large black attached to the top 2 switch terminals. Attached to the bottom terminals- a 14 g black from the second romex to one terminal, and the black from a third 14 g romex to the other bottom terminal. All white wires (2 small, 1 large) are attached together. A ground wire goes to the switch also.

Second swith:
2 romex wires. One romex has a large red and large black attached to top two switch terminals. Second romex has a small black to one of the bottom terminals. Second bottom terminal is empty. White wires (large white from one romex, small white from another) are attached together.

That's it.

I have a sneaky suspicion from your questions that this is bad, like I was afraid it was. The electrician that the builder used is 'out of business'. I'm not sure it was a licensed electrician from some other things I've found.

Thanks for the help.
 
  #7  
Old 01-02-06, 09:22 AM
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I am a little confused about your saying that the switches have four terminals. This would imply they are four way switches, not three way. However, a four way switch behaves like a three way.

The large wire you are describing does not sound like a dryer wire, it sounds like it is being used between the switches. While this would not be ideal and most of us who post here would advise against it, it is not a code violation to use a wire larger then 14 (smaller gage number) on a 15 amp circuit.

What is bothering me is the wiring at the first switch. Could you describe a little better the terminals on the switch and how the wires are connected to them.

I suspect that the dryer wires do not run through this switch box, and that there is nothing incorrect about the wiring.

Also, what else is on the same circuit as this light?
 
  #8  
Old 01-02-06, 03:02 PM
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It's probably time to figure out exactly how large this large wire is, what breaker it comes from, and what is controlled by this breaker. These are all easy tests if you have any kind of electrical test equipment. You'll need to disconnect the wires from the switches to test, and if you don't already know which breaker they are on, shut off the main before you do this, or shut off enough breakers that nothing in the box shows voltage to ground.
 
  #9  
Old 01-04-06, 12:00 PM
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You are right, I made a mistake in what I told you was the configuration. I'm sorry-- how to make a confusing question even more confusing...

First switch:

3 terminals, 3 romex
large red and large black on top 2 terminals
2 small black on bottom terminal (one on the side and one in the back hole).
White wires all connected together.

Second switch:

3 terminals, 2 romex
large red and large black on top 2 terminals
1 small black on bottom terminal
whites all connected together

I haven't gotten to test these wires yet as I need to look up how to do that first! However, the large wires look to me to be about twice the size of a 12 g wire. The small wires are 14 g wires. The breaker is a 15 amp breaker.

Also on the circuit are 3 or 4 lights and 3 or 4 receptacles (including 1 outside receptacle).

After thinking more about it, I guess it couldn't be drier wires anyway, because when I turn the light breaker off, the light won't light, as expected of course. If the drier wires went through, the light would still light right? So hopefully my fear is unfounded.

But does this wiring sound ok? I still don't get why anyone would want to work with larger wires if they didn't have to, unless it was a long run or something. And is it wired right for a 3 way switch? I am getting myself really confused looking at the different examples for 3 way switching...!

Thanks alot for your help.
 
  #10  
Old 01-04-06, 12:25 PM
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Your dryer wires are NOT run through this switch box.

The wiring sounds fine, with one or two possible issues I'll get to shortly. It is not against code to use larger wires than necessary but it sure is more difficult.

A power cable comes into switch number one. That cable continues out to other areas of the circuit. Switched power (two travelers) and a neutral wire continue to the second switch on the large wire you have identified.

At the second switch the larger cable goes into the three way switch. Exiting this box are a switched cable that goes to the light.

All of that is fine electrically. The use of the push in back stab connector is a concern, but not a code issue.

As for the use of larger wire on a circuit, there are several issues:

Box fill is greater. You run the risk of overfilling a junction box by using wire larger than necessary. However, as long as you don;t over fill the box you are okay. This is one of my concerns.

Larger wires are harder to work with. Larger wires don;t bend as easily as smaller wires, and many fixtures and receptacles won' accept larger wires, Requiring pigtails and wire nuts to make connections. This is my other main concern.

Finally, larger wire down the road may confuse someone. (It certainly confused you.) Someone may see larger wire (say 12 gage wire) and think they have a 20 amp circuit, when in reality they only have a 15 amp circuit.
 
  #11  
Old 01-04-06, 12:27 PM
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If the wires are 12-gauge, they are not the dryer wires, and they don't fit my definition of "very large".

I think you have no problem at all except for cheap light bulbs.
 
  #12  
Old 01-04-06, 04:48 PM
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Thanks very much-- that explanation clears everything up for me. Do you offhand know what gauge wire you'd use on a 60 amp circuit (my dryer)? Maybe that's all the wire they had left.

To John, I said the wires were twice the size of a 12 g wire, not the size of a 12 g. Considering that I've never seen anything larger than a 14 g or 12 g in the case of 20 amp on a 'regular' household circuit, they were definitely large to me.

No cheap lightbulbs (the last was a rough service bulb), but I DO live near Oceana Naval Air Base and F16 Superhornets do shake things up, So I'll chock it up to that!

Thanks again to both of you.
 
  #13  
Old 01-04-06, 05:08 PM
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Your dryer is on a 30-amp circuit, not a 60-amp circuit. It takes 10-gauge wire.

Sorry, I misread. Twice the size of #12 is very large. Wires that large are also very difficult to attach to a switch. That makes it very unusual. I do therefore still think you should figure out what breaker all this is on and what else is on that circuit.
 
  #14  
Old 01-04-06, 06:51 PM
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OK, I'm going to test the wires. It looks like you don't need to disconnect the wires from a receptacle in order to test using a voltage tester or a multimeter. Is there some reason that I do have to disconnect them from a switch? (I'm not looking forward to disconnecting them, as it's hard enough to work with a 12 g wire let alone these).

Thanks.
 
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