3-way dimmer; 4 wires?

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  #1  
Old 04-22-06, 10:27 AM
DAS
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3-way dimmer; 4 wires?

Hi,
New homeowner here, first time poster. These forums are extremely helpful.

We have a stairwell light controlled by two 3-way switches, one each at the top and bottom of the stairs. I'm attempting to install a 3-way dimmer at each location. At the top of the stairs, I had no problem, and that 3-way dimmer is working fine. At the bottom of the stairs, when I opened the wall box, the existing terminal had FOUR wires connected (5 if you count the ground). Why would this be? The 3-way dimmer I bought has only 3 wires (4 if you count the ground). Am I out of luck, or can I combine two of the existing leads with one of the dimmer leads in a wire connector? I can describe the wire colors and existing terminal in more detail if that would be helpful.

Thanks in advance for any advice!
 
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Old 04-22-06, 10:41 AM
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If the switch has four wires connected to different terminals (plus the ground) then this is not a three way switch, but instead it is a four way switch and there is another three way switch to control the light.

You cannot replace a four way switch with a three way dimmer, you will have to replace one of the three way switches.
 
  #3  
Old 04-22-06, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by DAS
existing terminal had FOUR wires connected (5 if you count the ground). Why would this be?
It is a four-way switch.

> The 3-way dimmer I bought has only 3 wires
Correct.

> can I combine two of the existing leads with one of the dimmer leads
> in a wire connector?
Maybe.

> I can describe the wire colors and existing terminal in more detail
> if that would be helpful.
Yes. But there might be another 3-way switch somewhere.

Otherwise, two terminals are jumpered somewhere. You need to determine where.
 
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Old 04-22-06, 11:13 AM
DAS
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Thanks for the replies. Only these two switches control the light; there is no third switch. Also, each of these two switches controls nothing except the light. That's why I thought it was so odd for it to have four leads. So maybe there is a mystery switch somewhere that I'm not aware of? Or, is it possible that power is running through this terminal and going somewhere else, even if this switch doesn't control the ultimate destination?

I'm obviously an electrical novice and it sounds like this is probably beyond my ability.
 
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Old 04-22-06, 11:45 AM
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> So maybe there is a mystery switch somewhere that I'm not aware of?

It could be.


> Or, is it possible that power is running through this terminal and going
> somewhere else, even if this switch doesn't control the ultimate
> destination?
No.

If you can provide close up photos, probably we can figure it out.
Otherwise, do you have a voltage tester?

If the two terminal are jumpered in that box, then someone just used a 4-way instead of a 3-way.

If not, I hope you can provide photos showing what is inside the other two boxes.
 
  #6  
Old 04-22-06, 12:06 PM
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I am willing to bet that there is, or at least there used to be, another switch.

Sometimes the other switch is located inside the front door, so the light can be turned on or off when entering or leaving the house.

I just noticed something else in your post. You already placed a dimmer at the top of the stairs. You don't want one also at the bottom of the stairs. You only want one per circuit.
 
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Old 04-22-06, 12:30 PM
DAS
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"You don't want one also at the bottom of the stairs. You only want one per circuit."

OH! Well, that solves that then. Didn't realize that - thanks for your help.
 
  #8  
Old 04-23-06, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by racraft
You already placed a dimmer at the top of the stairs. You don't want one also at the bottom of the stairs. You only want one per circuit.
Please explain further. I've got two 3-way dimmers on my stair circuit, and they work fine as long as you understand that either will dim only when the other toggle is at dead bottom. Although it's not a perfect solution we use both dimmers regularly without incident.
 
  #9  
Old 04-23-06, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by DAS
the existing terminal had FOUR wires connected (5 if you count the ground). Why would this be?
Maybe it's just semantics but do you mean that the existing switch has four (4) screw terminals? That is, are there four separate terminations in the box or are any of the four wires hooked together elsewhere?

It's possible an upstream 3-way switch was removed elsewhere and the hot was wirenutted with one or both travelers and this 4-way was just left in place.
 
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