Switched switches and now lights not working

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  #1  
Old 12-24-06, 05:16 PM
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Unhappy Switched switches and now lights not working

Here's what the same breaker controls: one light in one hallway, two lights in one hallway, and an outlet. The two lights are controlled by two - three way switches at either end of the hall. I swapped out the switches (both switches to the two lights, and one of the two switches to the one light) and plug yesterday. Everything works except the two lights. I have tried swapping out the switches with yet another switch (to rule out a bad switch), checked that the lightbulbs worked, and finally used one wire nut at each switch to 'hard connect' the circuit (meaning, I took the switches out, and connected the neutral and two 'blacks' all together at each box). Lights still won't come on. I don't see any connectors/nuts in the boxes with the wires to the switches, so I don't see how it could be a loose connection. Because the other light and plug work, it shouldn't be a bad breaker. I never touched either light fixture, so it shouldn't be them, either. So:

No loose connection in boxes
good bulb
good breaker
good light fixture
wires that worked just fine until yesterday

What's going on??????

THANKS!!!!

Catherine
 
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  #2  
Old 12-24-06, 05:42 PM
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The three wires (other than a ground) connected to a three way switch are one common and two travelers. Neutral wires are not connected to regular three way switches. Neutral wires are only sometimes connected to special switches, such as lighted ones.

You did not connect the new three way switches correctly. When you replace three way switches, you should do so one at a time, making sure that both switches work after replacing each one. To replace the switch, you must determine which of the three wires is the common and which are the travelers. You do this by looking at the terminal color. The common is connected to the odd color terminal.

Anyway, there are only six ways to connect the three wires to the switch. To figure this out, do the following:

Temporarily connect all three wires together at one switch using a wire nut.

At the other switch try the various combinations of connections until the light lights no matter which way the switch is thrown. You now have this switch wired properly. Note that the light must be on with the switch in either position.

Now try the various combinations at the first switch until you have proper operation.

As an alternative, you can usually figure out the wiring by looking at wire color, but this requires some knowledge of how three way switches work.
 
  #3  
Old 12-24-06, 06:45 PM
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It sounds like you replaced the three way switches with single pole. The switches you removed had 3 terminals. There may have been a white wire connected to one of the terminal, but this is the rare exception when that is NOT a neutral wire.

Since you no longer no which wire went where, here is how to sort it out:

Two of the three wires are called "travelers". They each run straight from one switch to the other, nothing in between.
1) turn off all the power to this circuit.
2) completely remove both switches.
3) remove all light bulbs from this circuit
4) using a wire nut at one box and an ohmeter at the other, and trial and error, determine which two wires are traveleres as I described.

Now, connect the travelers to the brass colored screws on the switches. Doesn't matter which to which.
Finally, the left over wire connects to the black colored screw on the switch.
 
  #4  
Old 12-24-06, 07:31 PM
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More info about problem

I wrote 'neutral' because I thought that was the term; I am acutally referring to the white wire. I am not sure if that would change anything in your responses (which I SO APPRECIATE, thank you both very much).

Both switches had two black wires and one white wire connected when I removed them. One of the black wires has an 'extra' white wire coming out of the insulating sheath that just ends in wire nut. The other black wire shares its sheath with the white wire that was connected to the old switch. Same for both switches. Does that tell us that the black wire with the dead-end white is more likely to be the traveler?

I replaced with three-way switches; I am sure of this because I specifically bought switches labeled three way and they had three screws plus a grounding screw.

What I can't get my head around is why the lights won't come on when I connect both black and the white with a wire nut at both switches. Shouldn't that complete the circuit and get the lights on? I don't have an ohmeter, but am willing to go buy one if I need to.

THANK YOU!!

Catherine
 
  #5  
Old 12-24-06, 10:00 PM
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One correction

Only one of the boxes has a 'dead' white wire that ends by itself in a nut screw. Looking at this diagram: http://www.selfhelpandmore.com/homewiringusa/2002/pictures/THREEWAYSWITCHA.JPG
that makes that switch the one on the right. I think that instead of a red wire another black/white combo was used as the travelers.

So, is there a 'most likely' way to wire these (or just the one box with the 'dead' white) that I should start with and try before I go buy an ohmeter? Is it logical that the travelers would be the pair of white/black that share a sheath? If so, then for the switch on the right, I would connect the 'solo' black to the upper left screw.

I noticed in that diagram that the white wire on the right connects with a black wire from the left switch. Is it correct that when wired right my switches will NOT be exact duplicates of each other (meaning, same color configuration)? Knowing that would be helpful as it would narrow the possibilities.

Thanks!

Catherine
 
  #6  
Old 12-24-06, 10:09 PM
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Hi Catherine,

It might be helpful to take a look at this site: http://www.howstuffworks.com/three-way.htm

Also, the role each wire plays depends on where the power originates - in one of the switches or in the light fixture.

In your situation, two things come to mind: the power probably originates in the fixture, and only 12/2 cable was used (one black, one white, one bare ground wire). This means that instead of using one 12/3 (one black, one red, one white, one bare ground wire) to connect the two switches, they used two 12/2 cables between the switches, which would account for the extra white wire that was simply left with a wire nut.

It also sounds like the installer may have forgotten to code the white wires for hot at the switches.

The switch where one of the white wires was connected to the switch itself is likely the first switch on the loop, so the white wire that was in use is probably the hot wire coming from the fixture. If you can verify that this is correct, you can code this one hot and connect it to the common terminal on the switch. The remaining two black wires are your travellers.

The remaining switch box should have three cables coming in, for a total of three black, three white, and three bare ground. When you first opened the box up to replace the switch, did you notice two white wires tied together with a wire nut? If so, this set of white wires is probably the hot wire from the fixture going to the first switch. If you can tell which cable comes from the fixture, connect the black wire to the common of the switch. The white should be coded hot and reconnected via wire nut to the white wire (which should also be coded hot) of the cable going to the first switch. The black wire of the cable going to the first switch should be connected to one of the traveller terminals.

The remaining black wire should be connected to the other traveller terminal. The remaining white can be capped, since it is not used.

Once you determine which cable comes from the fixture, it's just a matter of sorting out how the wires in the remaining two cables that connect the switches are used - that's the tough part!

I hope this is helpful. Post back and let us know how it goes.

Best wishes and happy holidays!!

Rick
 
  #7  
Old 12-25-06, 05:47 AM
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Catherine, you could have been done by now.

Follow my instructions and only work with the three wires originally connected to each switch.

The extra white wire MAY represent a code violation, and may represent a fire hazard, but we can work on that after you get the switches working.
 
  #8  
Old 12-25-06, 09:25 AM
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Wish me luck, I am going to try again

I am going to connect all three wires at one box with a wire nut (does it matter which one?) and play with the other and the switch until the lights turn on.

While I do this, is there anyone who can tell me why the lights didn't come on when I had all three wires at both boxes (the three wires originally connected to the switches I removed) wired together with wire nuts? Even if you can't explain why in a way I can understand, if someone could just confirm that failing to light is not a sign of another, bigger problem, that would great. I keep thinking that is a sign that something else somewhere 'broke' at the same time I was changing the switches. Long odds, I know......

THANKS!!!!

Catherine
 
  #9  
Old 12-25-06, 10:18 AM
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Catherine, I suspect that you did not apply the wire nut properly to get all three wires connected at one end or the other.'

Unless you have been experiencing other problems with this circuit, or have been doing recent remodeling, or changed the lights wiring, then your working with the switches did not effect anything else.
 
  #10  
Old 12-25-06, 11:00 AM
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Unhappy No luck.

I triple checked the wire nut on the box with the 'dead' white wire. The conical metal screw is present inside the head of the nut and the three wires are stiff, thick copper which I straightened out and aligned with even tips and held firm, so I am as certain as I know how to be that the nut connected the three wires.

I wrote out all six possible combinations of the three wires at the remaining box. One of the black wires has some spackle spots, so I could tell the two blacks apart. I checked off each combination as I tried it and I flipped the switch to both positions with each combination (even though both positions should light the light). No luck with any of the six combos.

Could my outlet be in the 'loop' somehow and causing a problem? The outlet isn't controlled by any switch. When I first tried to flip the breaker back on way back when, it tripped itself right away. I changed the wiring of the outlet and the breaker stayed on and the outlets both work so I wrote it off as a contributor to the problem.

Thanks,

Catherine
 
  #11  
Old 12-25-06, 01:06 PM
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Now that I know you also changed the wiring at the receptacle, and that you tripped the breaker, all bets are off.

Tell us ALL the wiring at each location, including the lights. Be as specific as possible. Tell us each cable, and how the wires were originally connected. If you forget how they were originally connected then don't guess. We can sort it out, but only if we know everything involved.
 
  #12  
Old 12-25-06, 01:16 PM
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Wink

Racraft, I want you to know I really admire your patience. I don't know if people realize how difficult it can be to troubleshoot over the internet, especially with novices. No offence meant to you Learningisfun. Keep up the good work. Oh, BTW I'm off the eggnog.
 
  #13  
Old 12-25-06, 01:20 PM
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Thanks for the compliment yanici. My patience wears thin sometimes. But I do enjoy a challenge.
 
  #14  
Old 12-25-06, 04:37 PM
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More info about the problem

You don't know how sorry I am that I can't remember the original wiring. And I REALLY APPRECIATE your help. I was trying not to give info that wasn't needed and would just confuse the situation. Here's what happened with as much detail as I can be sure about:

I changed three switches and one outlet:

Switch A and B: the switches I have be writing about all along. They were both three-way switches that I took out (three screws plus a ground) and I replaced with three-way switches. I can't be sure about the original wiring.

Switch C: this is one of two switches controlling another set of lights. I swapped out this switch without a problem. It is currently wired with a black and white out of one sheath going to the traveler screws with another black going to the odd-color screw. There is a group of black and white wires in this box with wire nuts. The black wire going to the odd color screw going into the group of black wires with the wire nut. The copper grounds are all twisted together and not connected to any switch.

Outlet: Two places you can plug into, a regular 'double outlet' that is not controlled by any switches, it just stays 'on' all the time. Regular vertical orientation. Not GFI, but does have a third prong in both receptacles for 'ground'. Currently wired with the white and black from the same sheath going across the top set of screws (white on left, black on right), and the second set of white and black going across the bottom set (this time black on left, white on right). Also, the two copper grounds are twisted together and one it wrapped around the grounding screw of the outlet which is what I repeated with the new plub. I believe that the confirguration that tripped the breaker was both whites across the top and both blacks across the bottom. I am fairly certain, but not absolutely positive, that configuration is what I mimiced when I swapped out the plug. Then the breaker wouldn't stay in place, and I started with the outlet was the likely culprit so I exchanged the places of the white and black on the right side of the plug. The plug then worked fine and the breaker stayed in place so I figured the outlet problem was solved, the only problem was switches A and B.

THANKS!


Catherine
 
  #15  
Old 12-25-06, 04:44 PM
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Catherine,

The RECEPTACLE is wired wrong. (Receptacle is the proper term, outlet is ambiguous.)

Left and right mean nothing when discussing a receptacle. Since the device can be oriented either end up, right and left mean nothing.

What is important is the screw color. The two black wires need to go to the gold or brass colored screws. These will be two screws on the same side of the receptacle. The white wires need to go to the silver or tin colored screws. These screws will be on the other side of the receptacle.

Your wiring is wrong since you have a black and a white on the same side of the receptacle. This mistake could very well (and most likely did) cause the problems you are experiencing trying to figure out the switches.

I suspect that once you fix this problem you will be able to figure out the wiring of the switches.
 
  #16  
Old 12-25-06, 05:18 PM
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Talking Yippeee!!!! LIGHTS!

I fixed the receptacle, threw the breaker back and the lights came on!!! The receptacle is still working (both) and I guess the last wiring confirguration I had with the one switch was the right one because the lights come on with the breaker. Sure enough, the lights stay on with the switch in either position. Now I have to go fix the other switch which currently has all three wires (two black and one white) connected at a wire nut. I will pull back out my sketch of all six positions and just started going through them. That is the same receptable with the 'dead-end-extra' white wire that just has a wire nut sitting on it.

YEAH!!!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU so much for your help. I see now that I had a very false sense of experience because I have changed a single pole before and switched out multiple light fixures, installed under the counter lights and did all the wiring myself. Three way switches and outlets are different animals and I should have been so much more cautious in my approach. I didn't realize the significance of the color of the screws and I really should only have changed one thing at a time and made sure everything still worked right before going on to the next.

Any more pearls of wisdom about the 'dead-end-extra' white wire and should I worry that none of these three switches had any ground wires connected to the switches themselves?

THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!!

Catherine
 
  #17  
Old 12-25-06, 05:41 PM
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Talking Everything working great!!!!

Everything works right at both switches and the receptacles are working!

Yeah!!!!!!!

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
 
  #18  
Old 12-25-06, 06:03 PM
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Merry Christmas! Glad it's fixed!
 
  #19  
Old 12-25-06, 06:37 PM
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I am glad you now have the switches working and that you are back where you started (but with new switches and a new receptacle).

Tell me more about this dead end white wire. Is it from a different cable than the other wires on the switch? Are the junction boxes metal or plastic?

I'll repeat my advice for you and any others reading this.

Always make detailed notes and even take a digital picture of the wiring BEFORE you change anything.

Recheck for proper behavior on the entire circuit after each change you make. Yes this takes time, but if you make a mistake you will know right away where it is, rather than thinking it is some other place.
 
  #20  
Old 12-25-06, 07:36 PM
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Talking More info

I can personally attest to the value of your advice!!!!

The boxes are gray plastic. The dead white comes out of the same sheath as the black wire that connects to the odd-colored screw (should make that the 'common', I believe). The other two wires in that box (one black and one white) share a sheath and are connect to the two same color screws (makes them the 'travelers', I beleive).

Catherine
 
  #21  
Old 12-25-06, 10:57 PM
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If the boxes are plastic then the fire hazard does not exist, as long as the two wires run through the same hole in the plastic box. This means that whomever wired this was just plain cheap or lazy in not using 14-3 (or 12-3) when they wired this.
 
  #22  
Old 12-26-06, 07:14 AM
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Just for future fixers you may want to redesignate the unused wire with a color such as blue using either magic marker or colored tape and write "blue not used" inside the box.
 
  #23  
Old 12-26-06, 11:58 AM
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Smile Will do

I will mark that dead end white and will also ground the switches, just for the heck of it. Right now in the box that has two switches, all the ground wires are just twisted together. I plan to take ground wire from the Simpull 14 I have on hand and make an 'extension' by twisting around the existing bundle, and then connecting to one of the ground screws on one of the switches. It doesn't create a problem to ground all those wires together on one switch, does it? I will do the same for the box with only one switch (it has two ground wires twisted together - I'll make an 'extension' for it also and ground on the switch grounding screw).


I cannot thank you all enough!!!

Catherine
 
  #24  
Old 12-26-06, 01:33 PM
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Code requires all grounds in a box even if from different breakers to be tied together. If you have enough length on one ground wire they make a wire nut (green) with a hole in the top. The long wire goes through the hole in the top. With two switches in a box though you would still have to pigtale one wire out of the bottom of it or use a wire long enough to go between the two switches. IMHO the latter way makes it harder to get the wires in the box.
 
  #25  
Old 12-26-06, 06:00 PM
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Grounding

The box with the two switches had six ground wires (2 per switch, plus 2 to go to the lights) all just twisted together. I used an 'extension' ground wire which I twisted around the end of one single ground (that was itself still twisted with all the other grounds) and then I put it on the ground screw of one of the switches. How far from code is that configuration?

Thanks,

Catherine

PS - The house is about 12 years old.
 
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