3 way switch help

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  #1  
Old 02-24-07, 06:59 PM
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3 way switch help

I removed my 3 way switch while rewiring another switch and when I came back to reattach the switch I can't get the circuit to work.

I have 5 wires, 3 coming from what must be the other 3 way switch or light and 2 wires that should be going to the light (there are two lights and two switches).

What I can't get is that I'm showing 2 hot wires, black and white, then I have a red wire that's neutral. The 2 wires going to the light are both unpowered (white and black).

I looked at the other switch and I show black/white and another black on the transfer side with a red wire going someplace else.

I can't match up the wires. Since the bottom switch is missing the red wire I'm lost at to which wire should be on the relay side. I'm guessing one of the hot lines should be a relay?

Can anyone decode how this 3 way switch should work? Should I have a hot wire on both the relay and hot side of the switch with the red as a neutral tied into the white neutral going to the light?

Any help would be great. I'd hate to just try a few different configurations and start a fire
 
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  #2  
Old 02-24-07, 07:26 PM
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Were all the wires hooked to the switch when you took it out or were some of them tied together with a wire nut? What do you have at the lights?
 
  #3  
Old 02-24-07, 09:07 PM
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The upstairs lights only has 2 wires. I haven't taken the downstairs light out to check it's configuration.


From what I remember I had several (3 or 4) neutral (white) wires tied together. The red wire was wrapped around one of the switch poles as well as tied together with another wire (possibly white).

Because the red wire continued on and isn't hot I have to assume it's a neutral from the downstairs light.

The downstairs switch shows a black wire on the upper left pole, a white on the upper right pole and a black on the lower right pole. The lower right pole's wire (black) continues on into another switch so that must be the hot line.


A red wire enters the box (from where the white and black lines at the switch also enter) and is tied into a black wire that goes out of the box (I assume to the light).

One of the problems I just noticed is that the old switches aren't an exact match to my new ones (it looks like the old switches are upside-down).

What's got me confused is why my voltage checker shows both white and black lines as hot. I also don't know where the red wire comes from. The lower floor switch doesn't have a red line that exits the box.

Any ideas? I'll be checking voltage with my multimeter tomorrow to see what hot lines I have. I shouldn't have two right? I should have one hot, 2 neutral (probably the red and the white to the light) the relay (I guess one of the black wires) and the hot line going up into the light.
 
  #4  
Old 02-24-07, 10:35 PM
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Wow!

The old switch had three(3) wires on it. Correct?
You made no note of where each one landed. Correct?
If you are only changing the switch, why do you need to open the wireing at the light?
The switch worked before, correct? It will work again.

Put it back the way it was.

Why did you think that wires not connected to anything (IE switch)you were playing with would need to be touched?
enquireing minds need to know.
 
  #5  
Old 02-25-07, 05:21 AM
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You have two choices.

Guess. Eventually you will get it correct, assuming you at least remember the basics of how the wires were connected.

Tell us the wiring at the lights and at the switches. We can tell you the proper wiring if you tell us ALL the wiring.

I wil give you a hint. The red wire is NOT a neutral.

In the future, remember to take pictures or at least make detailed notes on how ALL the wires are connected whenever you remove something.
 
  #6  
Old 02-25-07, 07:33 AM
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Yeah, I'm feeling pretty dumb right now. The wiring was a mess when I started cutting old wiring (4 wires just to control the bathroom lights? Why!) and I lost track after removing the old box.


I just checked everything with my multimeter. The Red wire seems to really be neutral. This house is 50 years old and the wiring is original and not conforming to standards I'm used to dealing with.


The Red is neutral, the black and white are switching between 120V and 44V(?) with the other switch in relation to the red. The other two wires are dead and again, I'm assuming they're going to the light.


So I know how it's supposed to work but I'm wondering, am I seeing a fault with that 44V circuit? If I have to I'll replace the whole thing (I have to one day, nothing has a ground) but I didn't think I'd be doing it in the dead of winter and have to shut down my furnance (because for some reason a 30 amp breaker is controlling all my old lights, furnace, and 2 outlets).


Originally Posted by lectriclee View Post
Why did you think that wires not connected to anything (IE switch)you were playing with would need to be touched?
enquireing minds need to know.
They needed to be removed for the space. I was dealing with 4 wires running a bathroom light and these 5 wires dealing with this 3 way switch. I ran new wiring to the bathroom (with a ground) and replaced the box. When I was pulling the old box out of the wall those 5 wires I had tried to remember moved all over the place and I lost that configuration.

I've never had any issues before but this 3-way switch has be stumped. There's only one logical way to run a 2 way switch (even if half the old wiring was tied together in a giant mess) but 3 way switches seem to have a dozen different configurations!
 
  #7  
Old 02-25-07, 07:57 AM
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Tell us all the wires in the switch boxes and the light boxes. The red is NOT neutral. You are getting a false reading. Stop using your digital meter.
 
  #8  
Old 02-25-07, 10:58 AM
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Smile 3 way switch help

Try this link for a troubleshooting procedure, I used it a few years ago and it works.

http://www.wfu.edu/~matthews/misc/switches/confused4way.html
 
  #9  
Old 02-25-07, 12:19 PM
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Put away your digital meter. You do not know how to use it.

Tell us all the wiring at the switches and at the lights and we can sort it out. We could have been done by now.
 
  #10  
Old 02-25-07, 01:45 PM
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Originally Posted by racraft View Post
Put away your digital meter. You do not know how to use it.

Tell us all the wiring at the switches and at the lights and we can sort it out. We could have been done by now.


OK, both lights only have a black and white under the fixture.


So the bottom switch has a pair of upper white and black wires and a black on the lower right. The upstairs switch has 5 wires, a pair going to the light (white and black) and 3 coming from somewhere else (black, white and red).

I've tied the whites together and with the red and 2 blacks I get half of it working (the downstairs switch can turn on and off the light but the upstairs switch only works if the downstairs switch is 'on'). No combination of these three wires seems to be right so I assume I need to swap one with a white.


Jackpathome, that's a great trouble shooting page. I'll have to give it a shot later with a friend. Right now I'm working alone (and getting tired running 3 flights between my upstairs and the breaker ).

That's for the help guys!
 
  #11  
Old 02-25-07, 01:51 PM
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Tell us ALL the wiring. Whether connected to the lights or not. I want to know what cables or conduits are in place, and what color wires are in those cables or conduits.
 
  #12  
Old 02-25-07, 03:43 PM
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Your missing a red wire in the upper switch. Don't tell us upper left screw etc. Look for the common screw. It will be black or labelled common.
 
  #13  
Old 02-25-07, 03:46 PM
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Originally Posted by racraft View Post
Tell us ALL the wiring. Whether connected to the lights or not. I want to know what cables or conduits are in place, and what color wires are in those cables or conduits.

Well, I hope I'm not going to need those other cables because they're cut and taped up. Before I did that though I had 2 other cables running an old bathroom light with a plug in the base (both were black and whites only) that entered the upstairs switch box.


Downstairs I have two other switches (one running the outside light, the other one that probably turned on/off a plug but doesn't do anything now since I've rewired those plugs).

Going into that box I have 5 cables, 4 black and whites and 1 with a black, white and red wire.

It's a little crowded but I can see the white and black wire going to the 3 way switch has it's red wire tied to a black one (with it's white tied with the other 3).

The black wire going to the 3 way switch doesn't stop at the switch but goes on to the switch for the outdoor light.


Any ideas?
 
  #14  
Old 02-25-07, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by joed View Post
Your missing a red wire in the upper switch. Don't tell us upper left screw etc. Look for the common screw. It will be black or labelled common.

So I should have 2 red wires on the upper switch? I know for certain I didn't remove one so I never had 2 red wires upstairs.
 
  #15  
Old 02-25-07, 03:56 PM
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Originally Posted by badmana View Post
So I should have 2 red wires on the upper switch? I know for certain I didn't remove one so I never had 2 red wires upstairs.

I missed typed. The lower switch with no red in your original description needs a red wire.
I don't know how this could have ever worked before with those extra cable in the upper box.


I think you need to do this.
At the lower switch.
Take the red and black wire and detach them.
Connect the black wire to the common screw of you three way switch.
Attach the red and black from the same cable to the traveler screwes.
Leave the white connected to the other whites.

At the upper switch

Connect the white to the white.
Connect the black from the light cable to the common screw of the three way.
Connect the red and black to the traveler screws.
 
  #16  
Old 02-25-07, 06:44 PM
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Originally Posted by joed View Post
I missed typed. The lower switch with no red in your original description needs a red wire.
I don't know how this could have ever worked before with those extra cable in the upper box.


I think you need to do this.
At the lower switch.
Take the red and black wire and detach them.
Connect the black wire to the common screw of you three way switch.
Attach the red and black from the same cable to the traveler screwes.
Leave the white connected to the other whites.

At the upper switch

Connect the white to the white.
Connect the black from the light cable to the common screw of the three way.
Connect the red and black to the traveler screws.
I will give this a shot. I think the best way is to figure out if the red wire is the relay so I'll get someone to help me test it. I have no idea why this isn't wired in a standard way (I've scoured the internet looking for a similar set up).

I'm usually not that bad with wiring but this has got me really stumped! I'm close to just rewiring the whole thing but I'm sure I'm close to getting cancer from rolling around the insulation in my attic

Too bad they don't make a 'no wire' way of setting up a 3 way switch.
 
  #17  
Old 02-26-07, 06:24 AM
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OK, I thought this over in bed last night and I worked it out.

First, I need to apologize. There was one piece of info I missed the importance of and it was completely vital. The upstairs red wire has a gap in the insulation and was tied with another wire (must have been black). I had taped it up and thought nothing of it.

Now it makes sense. The red wire downstairs went to the downstairs’ light black wire. Red is the common wire upstairs and it was tied to the black wire in the upstairs light. Black and white were the relay wires.

And the reason why it doesn't work is that I cut the upstairs wiring so I'm now missing a neutral for the upstairs light (but the other light will work).

So 3 questions: Can I run a neutral from another light? Is an 'unbalanced' (my wording) hot/neutral system a problem?

I could start rewiring half of it and run power to the upstairs light and work down from there. If I do that will the cable with the 3 wires in it be safe to use? It has no ground but does this cable need one? Both the lights will get a ground and I assume those are where the danger of a fault lies. Could the 3 way switches 'fail' and need a ground?

And last: I have a junction box upstairs running power to all my lights (5 right now). It's getting pretty hard to add new wires because the wire tie is getting too big for my caps. Do they make a 'mini-bus' for something like this? Can I just keep adding more and more wires (making sure I'm safely under max load)? Or is there a trick I could use to share the power? At this point I might need to split the wire then run 3 wires on one and 2 on the other but I don't know if that's safe.


Thanks everyone for your help!
 
  #18  
Old 02-26-07, 10:28 AM
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I don't see how this three way could ever have worked before, unless they tapped a neutral or hot wrie upstairs some how. I can se how power and neutral would have went up the red and white, but I don't see where the two traveler wires came back. You only had a black left and you need two wires for travelers.

With the only devices now being two three ways and a light the orginal instruction I gave you should work. Better check the light fixture this controls and make sure there is no other power source in the fixture.
 
  #19  
Old 02-26-07, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by joed View Post
I don't see how this three way could ever have worked before, unless they tapped a neutral or hot wrie upstairs some how. I can se how power and neutral would have went up the red and white, but I don't see where the two traveler wires came back. You only had a black left and you need two wires for travelers.

With the only devices now being two three ways and a light the orginal instruction I gave you should work. Better check the light fixture this controls and make sure there is no other power source in the fixture.
You got it actually, they did tap a neutral upstairs with another line. Probably the line that used to power the bathroom light.

So the white wire and black where both traveler wires. The red was hot and the light's white wire should have been tied into a neutral from another set of wires but that's all removed. I can't tap into the bathroom's neutral because I'm running power to the fixture first.

I can get only the bottom light to work since the upper light now doesn't have a neutral.

I'm thinking of rewiring it so I take power from upstairs instead of downstairs (from the original wiring). If I do that though I still need a 3 wire cable which I can't easily add (the routing is a pain). If I put power at the upstairs light and work down I can get it working but I'm worried about whether or not the old 3 wire cable is good enough to keep using safely and whether or not I'm breaking some major safety codes by having 6 wires feeding off one (load is ok but I can just cap it with 5, I doubt I could with 6 unless I get a bigger cap).
 
  #20  
Old 02-26-07, 03:27 PM
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If there is no other power source at the fixture my orginal post will make the three way work for you. The three white tied together in the loewr box are neutrals. We can send that nsutral up the three wire cable and use the bllack and red as travelers(switched power).

You are making this setup .
http://www.selfhelpandmore.com/switchoutlet/3way/3wayboth.htm
 
  #21  
Old 02-26-07, 05:14 PM
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Originally Posted by joed View Post
If there is no other power source at the fixture my orginal post will make the three way work for you. The three white tied together in the loewr box are neutrals. We can send that nsutral up the three wire cable and use the bllack and red as travelers(switched power).

You are making this setup .
http://www.selfhelpandmore.com/switchoutlet/3way/3wayboth.htm

That's perfect. That'll let me keep everything the same until I completely replace the line. Thanks!
 
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