california 3-way switch


Old 08-24-07, 08:40 PM
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california 3-way switch

Does anyone out there know what a "California 3-way switch" is or can you explain the configuration to me in a way that makes enough sense that I can figure out what to do to add a third switch to the pair (adding the 4-way switch)
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Old 08-24-07, 08:54 PM
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from what I understand, a "california 3 way" is the same as a "chicago 3 way" and probably a dozen other "3 way" names.

It works by switching the neutral and is illegal since it does switch the neutral. I don;t know if a 4 way could be added in the mix but even if I did, I would not tell you since it would only be furthering the illegal structure. Hopefully others will follow suit.


If you want to do it correctly, I'm sure everybody would be glad to help.
Old 08-24-07, 09:08 PM
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The electrician told me that the switches basically control 3 hots and the neutral is at the load.
All I know for sure, is that the three-way was not wired per the scematics that I've studied in a couple of electrical books. I definately want it done right, but I spent a couple of days trying to figure out the jumbled mess in a junction box between the switch and the light.
If I were to start from scratch, removing all of the switch wires, and the wires at the light, maybe I could wire it the way the books show it.
Old 08-25-07, 04:43 AM
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I agree with you and nap in that correcting the wiring is the best solution. I am concerned that a licensed electrician would suggest switching neutrals. At first reading of your title, I just thought it was a "low emission" switch, since it was from California.
Old 08-25-07, 06:14 AM
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Old Style Switching

The "California" way of 3-way switching reminded me of an old "Electric Wiring" book by Albert A. Schuler first published in 1924. I have the 1936 revision. The book describes all sorts of 3- and 4-way control. Some of these are indicated as "no longer permissible except possibly in places where the Code has no legal standing." As well, throughout its pages there is no reference to the "Hot"/Neutral sides of a 110V feed.
Old 08-25-07, 09:28 AM
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The electrician told me that the switches basically control 3 hots and the neutral is at the load.

If this is true then we can help.
You will need a 2 wire tester, preferably a solonoid type (wiggies or the like)

1st- Remove all small children from the area.
Then carefully open all associated switches and light fixtures, do not disconnect any wires.

You will need a good ground, then check the colored wires/ wires on the switch to ground only. Do this at both switches in all positions.

This should confirm if the neutral is switched or the hots. If you get no readings to the ground, then the neutral is switched and thats bad. For many reasons,and must be corected.

On the east coast: we see shody wireing, and call that a Calfornia job.......
"You can't see it from California"

Then we shake our heads in disbelief and try to get permision to correct it.
Old 08-25-07, 01:04 PM
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What make you think you have a California three way? If you can run a new three wire cable from either of the existing three way switches then you can make this(presuming you have an existing working three way setup).
Replace the existing three way with a four way. Remove the common wire from the three way. Connect it to the matching color of the new cable. Connect the two traveler wire to one set of screws on the four way. The remaining two new wires to the other set of screws. At the new location connect the same colour wire to the common as was there before and connect the two traveler wires. It does not matter which three way layout you have. this will work every time with an existing working three way setup.
Old 08-25-07, 07:36 PM
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A proper "California" 3-way has one traveler connected to the power source, and the other to the load, and the common on each switch connected together. When one switch connects to the power traveler and the other to the load traveler, the load is powered.

To add a 4-way switch, the practice is no different than with standard 3-way.
Run an appropriate sized 3 wire +G cable from one switch to the new switch location, connect the old common to the same colored wire in the new cable, and the new 4-way swith to the old travelers and the travelers in the new cable. Then connect the 3 way up at the new location, with swa smae common wire as connected in the other box, and the travellwer.

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