4 way switch help

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Old 02-05-10, 04:02 PM
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Angry 4 way switch help

The previous owners of our house had three 3-way switches in our entry way. So they don't toggle properly. In order for the light to turn on one of the switches always has to be in the on position. Upon removing the plates and looking at the wires, here is what I found.

First 3-way switch (located at the bottom of our stairs)
Has only 1 cable coming to it, which contains a black, white, red and grounding wire. The red wire attaches to a copper screw, the black wire to the other copper screw and the white wire attaches to the black screw. (Seems to me like this is problem #1 all the diagrams that I find say that the 3-way switches need to have one with the light source wires coming to it and one with the feed from the panel box or electrical source. That does not exist, so therefore I'm thinking we are short one wire and if so, I have no idea where to go from here.)

Continuing to the next box. This one is located at the middle point of our stairs (we have a raised ranch). This is the one that currently needs to be in the on position in order for the other two lights to toggle the light off/on. This box has 2 cables coming in. The first (referred to as wire #1) has a black, white, red, and ground wire. The second (referred to as wire #2) has a black, white, and ground wire. The whites are wire nutted together and the grounds are twisted and go to the grounding screw (well they do now, before they were just wire nutted together). Then, from wire #1 the black wire goes to the black (common) screw and the red from that wire goes to a copper screw. Then the black from wire #2 goes to a copper screw.

Finally, at the top of our stairs you have another switch. This one originally had a black wire going to the grounding screw as they had a 3-way switch here. We replaced the 3-way switch with a 4-way switch hoping that would fix all our problems. There are two cables coming into this box, both have a black, red, white and grounding wire. As the box said we wire nutted the whites together and have the grounding wires going to the grounding screws. Then, a black and red wire from one of the cables are going to the black screws and the black and red wires from the other cables are going to the copper screws.

We were hoping that replacing the 3-way switch with a 4-way would fix the problem, but we still have to have the 3-way switch located in the middle of the stairs in the on position in order for the other two switches to toggle the light on and off.
Can anyone shed some light on what our problem is and how to fix it? It's really annoying when one of us leaves thru the front door and turns the light off there because then the next person either coming in through the garage or who is upstairs has to go either up or down the half flight of stairs to switch that back on in order for the light to be controlled again.
 
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Old 02-05-10, 05:38 PM
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I suspect the 2-conductor cable at switch 2 is the power in. This can be determined by measuring with a meter. It would be helpful to know the cables and wires at the light.

For clarity refer to cables as cables not wires and the individual conductors as wires. No need to mention grounds unless they seem to be used for some purpose other then ground.
 
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Old 02-05-10, 06:46 PM
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The two-wire cable in the middle box is a switch loop from the lamp fixture. White should be the "hot" lead (and also should have some black or red tape or black or red marker re-identifying it). If you connect these two wires the lamp should light.

At the top of the stairs one of the cables goes to the bottom of the stairs and the other goes to the middle of the stairs. (I'll return to this box later.)

At the bottom switch the wires should be connected this way: White to the black screw, red to either of the brass screws and black to the remaining screw. Push all the wires back into the box, fasten the switch in place and put the cover plate on this switch.

Next you have to determine which of the two cables in the top box is the one from the bottom box. To do this you will need to have the two whites in the center box wire-nutted and temporarily wire-nut the black from the two-wire cable to the black from the three-wire cable.

At the top box temporarily wire-nut the white from one of the three-wire cables to the black in the same cable. Restore power and the lamp should light. If it does not light then turn off the power and remove the temporary connection. Take the white from the other cable and temporarily wire-nut it to the black in the same cable and test again. If the lamp now lights the cable with the temporary connection is the cable to the center box.

Turn off the power. Connect the white wire from the center box cable to the white wire going to the bottom box cable with a wire-nut. Both of these white wires need to be re-identified with tape or marker. Push these wires to the back of the box.

Going back to the center box connect the black from the two-wire cable to the black screw on the three terminal (3-way) switch. Connect the black and red wires from the three-wire cable to to the remaining two (brass) screws on the switch and carefully stuff all this back into the box, fasten the switch in place and replace the cover plate.

At the top box there will now be four individual wires, a black and a red from each cable. Connect the wires (black and red) from one cable to the screws on one end of the four-terminal (4-way) switch and the two wires from the other cable to the two screws on the other end of the switch.

Making sure none of the switch terminals touch a ground wire or the metal box turn the power back on and test all three switches for proper operation. Remember that 3 and 4 way switches do not have a designated on or off position and the position (up or down) of the toggle will not denote whether or not the lamp is on, in fact with different combinations of the three switches the "up" position of any switch could be either off or on.

If the switches do NOT operate properly then turn off the power and remove one ire from each cable and re-connect so that each cable has its wires going to the same side of the switch. Test again, one of these configurations will be correct and it depends upon the internal construction of the 4-way switch. Once you have verified proper operation turn off the power and carefully stuff all the wires and switch into the box and finish up.

(I purposely left out the equipment ground connections of the bare or green wires. These need to be made up so that all of them in any box are wire-nutted together with a pigtail to the switch if it has a green grounding screw. If the boxes are metal then there must also be pigtail from the grounding connection to the metal box.)
 
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