3 Way switches & too many wires


Old 01-28-01, 07:59 AM
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I'm replacing all the old, brown switches & outlets in my house with new white ones. No problems till yesterday when I replaced two sets of 3 way switches (for two seperate lights). I also replaced two switches & and outlet in the same junction box. That junction box has 5 sets of wires coming into it. ALL FIVE of the white wires were jammed onto the outlet, along with one red, one black, one ground, and two black jumpers from the switches. The switches each have one direct black wire each. The other two black wires in the box are taped off. This doesn't seem right & it makes the seperate 3 ways in the other room not work. I'm confused - any insight?
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Old 01-28-01, 10:00 AM
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The outlet is being used to splice all the neutrals together. A wire nut would be better, but it sounds like the box may be pretty crowded already.

The outlet is also being used to spice the hot wires. Why there is a red wire connected here is a mystery -- and probably responsible for why the other 3-ways are not working.

The "taped off" wires are a bit of a puzzle. Perhaps there used to be another switch where the outlet is now, and somebody decided an outlet was more important.

Clearly, this wiring was reconfigured at some point in the past. You need to do some electrical investigation with a multimeter. First, before you disconnect anything, tag all the wires so you'll know where they were. Then disconnect all the wires, turn the power back on, and find out which wires are hot (with the other 3-way switches in both different positions). This should tell you quite a bit. Then you can selectively connect the non-hot black and red wires to a unswitched hot to see what fixture or light comes on. This should tell you more.

Be very careful if you attach power to the taped-off wires. These are probably, but not certainly, also disconnected at the other end, whereever that might be. With an ohmmeter and by opening up other boxes in the area, you may be able to find the other ends of these wires. Could be, e.g., they go to a fan or heater or light that is no longer being used.

I assume you understand how 3-way switches work, so now you can determine which wires are the travellers, and which switch power comes to first. Perform tests on the other 3-way switches too.

Now you know everything. Figure out how you want it to work and reconnect. Good luck.

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