Eliminate one three-way switch

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  #1  
Old 01-17-15, 06:10 PM
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Eliminate one three-way switch

Hello,

The original configuration in my house was a 3-way (possibly 4-way, but I never found a third) switch in the garage and another switch in the kitchen. I eliminated the switch in the kitchen, so I now just use the switch in the garage.
I want to reverse the setup so I only use the switch in the house.

The wiring is a fat black jacketed cable with four wires;Black, Red, White (slightly yellow), and another white.
The original switch in the house was wired like this:
Name:  Mystery-Switch.jpg
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I joined the Red and Black together with a cap and kept the two whites capped but not connected. Put those back in the box and was able to use the garage switch as the only switch.

Things didn't go so well when I tried to put the switch in the house and eliminate the garage switch.

The garage switch has a red wire and a white wire (can't tell if it's the slightly yellow one) going into either side of the switch. It also has a black wire connected to the ground which is pigtailed with wire going into another switch that shares the same box. The other white wire is connected to a gaggle of white wires in the back of the shared box.

The sketch below shows the garage switch on the left. The four wires I have to work with in the house are on the right.
Name:  Walkay-Wiring.jpg
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I think that the slightly yellow white wire in the house is the line neutral (I used a circuit tester with one probe on that wire and the other on the hot side of a switch on a different circuit and it lit the tester).

I tried joining the Red and White wires that go into the garage switch, but that did not give me a hot to work with in the house.

I re-connected the garage switch and did some experiments. With the switch in the up position (upper portion of the sketch) the Red and Yellowish White wires create a circuit. With the switch in the down position (lower portion of sketch) the Black and White wires create a circuit.

Based on that, can you tell me what I need to do to eliminate the garage switch and just use a switch in the house?
Please let me know if there is any other information that could be helpful.

Thanks in advance.
 

Last edited by SturdyNail; 01-17-15 at 07:02 PM.
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  #2  
Old 01-17-15, 07:30 PM
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You don't need to eliminate the garage switch. Just use the one in the house.

There should be another cable in the box. Cables typically do not have two whites.
 
  #3  
Old 01-18-15, 07:16 AM
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new photo shows wires within cable

@pcboss re:
Cables typically do not have two whites.
My wiring is not typical. As you can see in the photo below, the cable does have two whites. There are lots of not-so-typical things about this house we bought around 24 years ago
Name:  Walkway-Switch-Uses-4-Wires.jpg
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  #4  
Old 01-18-15, 07:47 AM
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Thanks for the pic. You just showed me something I have never seen.

The wires connecting to the indicator light are a hot and a neutral. They would need to be capped individually. The wire on the common would be spliced to one of the travelers. The other traveler would just get capped.
 
  #5  
Old 01-18-15, 12:43 PM
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It looks like older 12-4 NM cable.
 
  #6  
Old 01-18-15, 01:25 PM
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It's hard to tell from the pic but it looks like the insulation on the white wire to the left has been cut:
Name:  Walkway-Switch-Uses-4-Wires2.jpg
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  #7  
Old 01-18-15, 02:46 PM
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If the insulation has been cut, i would suspect the bare ground is being improperly used as a neutral.
 
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Old 01-18-15, 07:44 PM
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That's what I see too. This is super hinky.
 
  #9  
Old 01-18-15, 08:42 PM
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Without being there it's impossible to tell exactly what kind of cable it is. The cable sheath needs to be examined for the markings positively identifying the cable. The alternative is opening the main panel and examining the conductors from the cable inside the panel. Does the cable have 4 insulated conductors or does it have 3 insulated conductors and a bare ground?
 
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Old 01-18-15, 09:48 PM
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Alternately the power can be cut and see if the white slides off the conductor.
 
  #11  
Old 01-19-15, 10:38 AM
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Thanks for your input/observations @pcboss, @CasualJoe, @Brian Kramer, @g92k2

Too bad I didn't post this question a couple of months ago. I had the wall opened up behind that box and could have easily seen any markings on the cable. I'm pretty sure more of that cable is exposed in the rafters of my garage, so I'll see what I can see in the next couple of days. Also, I'll try cutting the power and see if I can slide the insulation off that white wire that appears to have a cut near where the sheathing was stripped off. The weekend is over, so I'm back at work, which means I only have the evenings to do these things. It may be difficult to find a good time to cut the power, since that switch is on the same circuit as our kitchen lights
 
  #12  
Old 01-19-15, 07:58 PM
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Identified the cable

As I mentioned in my previous reply, there is more of this type of cable in the garage. That cable is exposed (just stapled to the trusses).
The marking is:
Type NM PHELPS DODGE S PD X 14/3 W/G 600V UL

It does seem that one of those white insulating shields is actually covering the ground wire. I wasn't able to kill the power tonight to try to remove it, but it sure seems like a safe bet that it's the ground wire. As further evidence, I opened up another box that has the same type of cable running to it. In that box, the forth wire is green and is connected to the ground screw.
 
  #13  
Old 01-20-15, 08:43 AM
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The marking is:
Type NM PHELPS DODGE S PD X 14/3 W/G 600V UL
That marking would indicate there should be one Blk, one Red, one Wht and one bare ground in that cable.

As further evidence, I opened up another box that has the same type of cable running to it. In that box, the forth wire is green and is connected to the ground screw.
As far as I know, there has never been a NM cable manufactured with a green ground wire. If there has been, I have never seen it.
 
  #14  
Old 01-20-15, 09:27 AM
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SturdyNail,

I read this post, it's rather complicated. You never stated why you want to remove the switch in the garage. Sounds like this is a 2-gang box in garage and you only want to eliminate the one switch and keep the other.
Do you just want to abandon the 3-way switch? Or are you trying to add an outlet in it's place?

This should be pretty simple to identify the following:
Which cable goes to light.
Which cable is source power.

And a note for the electricians: The yellow cable in posts 3 & 6 doesn't look original to me. It could be, but I think it looks newer and was added at some point. Not sure yet what that would mean.
 
  #15  
Old 01-20-15, 10:44 AM
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@Handyone. re: Why? Having the switch in the garage never made sense to us. Maybe it did to the original owner, but the two switches are about 7 steps apart. The switch controls lights over the walkway in back of the house. I added lights over the patio, which is also in back of the house and adjoins the walkway. We often have the walkway lights on, but rarely have the patio lights on. I'm putting a dual rocker switch in the single gang box that previously held one of the 3-way switches. I want both of the switches in that dual rocker to be the same (i.e., single pole).

@CasualJoe. The green coating appears to be an after-market coating. I took a picture of it last night, but it was too blurry to be helpful (the auto-focus couldn't decide what to focus on).
 
  #16  
Old 01-20-15, 01:42 PM
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I added lights over the patio
Where did you tap off power for these added lights and where are the lights switched?

Is your goal to switch patio lights and walkway lights from inside kitchen using two separate/stacked switches?
 
  #17  
Old 01-20-15, 03:33 PM
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@Handyone
Where did you tap off power for these added lights and where are the lights switched?
The patio lights are tapped from a different circuit (20 AMP in this case) than the walkway lights. Currently, the patio lights are switched from a single pole switch in the house that occupies the former home of the walkway's 2nd 3-way switch. The walkway's 2nd 3-way is currently bypassed within that same box.

Is your goal to switch patio lights and walkway lights from inside kitchen using two separate/stacked switches?
Yes.
 
  #18  
Old 01-20-15, 04:04 PM
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OK. This is slow but we need to know everything.

2 Questions:

1. The yellow cable in kitchen, it looks like you ran power to the patio light first, then ran the switch leg down to kitchen. So this yellow cable is a switch leg and is working. Correct.

2. We need to see pictures of garage 2-gang box. Do not disconnect anything, or if you already have, still post the pictures. Also say what right-hand (or other switch) in box does.
 
  #19  
Old 01-20-15, 08:38 PM
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Yes. The yellow cable is a switch leg for the patio lights. For that work, I had a permit and electrical inspection.

I just took a quick picture of the switches in the 2-gang box in the garage. They are both 3-way. The switch on the left is the one I'm going to bypass. The switch on the right controls the lights in the garage. It probably would have been more helpful if I killed the power and pulled the switches out a bit, but it's getting late on the East coast and tomorrow's another working day.
Name:  Garage-switches.jpg
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  #20  
Old 01-20-15, 09:11 PM
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Yes, it can wait. This will take some doing.
 
  #21  
Old 01-24-15, 09:56 PM
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pictures of existing switch wiring

Everyone was out of the house today, except me, so I took advantage of the time to kill the power and open up the switch boxes.

The first picture is of the same switch I showed in my initial post. It is in the house. As suspected, the yellowish-white insulation does slide off of one of the wires (likely the ground).

For the switches in the 2-gang box in the garage, I took several pictures, because, even being there in person, it's hard to mentally untangle that rats' nest.

Pics 2&3 show the wires going into the switches.
Pic 4 is closer to the inside of the box. I stuck a screwdriver in there--between the black jacketed cable coming in from the top and the white jacketed cable going out from the bottom. Again, it appears as though there are two whites within the black jacket, but I was not able to pull the insulation back on either of them. I couldn't see a cut in the insulation either, but everything is packed in their so tightly, it's difficult to see what's going on near where the cable's jacket had been stripped off.
Pic 5 is a closeup of the wires in the box.

I hope these pictures help explain what I'm working with.

Thanks.
 
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  #22  
Old 01-25-15, 09:09 AM
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Yes, you have quite a mess there.

The bare wire in kitchen, treat that as a live wire until further notice.
In the picture below, we need to know where the black wire goes. Can't tell by looking, I drew a yellow line on it.
So confirm that it is attached to the marked terminal of 3-way, and confirm where it goes.
My guess, and my hope is, it goes directly to a 2 conductor cable exiting the box, no wire nuts in between. I think it goes straight to light fixture.

Name:  Garage-2-Gang-Box-1.jpg
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  #23  
Old 01-25-15, 09:19 AM
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If it were me I think I would suggest removing the hack up wiring on the pilot light and just leave the wiring with the two switches. Just don't use the one . even if the switch was removed the junction box would still need to remain.
 
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Old 01-25-15, 09:25 AM
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PC's advice would be much easier. This is a tangled mess. There is no reason to remove garage 3-way, except ground may have been used as neutral.

On top of PC's advice, I would recommend putting a double gang old work box in kitchen.
It's going to be easier for you to wire two separate switches than a stacked switch.
 
  #25  
Old 01-25-15, 11:00 AM
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Thanks @Handyone and @pcboss.
Regarding where the black wire from the switch goes, it is wire-nutted to other black wires (one of those black gaggles with a yellow nut, it has two other blacks twisted with it).
I'll have to wait for a good time to kill the juice and open up that box again in order to hunt down where it goes (I made a weak effort to do that once before, but I became dizzy from all the twisty turns
 
  #26  
Old 01-25-15, 08:33 PM
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I opened up the box again and moved wires around to get a better view of the black wires. I took another picture and, before I snapped it, I stuck a little shim in between the white cable coming in from the bottom and the black cable going out of the top. That helped visually separate them.
I traced the black wires that @Handyone is curious about. The black wire coming out from the bottom white cable appears to be coming from the panel (I turned the power back on for a few minutes while I had it opened up and used a circuit tester). That black wire is capped with two other black wires; each one going to a switch.
Name:  Garage-2-Gang-Highlight-Black.jpg
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While I was in there, I traced all of the wires and then created the sketch you see here:
Name:  Garage-2-Gang-Wiring-Sketch.jpg
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I hope that helps clarify what I have to work with.

@pcboss, I understand your preference to leave the switch as is, but we really prefer having a switch in the house (especially now that it's so darned cold out) and I don't want anyone accidentally turning off the lights from the garage.
 
  #27  
Old 01-25-15, 08:44 PM
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Good drawing but you didn't mark the commons or power in. Which switch is house and which garage.

Tip: Do not include grounds. They are assumed and it clutters the picture. If bare wires are used for anything but ground then they need to be disconnected. I think that was mentioned earlier. It may be possible to use wires from the 3-way that won't be needed.
 
  #28  
Old 01-25-15, 08:53 PM
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There are simple toggle covers that will shield the switch from usage. They screw to the cover using the cover screws.
 
  #29  
Old 01-25-15, 10:14 PM
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Examples of what PCBoss is referring to.

Name:  switch-guard.jpg
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Name:  installscrews.jpg
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e-Lock, switch, Guard,original guard,special needs product
 
  #30  
Old 03-21-15, 06:58 AM
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Wrapup

Hello,

Since so many people took the time to share their knowledge and suggestions, I thought I'd let you know what I ended up doing.

I took the advice to keep, rather than eliminate, the three-way in my garage. That actually came in handy one evening. As I had stated, the indoor switch is only a few steps from the garage switch. It was getting dark and I still had some work to do on the back of the house. I needed more light. My boots were muddy so I didn't want to track my mess into the kitchen, so it was good to have that switch in the garage.

For those of you who contributed or read this topic, you know that there was some "creative" use of wiring by whomever did the original wiring. The ground wire had been used as a neutral line for the old switch's pilot light. Gotta give the original wiring installer some credit though. He/She was pretty resourceful and patient when she/he slid an insulating jacket over the ground wire--making it look like it was supposed to be a conductor.
Anyway, I returned the ground wire to its intended purpose in life. Originally, there was just one three way in my kitchen. I was able to fit a dual 3-way rocker switch into the original single gang box. Home depot carried dual, single pole, rockers, but not three-way. I had to order the Leviton dual three way from Amazon. That worked out well though, because I ended up with a commercial grade, 20 Amp, set of switches. I felt better about using the 20 Amp switch since the new lights that are being controlled (the whole reason I needed an additional switch) are on a 20 Amp leg. I have read that it's OK to use 15 Amp switches on a 20 Amp leg, as long as the lights don't draw more than 15 Amps. Still, the 20 Amp switches seem safer.
One of the dual switches--the one used for the new lights--is just used as a single pole switch. No need for 3-way.

I'm including a trio of images of the new switch. The wiring image on the upper right was heavily (and grossly) retouched to make it easier to see the wires. The un-retouched image had so many sharp shadows, it looked like there were six extra black wires. Rather than open up the box and pull all the wires out again, just to take another photo, it seemed easier to retouch the photo.

Name:  Switch-Assembly.jpg
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Thanks pcboss, CasualJoe, PMg92k2, Brian Kramer, Handyone, and ray2047.

Hey! it's the weekend. Gotta go. There's work to be done!
 
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