Light switches won't work independently

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Old 02-18-17, 06:35 AM
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Light switches won't work independently

Hi. I'm new both to this forum and to making home repairs/improvements on my own.

I have an overhead light on a staircase with three different light switches. They used to work independently, meaning any switch could turn the light on or off. One day they stopped working this way. Now only the switch that turned the light on can turn it off. I don't know why or how this happened, but I'm interested in fixing it.

How should I proceed?

Thanks in advance.
 
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Old 02-18-17, 06:48 AM
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Welcome to the forums!

It sounds like one of the switches failed. Remove the switches from the wall not removing the wires and take pictures of how each switch is wired, noting what wires are on the common terminals and the groups of wires (travelers) .

Since you have 3 switches that control a single light (or group of lights) you should have two 3 way switches, and one 4 way switch. The 3 way switches will have 3 wires connected to them (not counting the ground if present) the four way will have 4 wires connected to it.

It might be easier to just replace them all rather then going through and troubleshooting each switch to find which one is bad. However, if you rather learn how to troubleshoot them, we can walk you through that too. You will need to have a multi meter to do it. A cheap analog one only runs about $12.

If any of the wiring is not matching to what you have at your house, post back and we figure out what you have. Just remember not to disconnect any wires until you have the pictures, and your are ready to make the repair.
 
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Old 02-18-17, 08:29 AM
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Thanks Tolyn.

The wiring is as you described.

So to replace the switches (probably enough of an achievement for me at this point), I just go to a Home Depot (or wherever) and buy two three-way and one four-way switch and then connect the wires to the new ones in the same configuration as the old ones, yes? (Photos have been taken!)
 
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Old 02-18-17, 08:38 AM
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then connect the wires to the new ones in the same configuration as the old ones, yes?
On 3-way switches common terminal wire must go to the common terminal. The position of the common on the new switch may be different from the position on the old switch. Put the wire from the common of the old switch to the common of the new switch regardless of the position. Common will be the odd colored screw usually dark gray.

The 4-way should be wired according tyo the diagram on the new switch.
 
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Old 02-18-17, 08:44 AM
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One reminder regarding the 3 way switches: it's possible that the "common" screw is not be in the same place as on your current switches. The common screw will be the one with a darker color, regardless of the location on the switch.
 
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Old 02-18-17, 09:16 AM
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When working with a three way switch..... the common is as previously described.

But.... sometimes no matter how careful you are you lose which one is common.
The other two wires are called the traveler wires and they will both go into the same cable. They will travel together. So if you lose the common.....you can locate the two travelers and the one remaining is the common.
 
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Old 02-18-17, 05:46 PM
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Thanks everyone. It was a bit of a comedy at times, but I got it done. And I know a little bit more about how my house works than I did this morning, so I'm grateful.

The information about the common v. the travelers was very helpful -- I initially put the wires in the same places that they were on the old switches (top to top and bottom to bottom), and then none of them worked. I came back here to ask what I might have done wrong and I saw the common posts. I went back, and, sure enough, the new switches had the common on top, while the old ones had it on the bottom.

So the switches work, I saved some money, my wife's proud of me, I learned something new, and I'm ready to take on a bigger project next time. Thanks again!
 
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Old 02-18-17, 05:57 PM
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Good job......... well done.
 
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Old 02-18-17, 06:02 PM
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Good job! And for the record 3-way switches have no top or bottom.
 
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Old 02-19-17, 06:03 AM
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Glad to help. Now you are going to have the bug and start fixing everything!
 
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Old 02-19-17, 01:59 PM
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Now you are going to have the bug and start fixing everything
Or worse his wife will.
 
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Old 02-19-17, 05:26 PM
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