Circuits crossing out of the blue

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Old 04-24-18, 06:58 AM
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Question Circuits crossing out of the blue

Good morning! I wasn't sure if this thread was best posted here or in lighting but it seems to be more of a wiring issue to me so I thought I'd try here first. This one has really got me stumped, as well as my dad who is not stumped easily.

So, some background: In my house I have two separate circuits that control the lights in two rooms--one circuit is for the pendant light hanging in my foyer and the other one controls the can lights in my kitchen. (BTW I have a standard 150A circuit breaker that is a subpanel since I live in a townhouse and our main breakers are outside; these are both 15A circuits.) The foyer light is on a three-pole switch and the kitchen lights are on a four-pole, and the only thing they have in common is that one switch for each circuit is located in the same two-gang box on a wall located between the two areas. I have not touched the switches in at least a year, and no electrical work has been done in my house in months.

This morning, completely out of nowhere, both sets of lights have started to be controlled by all of the switches for both circuits. In other words, my foyer light can be turned on and off with any of the three kitchen switches, while my kitchen lights are now also being controlled by the two foyer switches. When any one of the five switches is used, both the foyer pendant light and the can lights in the kitchen will go on together and off together. I tried flipping the breakers for both circuits off and on and there was no change. Then I turned off just the foyer breaker. The kitchen lights turned on and off with the kitchen switches and the foyer light did not turn on. The kitchen lights did not turn on with the foyer switch. Then I turned the foyer breaker on and turned off the kitchen breaker. The foyer light went on and off with the foyer switches, and the kitchen lights did not. The foyer light did not work with the kitchen switch. Finally I turned both breakers on, and the problem resumed, with all lights working from all switches.

The next thing I plan to do is to turn the breakers back off and take the switch plates off to see if anything looks weird but honestly I can't even guess right now what sort of thing could be causing this. I even googled this this morning to seek some advice but nothing even remotely close to what's happening came up. I'm hoping someone here may have some suggestions for what could cause something like this to happen out of the blue. I can think of a few things that *could* do it if I'd been messing around with wiring lately--I've actually been planning on changing out one of the kitchen switches in a different hallway for cosmetic reasons but I haven't done anything as of yet. Short of changing out the faceplate for the gang box a few years ago, I've never had to do anything to these particular switches.

Thanks in advance for any help you may be able to offer!
Amy
 
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Old 04-24-18, 07:49 AM
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Very confusing. I suspect you have only one circuit with all the lights on the same breaker. One breaker one circuit.

The foyer light is on a three-pole switch and the kitchen lights are on a four-pole, and the only
I believe you mean a 3-way switch which is single pole and a 4-way switch which is 2-pole..

If you don't own the condo you need to call the landlord. If you do first question is has any work been done like changing out a switch.
 
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Old 04-24-18, 08:39 AM
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I will admit to being stumped.is this really on multiple breakers or just portions of a single circuit ?
 
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Old 04-24-18, 05:38 PM
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If these are confirmed on two breakers...... are they one above the other ?
If yes and you feel confident opening the panel cover.... see if one wire is red on one breaker and black on the other one.

It may be a multiwire branch circuit with an open neutral. A longshot but it's the only thing that makes sense.
 
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Old 04-24-18, 06:40 PM
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If this an older house it is possible that the insulation has failed on some of the the wires and they are crossing between the two. This happens when the light fixtures are lamped with bulbs a higher wattage then the fixture is rated. This can only happen if the breakers are on the same phase or they would cause a phase to phase short. (big bang!) Breakers that are across from each other or every other down would be on the same phase.

(To others reading: I know they are not the same "phase" in a single phase system, it is just an easy way to describe it. )
 
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Old 04-25-18, 04:47 AM
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Thanks to everyone who responded to my dilemma.

Ray2047: You are correct--I did mean 3-way and 4-way...I was writing quickly and misspoke. However it is not one breaker, it is two. I do own my condo, and no one would have touched the switches except for myself.

PJMax: You may be closest to the mark. The breakers are one on top of the other, and I do feel comfortable opening it up to check so that's probably what I'll try next. I added a GFCI breaker to my box last year for a new garage circuit so I have some experience working in the panel. The shared neutral thought is interesting, because I've noticed some odd wiring in other boxes between switches, where the builders wired the neutral to the ground. I'd never heard of that before, but then again I haven't seen much wiring outside of my own home.

Tolyn Ironhand: First of all, great username, lol. Very Game of Thrones. My condo was built in 2004, so not that old. Also, the breakers are not every-other or across from each other; they are right on top of each other. The fixtures all have appropriately-watted bulbs, though I can't speak for what previous owners may have done. We've owned the condo for over 5 years though, and we've not had any problems with these lights until yesterday.

Well, thanks again for all of your input. I will check out the breakers today. If it is a case where the breakers are wired together, is there a solution to this short of rewiring them? I have a bad feeling this may be the tip of the iceberg if that's the case, because the circuit that has the foyer light on it also has a series of can lights on it from our living room that haven't worked in years and an outlet that only has one working plug. I'm less than thrilled with the wiring that was done when this place was built.

Amy
 
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Old 04-25-18, 04:51 AM
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Pictures of what you have in breaker box and outlets may help us help you.
 
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Old 04-25-18, 05:07 AM
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Thanks, I will do that when I've opened up the box.

I was thinking, if PJMax is correct and the two breakers are actually a multiwire branch circuit, would they all go off when one breaker was shut off? As it is now, when one breaker is shut off at the panel, only the correct circuit goes off and the other one stays on. If they were wired together would that happen?
 

Last edited by amylesniak23; 04-25-18 at 06:22 AM. Reason: Had another thought
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Old 04-25-18, 05:55 AM
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where the builders wired the neutral to the ground. I'd never heard of that before,
That is a bootleg ground. It can be very dangerous and should be immediately disconnected. It can cause electric current to be present on the metal cases of appliances.

It could also be they used a ground for a neutral. Describe the wiring on the 3-way and 4-way switches. I suspect they used 2-conductor cables instead of the required 3-conductor cable.

How to insert images: https://www.doityourself.com/forum/e...-pictures.html
 
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Old 04-25-18, 06:36 AM
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The issue of the bootleg ground d is very concerning and needs to be fixed for your safety . Typically an uninformed person does that to replace a lost neutral and does not know the dangers.
 
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Old 05-01-18, 08:35 AM
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Update...

Hi everyone; thanks for checking back in with this thread...I've been doing some investigating over the past few days and I'm more confused than ever.

The problem with the two separate switches in one gang box controlling the lights on both circuits continues. I fixed the issue with the bootleg ground (I think) by rewiring the neutral wire from the foyer switch to the neutral wire from the kitchen switch and the neutral from the incoming kitchen cable. The neutral wire from the foyer cable was and still is attached to a yellow wire coming from the foyer switch. I've drawn diagrams of all of the switches I'm dealing with because I tried to take pictures and just could not get images that weren't too confusing. As of the time I went to bed last night, both the foyer and kitchen lights were working, and both were being controlled by either switch. Also, I checked out the breakers at the panel and it doesn't appear to be a multiwire branch circuit. Both of the cables have their own neutrals at the breakers.

Yesterday I tried to change out the switches in case the problem was with a bad switch. Neither switch worked once I had them hooked up. When I put the old switches back in, they worked fine again (but still crossed).

This morning, the kitchen lights abruptly went out. The kitchen switch no longer could turn the foyer light on and off but the foyer switch still controlled the foyer light. After about ten minutes, the kitchen lights came back on for about a minute before going back out. Then they would intermittently go on and off until I turned the breaker off. The foyer light stayed on this whole time. Also, my dining room lights, which are on the same circuit as my kitchen lights (but with its own single-pole switch), remained on the whole time. I measured the voltage between the wires with my multimeter while the power was on and found that there was normal voltage between the kitchen hot-to-ground and hot-to-neutral, but no voltage between the red/yellow wires and neutral or ground. The same goes with continuity after I turned off the breaker. Interestingly, right now there is continuity between the hot wire of the foyer light and the neutral of the *kitchen* switch, but not with the neutral of the foyer switch. I don't know what is going on with the lack of voltage/continuity with the red wire on the kitchen switch but I'm guessing that is why the lights are going on and off?

So, one other thing I was wondering was if the new switches didn't work because I hadn't also changed out the other switches on these circuits. The old switches are SmartHome SwitchLinc Model 2382W's, while the new ones I bought are Lutron Maestros. If that's the case, I'd like to replace the other two switches too and start over with all new stuff, but I do have a wiring question with that. It has taken me two days of diagramming wires and switches to come up with what I think is going on, and I apologize that it's still a little confusing when I try to explain it. I've attached my diagrams which will hopefully clarify things.

The kitchen circuit is a four-way switch set-up, with switches in my dining room, in a hallway, and on a stairway. From what I've been able to determine, the power source from the breaker panel is coming up into the gang box that has the dining room switch (as well as the separate single pole switch for my dining room lights which are working normally). The wiring going to the kitchen lights is also coming from that gang box. The dining room switch is wired to the switch in the stairway. The stairway switch is then wired to the hallway switch, which shares the gang box with the foyer lights and has been the likely root of the problems that started all this.

The new switches I want to use are wired in a different manner than the old ones. Based on the wiring diagrams I found online, it would have the connection to the kitchen lights coming from the hallway switch rather than the dining room switch which is where the kitchen light cable originates. So here is my question: could I use the neutral wire in the 14-3 cable between the stairway switch and the hallway switch as the hot going to the kitchen lights if I wire the neutral wire in the 14-3 cable between the stairway switch and the dining room switch directly to the black wire in the 14-2 cable going to the kitchen lights? I know I'd then have to tape the white wires to indicate that they are now hot. (It looks to me like the current set-up is already using a white wire as a hot but it is not marked as such.) It seems like a very round-about way to set this up but I don't see how else to do it. If I can't do it that way, and the white wire from the stairway to the hallway remains neutral, what do I do with it when I get to the hallway gang box? The new switch does not have a connection for a neutral wire (which I thought was illegal?). The new switches have a black screw at the bottom for the hot wire, and a brass screw and a blue screw at the top for the traveling wires. The brass screw on the hallway switch would be the one that is supposed to go to the kitchen lights. If I wire the red to the blue screw and the black to the black screw, as the diagram shows, then there is no place to put the white. Can it just be capped off by itself? And then what about the brass screw? What would it get?

Thanks to anyone who has made it this far into this post. I am sorry it is so lengthy but I want to make sure I am understanding this correctly. I've wired a lot of switches in the past, and it has all been much more straightforward than this. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Amy

By the way, on my diagrams, the blue lines represent the white wires. Also, the orange shapes are wire nuts, and the purple spots are where those wires attach directly to the switch. The old switches had to be wired with wire nuts, while the new switches would attach directly to screws. All of the switches are properly grounded; I just left those out for clarity's sake. The black hash marks on the blue wires are where I was thinking the whites could be used as hots. The blue wires going off the page in Figure 1 go to a wire nut that is joined to the other switch in that gang box that I haven't pictured since it's on another completely separate circuit.
 
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