Need Help Understanding 3-Way Switch Configuration

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  #1  
Old 08-15-20, 01:15 PM
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Need Help Understanding 3-Way Switch Configuration

I am replacing the switches in my house, and I'm confused about one of the 3-ways. I'm trying to understand how it's configured. The switches control two light fixtures. When I look in the first box, I see the following. There is a 14/3 coming into the box. Red traveler at the top, white traveler in the middle, and black connected to bottom common. As an aside, I noticed that the back push-in connection has failed, and the wire is pulling out.

In the other box, I see the following. The top wire is the 14/3 black. The middle wire is the black from a separate 14/2 that comes into the box, and the bottom common is the red wire from the 14/3. The red wire is marked as hot with black tape.


If anyone can help me understand this, I would really appreciate it. If you need more pictures or clarification, just let me know.
 
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Old 08-15-20, 01:27 PM
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Here's the important thing..... it doesn't matter where the screws are on a 3w switch. Two screw terminals are identical and usually brass colored. One screw is always darker or black. That's the common screw. Whatever wire comes off the dark screw must go back on the new switch dark screw. The other two can be connected in either location.

We also recommend not using the push-in terminals on switches or receptacles.
It's just a future problem waiting to happen.
 
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Old 08-15-20, 03:08 PM
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PJ, thanks for your help. I'm actually replacing these with Insteon smart switches, so they don't actually use the travelers. That's why I was curious about the configuration. What's confusing me is the neutral pigtailed in one box and connected to the switch in the other.

For my setup, the one switch gets power and connects to the load. The other switch just needs power (no travelers or load attached). From there, the home automation controller creates a virtual 3-way.

https://www.insteon.com/support-know...i-way-circuits
 
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Old 08-15-20, 04:56 PM
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If it is connected to the switch it is not a neutral. It is a white wire being used as a hot.
Do these switches currently function properly?
Because this statement
The middle wire is the black from a separate 14/2 that comes into the box, and the bottom common is the red wire from the 14/3
makes me think you have a problem. The wire from the 14/2 cable should be on the common normally. Top, bottom, left, right means nothing. It is the black screw COMMON connection that is important.
 
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Old 08-15-20, 05:48 PM
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What's confusing me is the neutral pigtailed in one box and connected to the switch in the other.
Where the white wire is pigtailed....... that is neutral.
Where the white wire is connected to the switch.... that is a switched hot.

With the insteon switches...... you need to know where the always live is and where the load/light is.
You don't use "travelers" but you do use two of the three wires.
 
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Old 08-15-20, 07:45 PM
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I just double checked, and it does appear that the 14/2 is on the common. Iím sorry for the error. What Iím confused about is identifying the load. In my one switch box, there is 14/2 power and a 14/3. The hot from the 14/2 goes to common. The red and black from the 14/3 are connected to the traveler terminals. The red wire is marked hot with black tape. In the other box, the 14/3 comes in. The red and black are connected to the traveler terminals. The white is connected to the common. Is this white common the load?
 
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Old 08-15-20, 07:59 PM
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The hot from the 14/2 goes to common
That is the LINE

The white is connected to the common
That is your LOAD.
 
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Old 08-15-20, 08:00 PM
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I will do this tomorrow. Thank you for all of your help! I really appreciate it.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 10:54 AM
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I did more testing this morning with my multimeter, and it appears that I had this flipped around. The common that I thought was the load is the hot, and the one I thought was the hot is the load. I donít understand how this is installed though. In the one box where the single 14/3 enters, I determined that the white wire is always hot (regardless of switch position). The red and black are attached to the travelers. In the other box, there is a 14/2 and a 14/3. The black from the 14/2 is connected to the common, and the red and black from the 14/3 are connected to the travelers. The neutrals are pigtailed together. With the line being on the 14/3, does that mean the power is being fed directly to one of the 2 lights? Iím trying to figure out if this will mess me up with installing the Insteon switches. I donít have access to the boxes for the lights, because they are very high.
 

Last edited by cai24; 08-16-20 at 11:14 AM.
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Old 08-16-20, 11:13 AM
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Ok..... don't fret.

You have two switch boxes. Call them 1 and 2.
Which box contains the feed ?
Which box contains the light/load ?


Since you have a three wire cable between switches..... you can move the feed and load any where you want.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 11:27 AM
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Box 1 contains the feed. There is a 14/3 coming into the box. The white wire is hot and connected to the common. The red and black are connected to the travelers.

Box 2 contains the light/load (or what I assume is the load). There is a 14/3 and 14/2 coming into the box. The neutrals are pigtailed together. The black from the 14/2 is connected to the common. The red and black from the 14/3 are connected to the travelers.

PJ - thank you for helping. I am usually pretty good with electrical, but I get so confused with 3-ways. I'm not sure if I'm thinking incorrectly, but it seems that it's not the same 14/3 that's running between the boxes?
 
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Old 08-16-20, 11:43 AM
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There is a 14/3 between boxes that you can do whatever you want with. That's what you are you going to do.

The feed is white ?? That is incorrect per normal wiring.
Follow that white wire into the box...... does it go to a two wire cable...... if yes..... what is the black wire doing ?


 
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Old 08-16-20, 11:57 AM
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When I test everything, the white from the 14/3 is the only wire that is always hot. The current switch is backwired, but I'm pretty sure this is in the common slot. I've included a picture. It's hard to tell from the side (it almost looks like it's in the traveler slot, but I think it is the common). This is a Leviton 3-way that I believe is from the original build (1987). What I'm confused about is how could the 14/3 be running between both boxes if the white is hot on Box 1? Would this imply that the power is coming directly to one of the lights?

 
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Old 08-16-20, 12:02 PM
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Also, just to clarify, this is how it is wired:

Box 1 - There is a 14/3 coming into the box. The white wire is hot and connected to the common. The red and black are connected to the travelers.

Box 2 - Box 2 contains the light/load (or what I assume is the load). There is a 14/3 and 14/2 coming into the box. The neutrals are pigtailed together. The black from the 14/2 is connected to the common. The red and black from the 14/3 are connected to the traveler terminals.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 12:13 PM
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That's a change...... so at box one all three wires of a three wire cable are on the switch.... correct ?
That's called a dead end 3w switch.

If that is a dead end 3w switch..... both line and load are at box two and from what you are now saying.... you have a three way switch loop. There may not be a usable neutral.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 12:30 PM
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That's correct for Box 1. All 3 wires from the 14/3 are on the switch. What I don't understand is that I don't have any constant line voltage at Box 2. The only source of constant line voltage is the white wire in Box 1. Since the white 14/3 in box 2 is connected to the neutrals in that box, doesn't that mean that this is not the same 14/3 that is entering box 1 (with a hot white wire)?
 
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Old 08-16-20, 01:00 PM
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Let me explain what you have......

You have the power coming into your light. Then from the light a two wire switch loop controls the light. So at box two..... the white wire is hot from the light fixture and the black wire is the returning switched hot wire. You don't have an available neutral on that circuit.


 
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Old 08-16-20, 01:25 PM
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Thanks, PJ. I feel like I'm missing something in my understanding. This is how I currently see the configuration, but I'm not sure how light 1 and light 2 come into this. Like you said, I believe the power is being run to one of these lights. I am confused how the white wire on the 14/3 is line voltage. Is there any way to make the insteon switches work. I know they sell one that doesn't require neutrals, but I always try to avoid them. As an aside, there is a switched outlet in Box 1 (separate circuit). Does that help at all? I know that technically one of the switches only needs power and neutral. I could technically put one of the switches on a separate circuit, but I don't know if it's doable in this situation. I didn't mention that in my original posts, because I didn't want to complicate anything.

 
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Old 08-16-20, 02:41 PM
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Hi, are you saying that the white conductor is always hot no matter what position the switches are in? try each switch in different positions and test.
Geo
 
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Old 08-16-20, 02:44 PM
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You switch drawing aligns exactly to what pjmax has drawn.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 02:54 PM
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Hi, are you saying that the white conductor is always hot no matter what position the switches are in? try each switch in different positions and test.
Geo
Yes. The white wire in the 14/3 (box 1) is always hot regardless of the position of the switches.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 05:21 PM
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You have two lights. One was probably the original and contains the power in, switch loop and switched feed to the second light.

Here's the problem..... by code you are not allowed to use the hot from one circuit and the neutral from another.
If that receptacle in the switchbox is on the same circuit as those lights.... you can then get your neutral from the receptacle. Try turning the breaker off for the lights and see if the receptacle is dead.
 
  #23  
Old 08-16-20, 05:33 PM
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PJ - the switched receptacle is on a different circuit. I was actually asking if I could use the hot/neutral on this other circuit. I've created some virtual 3-way switches in other parts of my house by doing this. As an example, I had an outside light that I wanted to control from a different room. I was able to put it in a box on a different circuit and connect hot and neutral (no load). From there, I can set my home automation controller to control the original switch. I'm not sure if it would work in this particular situation due to the switch loop. I was thinking that I could replace the switch at Box 2 (connect hot and neutral, and then connect the load to the black 12/2 that is currently on the common). At Box 1, I would install the Insteon switch on this other circuit with no load attached.
 
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Old 08-16-20, 06:07 PM
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If you used the hot/neutral from the "new" circuit..... you'd need to go up to the light and disconnect the "old" circuit feed. Otherwise you'll have two hots connecting together.
 
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Old 10-10-20, 01:05 PM
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PJ - You had helped me understand this 3-way switch back in August. I finally decided that I would like to convert this to a 2-way if possible. The switch that I would like to eliminate is a dead-end 3-way. Is this possible? If you look at my first post, you can see a picture of both switches. The top one is the dead end 3-way (no available neutral). The bottom one is the 3-way that I would like to keep.

On the switch that I want to keep, I would like to install a new 2-way. My thought was that I would take the red common (marked with the black tape) and connect that to one terminal. The other terminal would be for the black that appears to be the load. The remaining black traveler would be capped off. Is that correct?

At the dead end 3-way, I'm not clear what needs to be done. I'm assuming that I have to do something more than just cap off the wires.

I am sorry for all of the questions. For some reason, I'm just really confused by this 3-way. If you need more specifics or additional pictures, just let me know. I really appreciate the help.
 
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Old 10-10-20, 02:00 PM
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First picture in post 1 is a dead end three way switch.
Black is common and red and white are travelers.

Look at the diagram. Switch 1 is the dead end switch. What that means is that the three wire between switches ends at switch 1. All three wires in the three wire cable are connected directly to the switch. Hence dead end.

The wire on the dark screw is common. You connect that common to either traveler wire. The unused traveler wire gets capped off.

Look in the switch 2 box. You will see a three wire cable that goes to switch 1. Two of the wires in that three wire cable are used as travelers. You can abandon that three wire cable in box 2 and do absolutely nothing at box 1.


 
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Old 10-11-20, 10:43 AM
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PJ - Thank you. I'm pretty sure I understand what you're saying, but I just want to confirm. I was confused about this one part: "You can abandon that three wire cable in box 2 and do absolutely nothing at box 1."

My understanding is that I go into the deadend 3-way, remove the switch, and wire nut the white (hot) to either one of the travelers. I then cap off the remaining traveler. At switch box 2, I assume that I connect the traveler that is hot from box 1 to the switch and the old common to the other terminal (load wire). I just want to be sure I have this right. Thank you again for all of your help.
 
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Old 10-11-20, 11:12 AM
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Yes.... your understanding is 100% correct.
 
  #29  
Old 10-11-20, 02:04 PM
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You don't even need to go to the dead end three. At the non dead end 3 way take the wire off the common and the wire connected to the white and use them on the new single pole switch. You can cap all 3 wires going to the dead end 3 way.
 
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Old 10-11-20, 04:32 PM
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I tried explaining that joed but it left a little confusion. Better to go with what the member is familiar with.
 
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Old 10-11-20, 04:37 PM
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PJ, that worked perfectly! Thank you!
 
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Old 10-11-20, 04:42 PM
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Good job. Thanks for letting us know how you made out.
 
 

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