Trouble-shooting 3 & 4 Way Switch Circuit

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  #1  
Old 04-23-06, 04:42 PM
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Trouble-shooting 3 & 4 Way Switch Circuit

I recently replaced two original "porch-style" lights, controllable from 3 locations (2-3 way and 1- 4 way switch) with recessed light cans and attempted to make one of the switches a dimmer switch.

The configuration is power into switch #1 (a 3-way) then to the four-way switch, which is connected to both the lights and the other 3-way switch.

Mistake #1-I should have tested the lights before moving on to the switch.

I neglected to note how the old switch was wired before I hooked up the new dimmer. The switch has a black, white, and red wire. When I returned back inside after flipping the breaker back on, I saw a puff of smoke rising from the new dimmer. Using the old switch, I tried using each wire as the common, but as soon as I restored power the breaker would kick-off immediately, except when the red was common. I then confirmed by testing that red was the hot or common wire. (which is how I connected the new 3-way dimmer originally) I purchased a new 3-way switch and hooked it up with red as common. The power will come back on, and stay on, until I throw the new switch. I've triple-checked the light cans and everything seems to be OK, so I'm assumming it's a switch issue.

Questions:
1) Did I fry one or both of the other two switches when I fried the new dimmer? How can I diagnose this if I did?

2) Is it OK to use a dimmer in this situation?

Thanks for your assistance.
 
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Old 04-25-06, 08:45 AM
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Not quite sure why no one's been willing or able to give me any assistance. I've read all the posts here about 3-way and four way switches, but nothing addresses my specific situation. If someone can suggest a specific post I'd be glad to read it. Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated.
 
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Old 04-25-06, 03:53 PM
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Tell us all the wires in the switch boxes and the light boxes and how they are connected.
 
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Old 04-25-06, 05:04 PM
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It takes us a while to go through all the posts and think through each situation. And admittedly yours was a little different. While we are waiting on the info requested by Joed, you will need to determine which wire is "line" or hot. I usually wire mine black "line" to the black terminal and white and red as runners on the other two terminals. From the other three way switch, you would attach the "load" or light black to the black terminal and white and red as runners. Now, the white and red runners all go to the 4 way switch. You can use a dimmer, but only one at one of the three way switch locations. Your lights will come on at the level set by the dimmer no matter which switch you use, until you change the level at the dimmer.
We await your response as to the wiring at each switch box and at the light box.
 
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Old 04-25-06, 07:37 PM
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If your lights is connected from the 4 way then I think that's your problem. the 4-way is wired in between the 2 3-ways and from one of the 3-ways (switchleg side) goes to the lights. It should go like this : Power to the first 3-way, travelers to 4-way, travelers to 2nd 3-way then from that 3-way to the lights. Try the layout and also throw that dimmer away, it's shot.. you can ultimately try it but I bet it's shot.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 07:53 AM
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It is possible to wire this with power and lights connected in the 4way box. They won't actually be connected to the 4way switch. Until we get a report back on the wire connections there is no way tell where the problem might be.
 

Last edited by joed; 04-26-06 at 04:15 PM.
  #7  
Old 04-26-06, 11:32 AM
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Thanks gents- I'll go through the wiring in each box today. I'm also looking for my house wiring plans (I know they're here somewhere...)
 
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Old 04-26-06, 02:13 PM
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Thanks for the insight, I drew it on paper and realized your right about the 4-way, good to know. Learn something new everyday, When he comes back with the wires in the box, it shouldn't be that difficult to correct. Last thing I want to do is miss inform someone.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 06:10 PM
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OK here goes-
Electrical plans show wires from:
-NooK switch to light 1 (closest to nook)
-LR switch to light 1 (closest to nook)
-Light 1 to light 2
-Master Bedroom Switch to Light 2

Nook Switches:
-3 way switch (for the two light circuit I'm working on)
-Single pole switch for the nook light

Nook Box Wiring: Four Wires, 1-4 left to right
Wire 1
Black, Red and White to existing 3 way switch (did not keep track of which wire was common)

Wire 2
White tied to Whites from Wires 3 & 4
Black to single pole nook light switch
Ground tied to Grounds from wires 3 & 4

Wire 3
Black tied to Blacks from wires 2 & 4
White ties to Whites from 2 & 4
Ground ties to Grounds from 2 & 4

Wire 4
Black ties to Blacks from 2 & 3
White toes to Whites from 2 & 3
Ground ties to Grounds from 2 & 3
-----------------------------------

Living Room Switches:
-Single pole switch for pool stub-out (wired but not currently used)
-4 way switch (for the two light circuit I'm working on)
-Single pole switch for a seperate middle recessed light (used to be a ceiling fan w/light- would actually like to add this to the circuit with the other two lights if possible) THIS LIGHT AND DIMMER IS WORKING.

Living Room Box Wiring:6 Wires, 1-6 left to right
Wire 1
Black to single pole pool stub-out switch. The other wire coming from this switch is black and is tied to blacks from wires 2 & 4 and a black wire from the single pole dimmer for the middle light.
White tied to whites from wires 4, 5 & 6
Ground tied to grounds from wires 2-6

Wire 2
Black tied to blacks from wire 4, the single pole pool stubout switch, and the single pole dimmer light switch.
White goes into upper left (looking at it from the front) connection of 4 way light switch.
Red goes into bottom left connection of 4 way light switch
Ground ties to grounds from all other wires

Wire 3
Black ties to black from wire 5 only
White goes to bottom right connection of 4 way light switch
Red goes to upper right connection of 4 way light switch
Ground ties to grounds from all other wires

Wire 4
Black ties to blacks from wire 2, black from SP pool switch, and black from SP dimmer for third light
White ties to whites from wires 1, 5 & 6
Ground ties to grounds from all other wires

Wire 5
Black ties to black from wire 3
White ties to whites from wires 1, 4 & 6
Ground ties to grounds from all other wires

Wire 6
Black goes to connection on SP light dimmer
White ties to whites from wires 1, 4 & 5
Ground ties to grounds from all other wires
---------------------------------------

Master Bedroom Switch:
Single pole switch (for the two light circuit I'm working on)

Master Bedroom Box Wiring:
One Wire
Black to common terminal of SP light switch
White to regular terminal of SP light switch
Red to regular terminal of SP light switch

Light Wiring:
Light 1
Two black, white and ground wires are tied together black to black, white to white and ground to ground and wired to the can (as was the old light)

Light 2
Single black, white and ground wire is connected to the light can black to black, white to white and ground to ground.

Whew, I know the principles are simple, but this can get complicated can't it. I think I got everything, but feel free to clarify or question me.

I did, as someone suggested, throw away the first dimmer I tried to install that smoked after the breaker kicked off. And I understand the part about only one dimmer allowed in the circuit.

Thanks again for your assistance. I know it takes time to decipher all this stuff (probably not a slong as it would take me) but anyway I deeply appreciate your time.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 08:26 PM
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So it appears the power and light are coming into the 4 way. The 3 ways are standard setup with black on common and red/white to 4 way.

In the 4 way box w2 comes from one of the 3 way.
w3 comes the other 3way.
w4 appears to be power in. black connected to w2 and sending power 3way.
w5 appears to be the cable to the light controlled by the 3 switch circuit. Its black connects to the black from the second 3way (w3) and its white connects to the power white(w4)

Both 3way should have the black on the common screw.

w1&6 are the cable to the other lights/poolstubout.

The 3way/4 way circuit seems to be wired correct.

the other lights seems correct also.

Could a ground have bee touching one of the terminals on the switches or in the light fixture boxes?
I wish I had a good drawing program. I could draw this out for you.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 09:17 PM
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Thumbs up Good job

Good job on the directions. Thought out and well written.
 
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Old 04-27-06, 06:30 AM
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Could a ground have been touching one of the terminals on the switches or in the light fixture boxes?
Thanks so much for the fast and thorough reply.

There's still a problem somewhere. Installing a brand new 3-way switch in the nook, being positive that black is wired to common, causes the breaker to kick off immediately once power is restored, without flipping any switches.

I've triple-checked all switch and light connections and verified that nothing's exposed and potentially contacting other wires. But your question prompted a concern that's been in the back of my mind since installing the lights and is somewhat related (I think) to your question.

The outer romex cable jacket for both lights was stripped way back during original installation, exposing a 6-8" length of ground wire. (and even though 6-8" of the black and white wires are also out of the romex jacket, only the standard 1/2" of the actual wire covering was removed) This was OK (I assume) on the old lights as all three wires only contacted the light terminals. But the recessed cans have their own wiring boxes attached to them which, as currently wired, means the ground wire contacts the wiring box on the can and then is nutted to the actual ground wire inside the can- meaning that the ground wire makes contact in two places: the circuit box housing and the ground wire itself. But since the light can is attached to only drywall and contacts nothing else I assumed this would not cause any problems. Is this a problem? If this is not the cause, how and what do I troubleshoot? Could I have fried the 4-way switch and/or the other 3-way switch?

Second question- though it's certainly not critical and there are advantages to having the middle light (which is over the table)on it's own switch- how hard would it be to add the third light (located in between the other two) to the main three switched circuit. Can a wire be jumped from one of the outer lights to the middle one? (I'm using 65W BR style flood lights so circuit load should not be an issue- it was a seperate circuit because it was a ceiling fan with light originally) Seems like it should be pretty simple, but certainly won't assume anything.

Thanks again for your assistance. Much appreciated.
 

Last edited by flaboy; 04-27-06 at 09:16 AM.
  #13  
Old 04-28-06, 11:09 AM
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There's still a problem somewhere. Installing a brand new 3-way switch in the nook, being positive that black is wired to common, causes the breaker to kick off immediately once power is restored, without flipping any switches.
Are you saying that if you remove the 3way and power up the breaker dows not trip.


You can more lights to the three way circuit by connecting into any lilght on the circuit.
 
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Old 04-28-06, 12:14 PM
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Are you saying that if you remove the 3way and power up the breaker dows not trip.
That's correct, with the switch totally removed the power stays on when turned on. With the switch installed, the breaker trips immediately upon power being restored.
 
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Old 04-28-06, 04:50 PM
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This is strange. You should be able to short all three of those wires (not the ground)together without casing this problem. Could a nail or screw have pierced this cable and be shorting the red or white to the ground? If the black was shorted removing the switch would not relieve the problem. Perhaps a box cable clamp is too tight shorting one wire to ground??

Measure the voltage from each disconnected wire to ground. If any of them measure hot(black one should) measure the voltage from that wire to the others.
 
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Old 04-28-06, 05:56 PM
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This is strange.
Really didn't want to hear that. Where's the easy solution...

You should be able to short all three of those wires (not the ground) together without causing this problem. Could a nail or screw have pierced this cable and be shorting the red or white to the ground? Perhaps a box cable clamp is too tight shorting one wire to ground??
Well, indeed, anything's possible... but I've barely put any pressure or tension on any wires during this whole testing and troubleshooting procedure, and they were fine before. I'm baffled. The only thing I THINK I've done is fry the original dimmer by hooking it up improperly. I'll look at closely tomorrow when I have daylight.

Measure the voltage from each disconnected wire to ground. If any of them measure hot (black one should) measure the voltage from that wire to the others.
I don't have a voltmeter, but I know you can pick them up pretty cheap. Maybe I'll mosey over to the big box tonight.

Thanks again for your help.
 
  #17  
Old 04-28-06, 07:32 PM
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Measure the voltage from each disconnected wire to ground. If any of them measure hot (black one should) measure the voltage from that wire to the others.
Results from ground to each wire:
Ground to black - 0v
Ground to White - 110v
Ground to Red - 17v (in between 15 and 20 on a small analog voltmeter)

Results from hot wire (obviously white, not black as suggested) to other two wires:
White to Red - 17v approximately
White to Black - 0v

Thanks again!
 
  #18  
Old 04-30-06, 06:29 AM
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I checked the both lights again and found a potential short (exposed black wire). This was caused by the fact the romex covering had been cut way back on the original install, leaving long lengths of all three wires running to the light. Partly because of laziness and partly because there was going to be virtually no excess wire if I cut it back, I simply ran these wires into the lght junction box. This meant that only the individual wire's covering protected it from the junction box. During the final installation, the edge of the opening on the box cut into the wire. Though I barely had enough wire to reach into the light J-box after trimming, I trimmed them and correctly installed them into the J boxes. I thought sure that would correct the problem. It didn't.

I re-measured the voltage on the wires again and got these results:

Ground to each wire:
Ground to black had changed from 0 to 5v
Ground to White remained 110v
Ground to red remained 17-18v

White (hot) to red remained 17-18v
White to black changed from 110v to 17-18v

Very curious to know your thoughts as to what's going on and whether these changes were an improvement or further confused and compunded the situation.

Thanks again for your help.
 
  #19  
Old 04-30-06, 06:36 AM
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Flip one of the other switches and measure again. The readings on the red and white should switch. I don't see anything unusual about those readings. The 17-18 volts is probably a false reading.

With the power off put your meter on OHMS and measure from the black to ground. Remove all the bulbs from the 3way circuit and measure the OHMS again.
 
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Old 04-30-06, 02:24 PM
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Flip one of the other switches and measure again. The readings on the red and white should switch. I don't see anything unusual about those readings. The 17-18 volts is probably a false reading.
After flipping the switch (I did the 4-way) the values did switch. I got 110v between ground and red and 18v between ground and white.

I also measured a change in the white/black measurement from 18v to 0. But from what you said that appears to be irrelevent.

With the power off put your meter on OHMS and measure from the black to ground. Remove all the bulbs from the 3way circuit and measure the OHMS again.
With the bulbs removed I get 0 Ohms, with them in about 1 Ohm.
 

Last edited by flaboy; 04-30-06 at 02:42 PM.
  #21  
Old 04-30-06, 02:58 PM
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0 ohms is a short. If the circuit is proper you should get infinite ohms (no reading). 0 ohms is indicating a short on feed to the lights. That would be your problem. Now you need to find it. Look closer at the box where the wires were shorting to the box.
 
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Old 04-30-06, 05:07 PM
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0 ohms is a short. If the circuit is proper you should get infinite ohms (no reading). 0 ohms is indicating a short on feed to the lights. That would be your problem. Now you need to find it. Look closer at the box where the wires were shorting to the box.
Will do.

Sorry to be so ignorant but- that needs to be done with the lights out of socket then, correct?

Secondly, am I not getting something here? It appears to me that the white wire is hot (common) at the nook box. (Which is wrong) Is this a result of the short or am I missing something else?
 
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Old 04-30-06, 05:41 PM
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With the bulbs removed I get 0 Ohms, with them in about 1 Ohm.
My apologies. I'm such a novice. It wasn't 0 Ohms- it was infinity. I wasn't thinking backwards for the Ohms scale, and was reading the O on the other scales.
 
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Old 04-30-06, 06:31 PM
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You got me stumped now. I don't know what to try next.

The white wire is being used as a traveler wire between switches. In this circuit it is a switched hot.
 
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Old 04-30-06, 08:18 PM
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You got me stumped now. I don't know what to try next.
In an attempt to find a solution, at one point I tried using each of the three wires as the common, all with the same negative results. It's very frustrating, especially because it could have been avoided (I think, if I'd been been careful). All who read this thread please take note for your own benefit.

I deeply appreciate all you did to try to help me out here Joed.

I have two other options I'll try before calling in a local pro. My neighbor owns an electrical contracting company, (but he's hard to catch up with), and I have an uncle who's an EE who lives in Washington State. I'll see if either of them can shed any light on this.
 
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Old 05-01-06, 01:39 PM
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Please post back and let us know what you find.

Good Luck.
 
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Old 05-01-06, 06:54 PM
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Well, for those of you not tired of beating this dead horse I'm back- with SOME good news, but not all.

In the American spirit of not giving up I decided to completely disassemble the living room box where the four way switch is. When I did I made a discovery-there's a seventh wire, which comes up through the bottom of the box.

By taking everything apart I was also able to isolate each wire and confirm what each goes to.
Wire 1- to the outside pool stub-out box
Wire 2- to one of the 3 way switches
Wire 3- to the other 3 way switch
Wire 4- to the nook switch/light
Wire 5- to the outer two lanai lights (my project lights)
Wire 6- to the middle lanai light (now disconnected- I've decided to dasiy chain all three lights together)
Wire 7- power in.

The good news is that by direct wiring power to the lights they came on and stayed on. Apparently no problems with them any more. Now it's just figuring out why the black is common/hot at one 3 way switch while white is at the other (nook) end.

The only major difference in the wiring, that we didn't know before is with one of the black wires.
Black from wire 7 (power in) is tied to the black from wire 2 (3 way nook switch) and wire 4 (SP nook light switch)
Black from wire 3 (MB 3 way switch) is tied to wire 5 (2 outer lanai lights that I'm working on).

This means that the black common goes out to one of the 3 way switches, back in to the box from the other 3 way then out to the lights thereby being common to the circuit. I'm just clarifying this information, I've not changed anything since I started. Does the new black wire info look correct?
 
  #28  
Old 05-01-06, 07:45 PM
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Well previously we thought W4 was power in since its white was connected to w5.

Could there be two power circuits into this box?

For the 3way to work properly, the power in black(w7) should go to one of the black in w2 or w3. The black from the three way goes to the black from the lights(w5). W2 & W3 red and white are travellers.
Power in (w7) white goes to lights(w5) white.
 
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Old 05-02-06, 06:13 AM
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Well previously we thought W4 was power in since its white was connected to w5.
My testing proved that W4 was going out to the Nook light. When disconnected the nook light would not work.

Could there be two power circuits into this box?
Again based on my testing each wrie seperately, this doesn't appear to be the case.


For the 3way to work properly, the power in black(w7) should go to one of the black in w2 or w3.
It does- goes to black in W2

The black from the three way goes to the black from the lights(w5).
It does, the black from w3 (the second 3 way switch) goes to w5 (the lights). Question is, how does black travel between the two 3-way switches as the common wire when they don't appear to be tied directly together in any way? From this box black goes out into one 3 way, and also goes out to the other 3 way. In other words this is where there appears to be a break in the black wiring because I see no evidence of an additional wire connecting the two 3 way switches. However, as mentioned before, the true mystery is that I've changed nothing. This is the way it was wired, and working correctly, before I removed the original 3 way switch.

W2 & W3 red and white are travellers.
Correct.

Power in (w7) white goes to lights(w5) white.
Correct.

One other question I have is- what are the other two wires in the nook box that are tied to the nook switch? In that box there was one B/W/R plus ground romex for the lanai lights that I'm working on and three B/W and ground romex. Black from w2 goes to one switch terminal. Black from w3 and w4 are tied together and go to the other nook light switch terminal. This light only has this one switch.
 
  #30  
Old 05-02-06, 07:26 AM
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Take a look at this drawing. It is what you have without all the other switches.

http://www.selfhelpandmore.com/switc...pw2ndfd2nd.htm
 
  #31  
Old 05-03-06, 11:55 AM
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Well, project completed... with a major change. Rather than continue over the three switch circuit (2-3 ways and a 4-way) I decided to simplify the circuit it and just use two 3-way switches. I also btw, did hook the middle light to the other two so that all three are on this circuit.

I found the proper diagram online and went to work. I took the 3-way from the MB (since we've not used it in 13 years) and put that in place of the 4-way switch. I hooked up the 3-way dimmer as the nook switch and both turned the lights on and off.

My final frustration was that the dimmer had no effect on the lights at all except for turning them on and off (the one I bought has an on/off toggle switch at the bottom, and the dimmer slider above it. This was a new one, and to the best of my knowledge had not been damaged by any of my "experimenting" but if anyone had any ideas why THIS didn't work give me shout)

Getting REAL tired of this whole project, I went to the home store this morning and bought a regular 3-way switch for that location. Got it installed and I'm done other than replacing the other, now non-functioning, wires and switches back in place.
 
 

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