3 way switches only work while flipped up.

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Old 03-10-13, 08:21 AM
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3 way switches only work while flipped up.

First of all, I want to apologize for the horrible quality of the picture I attached. I had to draw it on my phone. I have a light in my living room that is operated off two 3 way switches, but both switches need to be up for the light to be on. It's the only set of switches in the house that operates this way. But when I took off the covers to attempt to find the issue I was met with a terribly ugly mess.

The left square in the picture is obviously the switch at the end of the line, but that's about as far as I got. thT blue lines are the white wires. I say white and not neutral, because it's obvious that the builders didn't follow the conventional color scheme. Black and red are hot and switch wires respectively. I did not show grounds for simplicity, but everything is correctly grounded. splices are shown in yellow circles. the two right switches are in a two gang box and the far right one is for an outside flood light. the arrows mark the concerned switches. I'm wondering if anyone can make sense of what they did here. and is there any way to get the switches working correctly?


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Last edited by justinshorb; 03-10-13 at 08:42 AM.
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Old 03-10-13, 09:33 AM
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Welcome to the forums!

For reference, it is allowed to use a white as a hot as long at it is re-identified. The re-identify rule has not always been required so it may have been ok at the time.

Looking at your diagram, I'm thinking you might have a missing wire. The middle switch in the diagram (two gang box) only has a white and red connected to it. It also appears the cable only has a red and white which is not normal. Could you please double check this.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 09:46 AM
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Yes, I caught that after I posted the thread. I edited the picture and tried to upload it, but it kept the first one. The missing black wire follows the white wire connected to the same switch out of the box. The part I am most confused about is the white wire connected to the light. It looks like the white wire simply passes through the box to another switch, but it's spliced into the light fixture.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 10:08 AM
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Ok, that makes sense to me now. Here is what you need to do. Top switch is #1, middle switch is #2 (in two gang box)

Switch #1) Red wire is connected to the "common" screw of the 3way. (commonly the odd colored screw)
Black and white is connected to the other two screws. It does not matter which ones go where.

Switch #2) Red wire is connected to "common" screw
Black and white is connected to other screws. Again, it does not matter which.

You should be go to go.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 10:17 AM
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But the way it is now both switches have to be in the up position to turn the light on. The other 3 ways in the house can be either both up or both down to turn the light on.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 10:31 AM
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Each switch should be able to turn the light off and on regardless of the position of the other switch(es) on the control circuit.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 10:38 AM
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That's what I don't understand. All the other switches in the house work like normal. But this particular circuit will only work with both switches up.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 10:46 AM
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They should also turn on the light with both switches down. If they don't, there is something miswired.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 10:53 AM
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They don't, and that's why I posted my terrible drawing. I was hoping someone could catch what I'm missing.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 11:33 AM
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Ok, then we need to back up and start from scratch. We need to confirm what is the hot, travelers, and the switch leg. Your are going to need a meter, or test light (not a non-contact tester) to do this (a meter would be better) and will need to do this hot so care is required.

Disconnect the 3 way switches from the circuit.

In the switch #1 box, the red wire should still be hot. Measure from the red, to ground, and you should get a light or 120 volts. You should get nothing between the wires for switch #1 black, white, and ground. These are your travelers.

Up at the light, the black should also still be hot to ground. You should get nothing between red and ground.

At switch #2 you should get nothing between red, white, or black to ground.
If you connect the red, to the group of blacks and one red that is spliced in the box, the light should turn on

Here is where the meter would be handy: Splice the black and white in switch #1 box together and go to switch #2 wires. With your meter set to ohms, you should read continuity between the black and white wires for switch #2.

If you do not have a meter, you can connect the switch #2 wires (black and white) to the group of blacks/red and go to switch #1 box and they should be hot to ground.

If any of this is not what I described, tell us what and we can figure what is wrong.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 02:34 PM
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I actually just ordered a multimeter because I have a few projects that are going to require it. I'm hoping it will be here on Tuesday, so I will probably wait until I have it to test it. Thank you for your help! I'll post here when I get the meter.
 
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Old 03-10-13, 03:12 PM
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Hope you ordered an analog multimeter and you didn't spend more then $15. A digital is also okay but prone to being influenced by induced voltages unless it is one of the more expensive brand name ones.
 
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Old 03-11-13, 09:31 AM
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So as far as I can tell everything is as you described. red is hot in switch 1,black is hot at the light, the light turns on when red is connected to the bundle, and back and white at switch 1 are hot when switch 2 wires are connected to the black and red wires.
 
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