Four wires in fixture, three switches in gang box, can't switch light fixture

Old 04-19-14, 02:10 AM
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Question Four wires in fixture, three switches in gang box, can't switch light fixture

Hi all,

I bought an old house last year and am trying to replace the dining room light fixture. Unfortunately the old fixture was hooked up in a mess of electrical tape and after cutting the wires free I am unable to replicate the setup with the new fixture.

The dining room light fixture has four wires. Cloth wrapped and not discernable from one another. I suspect that the breaker has a positive and a neutral feed to this fixture and there are two wires that go to the gang box/switch in here as well. The gang box has three light switches: one to control the aforementioned fixture, and two other switches for hallway lights.

I cannot figure out for the life of me how to successfully hook up the fixture wiring so that the dining room light fixture is controlled by the specified switch. I've tried many possible wire combinations with the following results:
  • No lights working
  • Hallway lights light up and switch independently, no light fixture light
  • Hallway lights light up and switch independently, light fixture is always on

I replaced the dining room fixture switch with a known working switch (verified with a multimeter) and unfortunately this didn't resolve the problem. The wiring inside the gang box appears pretty complicated, but knowing that the original chandelier worked correctly I don't feel that any changes inside the gang box are required.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions. I can provide photos if necessary, but like I said this is all old wiring and there aren't many visual cues. Thanks!
Old 04-19-14, 05:09 AM
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Welcome to the forums. You most likely have a switch loop that is confusing things. Power will come into the ceiling box, but must be redirected through the switch so you can turn it on and off. Of course you have to determine which cable brings power to the box. Do you have a multimeter? The hot wire will be attached to one of the wires going to the switch. The other wire coming from the switch will become your "hot" wire and should be attached to the black wire of your fixture. The remaining wire in the box and the neutral will be attached to each other with bcaps.
Old 04-19-14, 11:06 AM
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thanks for the reply.

i have identified the switch pair with a multimeter, confirming that when the switch is turned to off i break continuity.

unfortunately i've tried many combinations of hot to switch wire then other switch wire to fixture to neutral. i've been completely puzzled by the fact that the light fixture appears to be providing the continuity required for the other lights in the switch box to function correctly but is not allowing the fixture to illuminate. the fixture has standard incandescent bulbs in it and i verified it also has continuity between hot and neutral with the multimeter.
Old 04-19-14, 11:25 AM
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The dining room light fixture has four wires.
Lets go basic step by step. It will take a while but may help sort this out.
  • Plug a grounded or polarized extension cord into a known correctly wired receptacle.
  • At the light using an analog multimeter measure from the wide slot of the extension cord to each wire.
  • Mark the wire that read ~ 120 volts with a band of black electrical tape. If more then one wire is hot stop and post back.
  • Turn off the breaker. Turn on the switch.
  • At the ceiling again with the multimeter set to lowest ohms scale determine which set of wires show continuity. Verify by having a helper flip the switch off and on as you watch the meter. The meter should move between continuity and open. Mark those two wires switch loop. The other pair is your power in.*
Do the above and we will go on to the next step.

*I know you have written you already identified the switch pair but just making sure.

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