Installing dimmer in four way switch circuit

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Old 12-16-15, 09:59 AM
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Installing dimmer in four way switch circuit

Okay, white flag time here after too many trips down the steps to turn the breakers back on.

I have a foyer light switched at 3 locations. I'd like one of those 3 locations to have a 3-way Lutron Diva CL (DVWCL-153PH-WH) installed. I believe one of the remaining locations then needs a standard 4-way switch and the other a standard 3-way switch.

I also believe (and please do correct me if I am wrong) that the location that currently has the 4-way switch cannot house the Diva 3-way dimmer (and that is the same as that is the most desired location).

Anyway, I keep finding myself in a situation where I need to have one of the switches in the "on" position in order for the light to work, and if this switch is off, none of the other 2 switches work. So I know I am doing something wrong.

Here is the (incorrect) wiring for the 3 switches currently, any help incredibly appreciated.

Top of Stairs (Lutron Dimmer, not desired location but if I have to...i tagged the wire that looks white with paint with a tag to indicate it is the black wire, wiring may be wrong)
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Bottom of Stairs (Would like Lutron dimmer here, currently a 3 way switch, i have messed with this one so wiring may be wrong)
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Hallway (most desired location, currently a 4 way switch, I have not changed this wiring from the electricians work)
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In this current configuration, if I do not have "bottom of stairs" set to on, the other two switches do not control the load.

Any time-saving help GREATLY appreciated today and THANK YOU!!!

Brad
 

Last edited by bbddpp; 12-16-15 at 12:03 PM.
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Old 12-16-15, 11:08 AM
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When I use the Lutron dimmers and have a multi location setup I use the Maestro's and the companion switches. I have had marginal success using the original switches.
 
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Old 12-16-15, 11:13 AM
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Thanks for the reply.

You must be thinking of the Lutrons with the LED indicators and the rocker dimmer switches on the side. Those I agree are a nightmare to wire up and work correctly without companions on the other switches.

The one I am trying to use here are the ones with the slider dimmer, which I don't believe have companions with (the dimming setting is possible at just one location) but I bought these because that was what I wanted rather than worrying about companion dimming at every switchbox.

If anyone sees any wires that are glaringly wrong, or might be swapped, let me know. I'm hoping this is just a matter of my not properly completing a circuit and having one of the wires swapped somewhere at one of the stair switches.
 
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Old 12-16-15, 11:33 AM
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There is one way to check if the problem is with the 4 way switch. Remove it and splice the wires straight through. Now test both 3 ways.

Check how the terminals are paired on the 4 way. Sometimes they can be left/right or top/bottom. The travelers from the same cable need to land on the same pair.
 
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Old 12-16-15, 11:41 AM
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Just looking over your wiring. Looks like the bottom two pictures or descriptions are reversed.

You do have a problem. At your 4 way switch you have the red and blacks as travelers. That should mean the white is carried thru.

In the bottom picture you have red and white as travelers ?
What we/I need to know is where does the power come into the circuit and where do the lights connect.
 
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Old 12-16-15, 12:05 PM
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Thanks guys so much.

I did have the last 2 pictures reversed. Fixed that so hopefully that helps.

I had a good electrician and I haven't moved a wire in the 4-way switch so let's assume that's right. All 3 switches worked before I tried to introduce the dimmer into the mix at the top of stairs location (but I also messed with the wiring at bottom of stairs).

So assuming the 4 way switch (Hallway) is wired properly, is there a way to tell from the other two pics (top of stairs dimmer and bottom of stairs standard 3 way toggle) if one or both of those have wiring issues?
 
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Old 12-16-15, 12:18 PM
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Also, from the stupid question department:

For the "bottom of stairs" switch, I have always assumed the black wire goes to the dark screw on the top left of the 3-way switch there, no matter what (black wire ALWAYS goes to dark colored screw). Is that the wrong assumption or always the case?

I have been trading the red and white wire for the left bottom screw and the top right screw but neither configuration works. One way, that switch becomes the "I have to be on" switch for the other two to switch the load. The other way, the 4-way "Hallway" switch becomes the "I have to be on" switch to allow the other two to switch the load.

I haven't been messing with the Lutron dimmer at the top of the stairs, though I have also made this assumption:

solid red wall wire definitely connects to red/white wire from lutron (true?)
wall wire previously used as black hot wire definitely connects to black wire from lutron (true?)
remaining black wall wire connects to the solid red wire from lutron (true?)
 

Last edited by bbddpp; 12-16-15 at 01:02 PM.
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Old 12-16-15, 01:14 PM
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In reading back I think what you guys are trying to find out from my dense self is where the power is coming from/source/etc. Not sure how I can find out but I can try. If I can turn the juice back on and test some bare wires for a buzz I think I have a tool to do that.

That said, here's what we got in the wall boxes (assume all have a ground):

4 way switch (Hallway): 2 black wires, 2 red wires. Note this was where I really wanted to put the Lutron 3-way dimmer but I'm guessing since the electrician put the 4 way switch here, that's not an option without re-wiring.

3-way switch (Bottom of steps): 1 white wire, 1 black wire, 1 red wire (Note, this seemed to be the only of the 3 switches with a white wire connected to it)

3-way switch (Top of steps): 1 red wire, 2 black wires

There may be more wires bundled up and available (especially white neutrals which I often have seen just tied together in a bundle in my wallboxes) so if finding a new white wire is necessary (or any wire) I can look.
 
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Old 12-16-15, 04:58 PM
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I don't seem to be able to edit the post anymore. Sorry.

One more thing you asked about the 4-way switch wiring (with the 2 black and 2 red wires).

The top black/red are from one wire grouping in the wall, and the bottom black/red are from another wire grouping.

Does that help tell us anything about the proper way to hook up the remaining 2 3 way switches? Or explain why one of them had a white wire and the other one did not but had 2 blacks instead?
 
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Old 12-16-15, 05:39 PM
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no matter what (black wire ALWAYS goes to dark colored screw). Is that the wrong assumption or always the case?
Incorrect. When you have a three way circuit.... the travelers are usually contained in one cable. So that means look at your wiring in the box..... the travelers will be in one cable and the common wire will not be in that cable.

Now.... this changes when the three way switch is at the end of a circuit..... like in a box all by itself and there is only one three wire cable. In that case.... any color could be common based on setup.

When discussing a three way switch.... there is no left side or right side or top or bottom terminal. The only important terminal is the dark screw (common).

I'll add more as I try to figure out what you have there. Don't mess with the four way wiring. This dimmer cannot go in the 4w switch position. With the Maestro's it could.

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Old 12-16-15, 05:57 PM
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At the top of the stairs. You have a black wire with tape on it. From what I can see from your picture.... that is the common wire. Disconnect it from the dimmer and check between it and ground. It'll either be 120v and the hot feed or it will be dead and will be the feed to the light.

The remaining red and black wires on that switch go into one cable. What does the white wire in that cable connect to ?


At the 4w switch location..... just confirm that there are ONLY 2) three wire cables. The white wires will be wire nutted together.


At the bottom of the stairs.... please describe the wiring there. I see three colors on the switch. Is there only 1) three wire cable in that box ?

The dimmer can go in either three way switch location.
 
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Old 12-17-15, 05:45 AM
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Pete,

Can't thank you enough for sticking with me! You are a good guy.

The "top of stairs" switch, the wire that is tagged, I tagged that myself yesterday, when I removed the wires from the existing switch there. I tagged the black wire that was wired to the dark screw in the 3-way toggle switch that was there. I didn't want to mix it up with the other black wire. That switch, before I removed it, was using 1 red and 2 black wires. I believe the red wire was on the lower left gold screw, and the other black wire was on the other side of the switch on the other gold screw (the tagged black wire was connected to the dark screw).

The "bottom of stairs" switch has just one wire bundle in use for the switch there, with 3 wires - A black, a red, and a white. As you asked, just one 3-wire cable in use down there. I am starting to think my mistake here was assuming the white wire was never the "live" wire?

There are a bunch of white wires bundled up behind as you said, but I didn't touch any wires not previously in use. The only switch I haven't changed yet is the 4way switch, remains as pictured, and that one has the 2 3-wire bundles behind it as you expected.

I need to find my multimeter and will check the volts on the wires this evening. Let me know if I need to check volts on any of the bottom of stairs wires as well to help answer questions and I can do it all at once.

The other piece of info here that is interesting is that I think you are saying for top of stairs, with the 2 black and 1 red wire coming from the wall, 1 of the blacks will go to the Lutron black, and then the other two Lutron wires (red and striped red) on the lutron switch will go to just one wall cable, leaving the remaining wall wire (either a black or a red) capped and connected to nothing, which is also something I never tried.
 
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Old 12-17-15, 06:22 AM
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I was just thinking, I have a way to make this easier I hope.

I ultimately would like to put the Lutron dimmer at the bottom of stairs location. So, we have 3 wires there. White, Red, Black. The switch has red, red striped, and black. If I can match those three up correctly I think I am golden.

Then, for top of stairs, with the standard 3 way, I know the one black goes to the dark screw, then I just have to put the remaining red and black from the wall on the remaining 2 gold screws (not sure if the order of those two even matters).

So, if you might tell me how I can figure out how to match the Lutron (red, red/white, black) up at bottom of stairs with the wall wires (white, red and black) , I think I'm set.
 
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Old 12-18-15, 12:52 AM
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I need the questions answered that I left you. Once I know what you have.... it's easy to tell you what to do.

You also didn't read my description of a three way switch. There is no standard.
When discussing a three way switch.... there is no left side or right side or top or bottom terminal. The only important terminal is the dark screw (common).
Ultimately... we need to know two things.... where is the circuit fed..... where is the feed to the lights.
 
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Old 12-18-15, 08:02 AM
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No problem! Hopefully I am doing this right. I never used a muiltimeter on light switches before but it's fun to learn.

Here are the results I got doing some tests with the two switches downstairs (the 4 way switch and the 3-way switch at bottom of stairs where I want to put the dimmer).

All results are the 3-wire switch at bottom of stairs.

If I turn the light ON from the 4-way switch, when checking volts at the 3 way switch, I get:

- 0 volts if I put the two multimeter probes between the white and black wires
- 0 volts if I put the two multimeter probes between the red and white wires
- 0 volts if I put the two multimeter probes between the red and black wires

If I turn the light OFF from the 4-way switch, I get:

- 0 volts if I put the two multimeter probes between the white and black wires
- 120 volts if I put the two multimeter probes between the red and white wires
- 120 volts if I put the two multimeter probes between the red and black wires

ALSO: At the 3-way switch at bottom of stairs Black and white touching ground give 120 volts, red touching ground gives 0 volts.

The 3-way switch currently has the black wire on the dark screw.

Does this give us the information we need to know which of the 3 wires at the 3 way switch go where to the Lutron dimmer? Or do we also need to know similar results for the top of stairs switch?
 
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Old 12-18-15, 08:50 AM
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Hopefully the definitive answer here! Disconnected the 2 switches and turned power back on (left 4 way connected as-is).

Turning the 4 way on or off did not effect the multimeter results.

Top of stairs got no juice on any of the wires against the ground.

Bottom of stairs, WHITE wire is the only one with 120v (black and red showed 0 volts).

My assumption then is, that the BLACK wire in the Lutron switch, actually goes to the WHITE wire coming out of the wall at bottom of stairs (something I never would have tried, so weird) and then the remaining two red wires can be hooked to the black and the red in either order?

That's what I'll go with and we'll see if I am right.

Also I assume the reason that top of stairs has no juice is because the connection is broken at bottom of stairs.

Am I getting there? Honestly I think the biggest thing that threw me is that when I first removed the switch at bottom of stairs, I never even thought that a white wire would be the live/load wire.
 
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Old 12-18-15, 11:31 AM
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You broke my train of thought. I only asked basic questions.

At the top of the stairs. You have a black wire with tape on it. From what I can see from your picture.... that is the common wire. Disconnect it from the dimmer and check between it and ground. It'll either be 120v and the hot feed or it will be dead and will be the feed to the light.
The remaining red and black wires on that switch go into one cable. What does the white wire in that cable connect to ?


Ok... I think that white wire that I asked you to check on is the hot feed to the switches. It gets sent to the 4w and passes thru to the downstairs switch. So white downstairs is your hot feed. This is based on ONLY three wires in that downstairs box. That black wire with tape at the upstairs switch would be the feed to the lights.


At the 4w switch location..... just confirm that there are ONLY 2) three wire cables. The white wires will be wire nutted together. I'm assuming this to be correct.


At the bottom of the stairs.... please describe the wiring there. I see three colors on the switch. Is there only 1) three wire cable in that box ?
Do you only have those three wires in that box ?
 
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Old 12-18-15, 11:53 AM
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Here's where we're currently at. Since they are using the white wire to carry the hot line it should be remarked at both ends so that it's not taken for a neutral in the future. In your case... at least mark the white at the dimmer end so that you know it's hot. I usually use blue as that's a color not normally found in wiring cable. Put na ring of blue tape or use a blue marker and put a stripe on it.

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Last edited by PJmax; 12-18-15 at 04:44 PM. Reason: corrected boo boo
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Old 12-18-15, 02:38 PM
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Pete,

You were RIGHT ON THE MONEY!

Thanks so much for sticking with me. I learned so much today. In my mind, there was no way that a white wire was a hot wire. As soon as I abandoned that thought, that the white wire in the wall would actually go to the BLACK wire on the dimmer switch, everything worked absolutely perfectly.

The key was using my multimeter as you suggested to literally see that there was 120 volts running through that white wire. I continually didn't ever put that on the black on any configuration BECAUSE THE WIRE WAS WHITE!

Learned lesson today -- Never assume white wires are always neutrals.
 
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