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Old 12-26-2010, 01:39 PM   #1
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3 Way Switch


My house was built in 1954. I have a light in my laundry area that is controlled by a switch in the kitchen and a switch in the laundry room. The switches were old and the one in the kitchen broke (old style snap switch not quiet like the new ones). I decided to just replace both and now this is the problem I have.

I blow a fuse when I turn the switch OFF!! If I turn the light on and screw in the fuse its fine but as soon as I turn it off at either switch it blows the fuse. Any ideas?

Other strange thing is I have 120 at both boxes. With both switches removed the wires read as follows.
White - 120
Black - 0
Red - 40

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Old 12-26-2010, 01:49 PM   #2
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I willing to bet you are actually turning the switch on when the fuse blows.
Did you move three wires from the old switch to the new switch or did you make other changes either in the switch box or the fixture? Give us the WHOLE story because only swapping the switches doesn't cause this problem unless you have a loose wire or ground wire shorting to one of the terminals.

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Old 12-26-2010, 01:51 PM   #3
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It sounds, unfortunately, as if it is not wired correctly. Somehow, is it possible that you have one of the switches connected to neutral? Are your switches connected to any white wires (not conclusive, but a possible clue)?

Regarding voltage, I have come to the point where I don't measure voltages where a load (light bulb) in the circuit. I believe this can yield meaningless readings. Voltages have more meaning, also, when you describe which TWO wires have voltage between them. Saying a red wire has 40V has less meaning than saying that there is 40V between red and ground, for example.

You may have to post a bit more about the numbers of wires and color and number of conductors within each wire. A lot will depend on into which box supply is fed. You mention red, black, and white. Are these all in a single wire? Does not one of the boxes, if not both, have another wire with black and white conductors?

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Old 12-26-2010, 01:52 PM   #4
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I didnt change anything. One switch broke so I decided to change them both. The one in the laundry area has another single pole that controls the lights outside and they are jumped off of the 3 way next to it. Isnt it strange to have 120 in both boxes??
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Old 12-26-2010, 01:58 PM   #5
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Quote:
I didnt change anything.
You changed two switches, at least. But I am with JoeD....this problem is not the direct result of changing two switches. There is likely a short somewhere.
Quote:
Isnt it strange to have 120 in both boxes??
No, not necessarily. Depends on other devices in box.
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Old 12-26-2010, 02:02 PM   #6
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Its an old house so I have no ground wire.

When I measured voltage I measured from the screw hole in the box to each wire. All 3 wires at both boxes read as noted below. Each wire is a single conductor
White - 120
Black - 0
Red - 40

I didnt add any wires or new lights.

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Old 12-26-2010, 02:03 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by oberkc View Post
You changed two switches, at least. But I am with JoeD....this problem is not the direct result of changing two switches. There is likely a short somewhere.

No, not necessarily. Depends on other devices in box.
I doubt the short because if I remove the switches nothing blows
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Old 12-26-2010, 02:46 PM   #8
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If it were me, then, I would remove power from the circuit and measure resistance between wires and the screw hole. It sounds as if your box is grounded (which is normal and good, I understand). If you find any pair of wire/hole with low resistance, I would take this as a potential short.

Quote:
I doubt the short because if I remove the switches nothing blows
Perhaps, simply, that the process of pulling the wires out of the box to enable removal has eliminated the short? How is the condition of the insulation? Do you see any signs of cracking or exposed conductor?

Quote:
When I measured voltage I measured from the screw hole in the box to each wire. All 3 wires at both boxes read as noted below. Each wire is a single conductor
White - 120
Black - 0
Red - 40
Is this the same readings at both boxes? With both switches removed?
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Old 12-26-2010, 02:56 PM   #9
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Oberkc,

Insulation is old but I am not seeing anything obvious. I will test resistance now.

Readings are the same at all 3 wires at each box.
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Old 12-26-2010, 03:25 PM   #10
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OK. This is sure strange to me. Just to make sure...each box has a wire coming in with three conductors, red, white, black. These are wired directly to the switch, without being connected to any other wires. No wire nuts are to be seen. No other wire is connected to these three. No other wire than these are connected to the switch. Do I understand it correctly?

If so, then I conclude that this three-conductor wire passes through the fixture box and that supply power is at the fixture box, as well. Having 120V at both switch box locations, when all switches are removed, however, is inconsistent with this understanding.

I am starting to run out of obvious ideas other than to start opening fixture boxes and wall switches to identify wires and to where they go.
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Old 12-26-2010, 03:53 PM   #11
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Green = white

This is the box with the 3 way and a single pole

The 2nd box has 3 wires only
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Old 12-26-2010, 04:41 PM   #12
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Unless this is a california three way there is no way the white from the right should be on the switch. Put the black from the right on the common screw. Remove the white from the switch. Put the red and black from the left on the traveller screws. Are you certain that is how it was configured?
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Old 12-26-2010, 04:52 PM   #13
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Well! It looks like we have identified why you blow circuits. The white (green) wire is neutral (grounded conductor). When the left switch is in one position, it applies 120V to neutral with no load. This will blow a circuit every time. This is NOT the proper way to wire a "three-way" circuit. Unless your old switches had failed, this would have also blown a fuse. You MUST remove the white wire from the switch or else this will continue.

I don't see a red wire in your box for the single pole switch. Where did that go? What is the box in the top of your picture? Where do the wires go to the right?

If I were at your house, I would be confirming where each of those wires go and from where they come. I also suggest doing a google search on the variety of methods to create a three-way circuit. Use the one that matches your house wires.

If you want to work further on this, you will need to find where is your supply power (at the fixture box or one of the switches), and confirm what wires run between the fixture and switches.
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Old 12-26-2010, 04:57 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
Unless this is a california three way there is no way the white from the right should be on the switch. Put the black from the right on the common screw. Remove the white from the switch. Put the red and black from the left on the traveller screws. Are you certain that is how it was configured?
That picture is all in one box, Joed.

The other box in the kitchen only has 3 wires - red, black, white.
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Old 12-26-2010, 05:06 PM   #15
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attached is my best GUESS at how this box should be wired. It makes a lot of assumptions. I would definitely wait for peer review on this one.
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3 Way Switch-wire.jpg  

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