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Old 05-05-2012, 11:10 AM   #1
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


Hello!

In a house I recently bought I have a strange situation.

There is a three way switch on one side of the wall with two sets of wires coming in:

Red, Black, White
Black, White

and then one stray Black that goes to the duplex receptacle on the other side of the wall (on the OUTSIDE of the wall! Clearly an afterthought.)

Into the receptacle goes this strange black single wire from the light switch and the usual black and white wires + ground wire.

I went to change the ugly receptacle to a decora and now it doesn't work, though I'm not 100% sure it worked before.

I've wired the new receptacle as I remember it being wired before, any idea what is wrong?

I've attached a diagram!

Thanks in advance for any input.
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Old 05-05-2012, 11:26 AM   #2
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


froggy,

not sure of your recollection of the wires that were capped off. it doesnt quite make sense the way its presented but lets ask some additional questions and figure out how it should be

they should not have run that black wire without a cable or conduit, but that is another matter.

the purpose of this configuration was probably to have half of the receptacle switched and the other half always on. i have this config in my living room since my wife didnt want an overhead light.


a couple questions ---
1. do you have a volt meter? if you do, check for voltage on the black and white wires coming in to the receptacle box (not the one from the switch)? ill bet there is voltage (should be 120) but because the tab connecting the two black screws is broken, only half the receptacle works. make sure to try both the brass screws (the black wires should be connected to brass, the white wires to silver). as an alternative try both the top and bottom of the duplex receptacle by plugging in a lamp before declaring it does not work

2. do you want this receptacle to be switched? if not, you probably can/should remove that stray black wire right away. if you do want it switched, you will have to change from the single wire to a code approved cable or conduit configuration.

3. is there another switch that controls the fixture? or a switch nearby that seems to be dead? nornally, the 2 wires coming into the switch are the hot and neutral. you tie the white wires together. you connect the black wire to the common screw. then you take the black and red of the other wire and connect those 2 the 2 traveler screws. at the fixture and/or the other switch, other connections are made that we can talk you through

kevin


Last edited by kevinp22; 05-05-2012 at 11:11 PM.
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Old 05-05-2012, 10:53 PM   #3
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


The stray black wire should be removed immediately and unconditionally even if this causes the receptacle to become decommissioned.

If you only found one end of the stray black wire, cap it and leave it in the box. After you find both ends, unhook the ends and snip off the wire as far as you can back in the box.

(A cable with black and white can be installed in place of the stray black wire after you have figured out what all of the rest of the wires do.)
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Old 05-06-2012, 08:17 AM   #4
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


Provide a few photos of whats going on inside the switch box and outlet location. If you are trying to function a receptacle off of the wiring in one of the 3-way switch boxes, you are going to need a neutral at that switch location. So hopefully the incoming power for this arrangement is coming into that 3-way switch location.

If you have a chance, read post #1 of this thread:
Electrical Terminology - PLEASE READ BEFORE ASKING FOR HELP!
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Old 05-06-2012, 10:51 AM   #5
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


need photos and description of what wires were hooked to the devices, without knowing where the devices were connected to it's tough to make a guess. the single black wire is definitely a no no but you may be able to use it to yank in a needed wire in the future so don't get rid of it just yet.
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Old 05-07-2012, 04:20 PM   #6
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


OK, thanks for your responses so far.

I made a new drawing (the photos I took aren't too helpful but I'll attach one anyway) with new information I discovered today.

I opened up the wall and realized that the 3-way switch is not directly wired to the receptacle that won't work - EXCEPT for the stray black wire outside of the wall. The wire out from the receptacle likely goes to a light fixture that I had trouble getting the switch it was connected to to work (until I posted on here).

I also looked back at that post and realized that before I messed with it, there were two black wires capped off together and ONE white wire capped off, I capped off both black and white extra wires to each other and maybe that is part of my problem. I did try to add each of the white wires to the fixture wiring and the receptacle still didn't work though. Of the four sets of wires going into the light fixture ("D" on my drawing) one is power, one goes to the switch, one I now believe goes to this troubled receptacle, and the other i have no idea where it goes! All the other receptacles in the room work even when they are disconnected.

I did test the top and bottom of the trouble receptacle, no luck there.

I have this volt meter, attached, which brings up another question, it goes off when I get even close to any of the wires, making it difficult to tell which ones are actually 'hot'. It usually works on normal wires as it should. I should also add that the stray black wire is unusual (to me) in that it has one set of tiny flimsy copper wires along with another set of flimsy copper wires encased in its own black plastic insulation, both inside an outer layer of black plastic. Hard to explain, but when I strip it, I end up with strands of copper and then a black wire with more strands of copper inside (that I have been stripped again and wired together)

I do not want the receptacle switched at all.

The big assumption that I am making is that the wires feeding the trouble receptacle are going to this other light fixture, not the three way switch as I previously thought. I followed the wire as far as I could without tearing out the ceiling and that's my best guess.

Any more ideas with all of this new information?

Thanks!

Froggy
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Old 05-07-2012, 05:08 PM   #7
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


unfortunately a non contact volatage tester wont do it in this case (sorry we werent more specific)

It can give false readings when many wires are in proximity and it doesnt tell you how much

you can probably get a cheap 120/240v light up tester for under $10 but if you are going to do more extensive work get a multimeter (one with a clamp is nice for measuring current)

ultimately what you have to do to untangle these mysterious configurations is figure out where the unswitched power is originating in this situation, and the only way I know to do that to do that is with a multimeter (or at least a light up 120/240 tester)
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Old 05-07-2012, 10:00 PM   #8
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3-way Switch to always hot receptacle - wiring trouble


i suggest a total rewire

from the looks of that drawing they're taking power from one source and picking up the neutral somewhere else. If everything wired like you say it is anyways.

That entire scenario doesn't make much sense, what wire are inside the box of the 3-way light.

Think you have to bite the bullet and pick up a cheapo tester to verify what goes where, folks here will be able to help out fast if they have the whole picture of what goes where.

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Last edited by andrew79; 05-07-2012 at 10:06 PM.
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