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Old 07-28-2012, 01:41 PM   #1
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


I have a light (fan also, but fan is on dedicated hot to panel so not related) where I'm trying to go from a 3-way setup to a simple 2 pole setup to control the light.

I want to turn the removed switch into a GFCI outlet for my TV (image below of new outlet).

Here is the switch I want to keep (with black, white and red):
3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI-good-switch.jpg

And here is the switch to be converted to a GFCI if possible:
3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI-bad-switch.jpg
3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI-edit.jpg
3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI-new-gfci.jpg

The switch I want to keep currently has a black, white and red wire. From my novice understanding, the red is what makes the light 3 way. Can I simply cap the red at the good switch? Below is a terrible drawing I did of the wires in the electrical boxes now.
3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI-img_20120728_124642.jpg

The switch to replace used to have another switch next to it that was removed when I bought this house. That switch controlled an attic fan that was removed. This makes the wires in the other switch box really confusing to me since they're all connected. From the picture, it appears that this switch box is also providing power to other outlets?

Can anyone provide some guidance on what to do to accomplish my goal? I hope I've explained well. Thanks for your help.

Thanks,
Nate

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Old 07-28-2012, 02:17 PM   #2
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


Are you sure your diagram is correct and complete showing everything as you saw it originally? You cannot have a proper other 3 way switch on the right side originally without a 3 wire cable coming in to meet it. Does the switch on the right really behave as a 3 way switch? When was the house built?

Ignore the paragraphs below. (Or really there is nothing to lose by trying them)

On the right side of your diagram ---

Turn the power back on and measure the voltage from the blacks coming up from the bottom. Measure black to white and also for good measure measure black to ground. Try different switch positions and measure again. If you always get 120 volts from at least one of the blacks up from the bottom then you are good to go.

Now turn the power off.

Connect the two blacks coming up from the bottom (one must be the power source and the other continues to another switch or receptacle) to each other and also to the black wire or gold screw of the GFCI line side and also to the place where it used to be connected to the switch that will stay there and also to the black wire going up. Use extra lengths (pigtails) of black wire if needed to reach everything and not have two wires under one screw.

Connect the white wire or silver terminal of the GFCI line side to the bundle of white wires already there.

Cap off the white wire going up from the right side box. (That goes to the other 3 way switch)

Don't do anything in the box on the left. It will still work as a regular switch. You can clean things up later after you get the new GFCI receptacle working on the right side; several more questions need to be asked before that final cleanup.

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Last edited by AllanJ; 07-28-2012 at 02:42 PM.
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Old 07-28-2012, 03:09 PM   #3
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


Not 100% sure it's 3 way. Just figuring since when I flick one the light turns off /on. Didn't know it could be anything else besides 3 way. House was built around 1959.
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Old 07-28-2012, 03:16 PM   #4
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


Oh and there is a junction box in the attic above this room related to these wires. I guess that's a given. Should I take a picture of the fan wiring going into the ceiling?
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Last edited by natedro; 07-28-2012 at 04:37 PM.
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Old 07-28-2012, 03:49 PM   #5
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


A pair of switches wired as three way will behave this way: If the light is on then either switch will turn it off. If the light is off then either switch will turn it on.
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Old 07-28-2012, 04:04 PM   #6
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ
A pair of switches wired as three way will behave this way: If the light is on then either switch will turn it off. If the light is off then either switch will turn it on.
So would that change anything if I went ahead and disconnected the unwanted switch and if so, would I still follow your original advice above to convert it to gfci?
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Old 07-28-2012, 05:03 PM   #7
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ
A pair of switches wired as three way will behave this way: If the light is on then either switch will turn it off. If the light is off then either switch will turn it on.
Ok I've looked closer at the switches. I'm under the impression, based on all the new switches I've bought, that these have to be 3 way switches. They have 3 wire terminals. Doesn't that rule out any other type of switch?
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Old 07-28-2012, 05:07 PM   #8
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3-Way Switch Confusion / Convert to GFCI


If you really have a 3 way switch there originally (has 3 terminals and behaves as I described) then removing it and hitching together two of the wires will conver the other switch to a regular switch.

But you have to choose the correct two wires to hitch together.

When taking away the 3 way switch, label each wire as where it came off of. Then find the common terminal of the switch, sometimes indicated by a darker stained screw or the letter C engraved near it. If not you would need an ohmmeter to figure that out. The common terminal shows zero ohms to at least one of the other terminals for (correction) both switch positions. Connect the common wire to one of the other wires. Cap off the third wire but keep it labeled. Subject to the other restrictions in this paragraph, if one of the (non-common) wires is white, cap off that one.

As a somewhat independent topic from eliminating one of the 3 way switches, you want constant (not switch controlled) power and a neutral coming out of the same cable to hitch up the receptacle (GFCI or standard). Use pigtails (extra short lengths of wire) of the same color if needed to get everything connected together without putting two wires under one screw.

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Last edited by AllanJ; 07-28-2012 at 05:21 PM.
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