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-   -   3-way switch on stairs won't work (http://www.diychatroom.com/f18/3-way-switch-stairs-wont-work-148710/)

km3t 06-30-2012 02:39 PM

3-way switch on stairs won't work
 
I tried fixing this with help from this forum over a year ago, and gave up. But it is annoying me enough that I'm going to give it another try.

The problem, I think, is that it's an old house and the wires still have the old fuzzy brown coating. They are virtually indistinguishable.

The two switches control 2 lights. One stairway light is roughly between the switches, and there is another light parallel to the stairs in a different hall. Not sure if that's relevant. I can't see inside the walls, obviously, to figure out the configuration.

Switch #1 (top of stairs) has 3 fuzzy brown wires (i.e. no newer coated white/black wires). The wire on the common has a black striping. One of the travellers is unmarked, the other has red striping.

Switch #2 (bottom of stairs) has (a) a newer coated black wire; (b) a fuzzy brown wire with red striping, which is attached to the common; and (c) an unmarked fuzzy brown wire.

I know the basics of fixing these switches (hot wire to one common, other common to the light, travellers on the others) and the obvious culprit I see is the red striped wire being on one common, but not the other.

But the thing which stymies me here is this: when the switches are removed, and the wires are simply dangling loose, all 5 of the old/ fuzzy wires give a positive ("hot") result with my little voltage tester. The only one which is dead, in fact, is the newer black coated wire, on switch #2 on a traveller.

If this is peculiar to these old wires where they somehow give false positives, then please let me know. But I know it's not a defective voltage tester... I just fixed a different switch the other day and, as it should have been, only one wire out of the 6 was hot, so it was easy. (Note my voltage tester is like a tic tester... just red light/ green light. I don't have an actual meter).

So as it stands, I can't even figure out which wire is supposed to be the main "hot" one.

My questions are, (1) can anyone help me fix it, and (2), whether or not I can accomplish #1, do I have a potentially dangerous circuit here?

Thanks in advance for any help!

andrew79 06-30-2012 04:19 PM

first off never trust a tickle tester. secondly if you posted pictures of what's there we can probably be of more help.

hammerlane 06-30-2012 04:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by km3t (Post 954792)
The problem, I think, is that it's an old house and the wires still have the old fuzzy brown coating. They are virtually indistinguishable.


Well we cannot do anything about the age of your house nor the insulation on the wires.

Is there some other problem you are having with the 3-way circuit?

TarheelTerp 06-30-2012 07:00 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by km3t (Post 954792)
I know the basics of fixing these switches (hot wire to one common, other common to the light, travellers on the others) and the obvious culprit I see is the red striped wire being on one common, but not the other.

The issue for you is identifying all the players in each of the boxes.
Switch Box #1 vs Switch Box #2 vs the Light Fixture Box and then (most importantly) which of these boxes has the source power.

The source wire is usually in the light fixture box which means identifying which of the other cables in that box are 'feed through' to other rooms, etc rather than going to the switches.

Of note: if only one of these three boxes has a cable with a red wire...
well, that will complicate this.
---

Start by identifying both ends of the two switch leg cables.

oh'mike 06-30-2012 07:44 PM

If you have a real tester--find the hot wire--

hook that to the black screw on the switch--install the other two wires (travelers) to the silver screws--

Go to the other box with your real tester---find the hot wire (one of the travelers)--turn the firsts switch--that hot (traveler) should now be off--
Test the other two wires for power--one should be hot now--those two are the travelers--attach the to the two silver screws on a new switch---the remaining wire is the switch leg to the light---place that wire on the black screw.

Never use the back stab holes --they seldom line up with the colored screws--and confusion results---Mike--

joed 06-30-2012 11:15 PM

house that old could be a california three way. There could be hot and neutral in both switch boxes.

km3t 07-02-2012 06:25 PM

Thanks for the answers so far. I take it that as a starting point, I should be going out and buying a better tester than a tick-tester, and re-assessing at that time? I swear that I carefully approached each wire from an opposing direction, and I splayed the wires far apart to avoid this problem... but every wire showing as "hot" did seem pretty odd.

I'm happy to upload a photo if it will be helpful, but there's not much to see in the boxes... it's not possible to tell, for example, whether any of the wires are coupled into a larger casing beyond the box.

TarheelTerp 07-02-2012 06:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by km3t (Post 956342)
Thanks for the answers so far. I take it that as a starting point, I should be going out and buying a better tester than a tick-tester, and re-assessing at that time?

The Ideal VolCon (voltage and continuity) is the standard against which all are measured.
About 30 well spent bucks at HD.


Quote:

I swear that I carefully approached...
I'm happy to upload a photo if it will be helpful...
...it's not possible to tell
get the good meter then take a few minutes to separate, test and identify the several sets of wires you're working with.

Ideally you'll have the typical old house set up with a single always hot 2wire that "passes through" that box before taking power to the lights in other rooms. Tied into that would be a white that goes to the light and a black which gets run through the switching which should have a red/black/white set going down to each switch box.

do the homework then report back.

brgmgb 07-03-2012 09:27 AM

Does the circuit breaker have two wires attached to it?

When we moved into our house, the upstairs hallway lights' 3-way switches did not work correctly. If the downstairs switch was up, the upstairs switch would turn the lights on and off. If the downstairs switch was down, the upstairs switch would not turn the lights on or off.

We called an electrician who added a breaker. I don't know what was on the other circuit, but once they were separated, the 3-way started working as it should. We have since upgraded to 200-amp service so I can't go back to see what two circuits were on the same breaker.

goosebarry 07-03-2012 10:11 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by km3t (Post 954792)
...
Switch #1 (top of stairs) has 3 fuzzy brown wires (i.e. no newer coated white/black wires). The wire on the common has a black striping. One of the travellers is unmarked, the other has red striping.

Switch #2 (bottom of stairs) has (a) a newer coated black wire; (b) a fuzzy brown wire with red striping, which is attached to the common; and (c) an unmarked fuzzy brown wire.
...

Could you give us the wire situation for the lights, please. We're trying to diagnose this with only half the picture.

jammin06 07-04-2012 05:09 AM

You've got switched neutral. PM me and I'll tell you how to fix it.

I just tried to here but with my slow typing it logged me out before I could post.


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