Go Back   DIY Chatroom Home Improvement Forum > Home Improvement > Electrical

CLICK HERE AND JOIN OUR COMMUNITY TODAY...IT'S FREE!

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 06-30-2012, 01:39 PM   #1
Newbie
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Vancouver
Posts: 10
Share |
Default

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!

km3t is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2012, 03:19 PM   #2
Master Electrician
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Toronto Ontario
Posts: 1,165
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


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

__________________
Sarcasm is my friend
I'm here to learn too, i do mostly commercial/industrial/new construction and this place is a great way to pick up tips on residential from some good electrical minds. Excuse the spelling, my phone has a mind of it's own.
andrew79 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2012, 03:45 PM   #3
Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Ohio
Posts: 2,546
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


Quote:
Originally Posted by km3t View Post
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?
hammerlane is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2012, 06:00 PM   #4
MarginallyQualified
 
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Winston-Salem NC
Posts: 3,663
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


Quote:
Originally Posted by km3t View Post
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.
TarheelTerp is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-30-2012, 06:44 PM   #5
DIY staff
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Kane county,Illinois
Posts: 21,606
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


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--
__________________
New members: Adding your location to your profile helps in many ways.--M--
oh'mike is online now   Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to oh'mike For This Useful Post:
rjniles (07-03-2012)
Old 06-30-2012, 10:15 PM   #6
Member
 
joed's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Welland, Ontario
Posts: 7,528
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


house that old could be a california three way. There could be hot and neutral in both switch boxes.
__________________
Do not PM with questions that can be asked in a forum. I will not respond.
joed is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2012, 05:25 PM   #7
Newbie
 
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Vancouver
Posts: 10
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


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.
km3t is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-02-2012, 05:50 PM   #8
MarginallyQualified
 
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Winston-Salem NC
Posts: 3,663
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


Quote:
Originally Posted by km3t View Post
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.

Last edited by TarheelTerp; 07-02-2012 at 05:53 PM.
TarheelTerp is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-03-2012, 08:27 AM   #9
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 90
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


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.
brgmgb is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-03-2012, 09:11 AM   #10
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 221
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


Quote:
Originally Posted by km3t View Post
...
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.
goosebarry is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 07-04-2012, 04:09 AM   #11
Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 83
Default

3-way switch on stairs won't work


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.

jammin06 is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Tags
3-way switch, light, switch, wiring


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Single Switch with Two 3-ways to Control 2 Separate Sets of Lights? LowlyDIYer Electrical 2 10-19-2011 09:11 AM
fan/light switch buzzing mjlocat Electrical 4 05-23-2010 02:44 PM
3-way light with a twist Jeepsail Electrical 14 05-18-2010 01:24 AM
single gang single pole switch on fan fabian Electrical 14 03-05-2009 01:11 AM
does a switch in an old work box require a ground? jheavner Electrical 7 10-04-2008 11:09 PM




Top of Page | View New Posts

Copyright © 2003-2014 Escalate Media. All Rights Reserved.