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Old 09-21-2012, 04:16 PM   #1
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3 way switch trips breaker over night


Hi...first time DIY user...hope you can help me!

An indoor/outdoor "switch housing" light timer that has been working for 12 years, stopped working a few weeks ago. The timer itself is located in the garage lightswitch housing and continued to show the right time and on-off program, but would not trigger the outdoor lights. Wouldn't work in manual mode either. (not a battery issue) Upon removal, I found that it was wired into a 3-way configuration (black, red and white wires) with another 3-way switch controlling it's on-off function near the living room front door. (all the switches are indoors)

I decided to replace the timer with a 3 way light switch to test whether the outdoor lights themselves were the problem? Once I'd replaced the timer with a standard 3 way switch, I could turn the outdoor lights on and off, without a problem, from both sources. (garage and living room entrance switches)

Problem solved (or so I thought?!) While waiting to purchase a replacement light timer, I left the outdoor lights ON overnight...and the next morning, the breaker switch had tripped. Re-setting the breaker, had the outdoor lights operating again. But the next night, the same thing happened...leaving the outdoor lights ON overnight, the next morning, the breaker was tripped.

Now, when I turn either of the 3 way switches ON, the breaker trips immediately. I've replaced the living room 3-way with a new switch. Still trips the breaker. I've taken all the light bulbs out of the outdoor fixtures (two framing the garage doors, one at the front entrance and a yard light on a pole) I've checked the yard pole wiring...and even diconnected the hot wire to see if that was the culprit...still tripped the breakers. (Does removing the bulbs actually help with the testing..or do I need to take the fixture off and disconnect the wiring to truly see if it's the outdoor light causing the problem?)

During my trials, I've found that there are two bathrooms worth of CGI plugs, lights and fans tied into this same 15 amp (Seimens) breaker (Yikes!). But again, it's been working for 12 years on the same circuit with the light switch timer controlling the outdoor lights.

I thought it might be that the breaker finally gave up, so I removed the SINGLE wire going into it, in the panel box and placed it into a similar sized breaker (just replaced the wires)...tried to turn on the outdoor lights and again, tripped that breaker as well.

I did replace my outdoor lights incandescent bulbs with some fancy LED lights in my outdoor fixtures last fall...but they were working perfectly fine all last year? All the CGI plugs, lights and fans work in both bathrooms...just as long as the outdoor light switches are in the off position.

I'm running out of ideas on what might be causing the fault. What I do know is when the outdoor lightswitch gets turned on, the garage lights and the chest freezer motor, dim or labor for a brief second. they are all on different circuits! it seems like the fault causes some "stress" on the entire electrical system? Maybe tripping the breaker does that anyway?

Why would the switch work for a few days...then trip the breaker overnight...now trip it immediately? Do I need a larger load breaker? Are my LED lights the culprit? (I've seen some threads saying that a new breaker might be needed to run the new CFL/LED lights?) Might it be a wiring fault outside?

HELP? and thanks,

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Old 09-21-2012, 06:12 PM   #2
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3 way switch trips breaker over night


Try to split the circuit in half, then test the breaker.
I would try to remove the power leaving the house to the post first.

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Old 09-21-2012, 06:43 PM   #3
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3 way switch trips breaker over night


bear with me Jbfan, my toolbelt is still pretty shiney! Do you mean, try to separate the outdoor lights from the circuit? ie. disconnect the power to all the outdoor light fixtures and test the breaker? I know I tried disconnecting the power (hot wire) to the driveway pole...and still tripped the breaker when I flipped the switch?

thanks,
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Old 09-21-2012, 07:35 PM   #4
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3 way switch trips breaker over night


If you trip the breaker whenever you turn a switch on you either have a mistake in the wiring or you have wires touching each other or touching screws or other metal parts when they should not touch. It is possible for the problem to be inside a light fixture or be intermittent, the wires touching only when a truck rumbles by on the street and shakes the house

This kind of short circuit can cause lights throuhout your house to dim for a moment before the breaker trips. This kind of short circuit can also damage the switch or the breaker or drastically shorten the life of them.
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Old 09-21-2012, 08:17 PM   #5
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3 way switch trips breaker over night


I disconnected all the outdoor lights at each fixture. No evidence of broken wires or corrosion...kept the white and black wires connected after removing the fixture wires. Tried switching the lights on with each successive light being removed. Breaker tripped each time. Now with all the lights removed, but the circuit still connected via the black and white wires in each fixture...the breaker still trips when the switch is flipped on.

Tested the two 3 way switches on this circuit. With the breaker on and the switches in the OFF position...there is power to the white wire in one...BUT BOTH the BLACK AND WHITE wires are live on the other 3 way switch. Is that supposed to be the case?
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Old 09-21-2012, 09:34 PM   #6
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3 way switch trips breaker over night


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hazelberg View Post
bear with me Jbfan, my toolbelt is still pretty shiney! Do you mean, try to separate the outdoor lights from the circuit? ie. disconnect the power to all the outdoor light fixtures and test the breaker? I know I tried disconnecting the power (hot wire) to the driveway pole...and still tripped the breaker when I flipped the switch?

thanks,
Where exacitly did you dissconnect the pole light ?
You have a short somewhere !
Now you have to check and test everything to find where !
Check the cables at all fittings and switchs for any damage !

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