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Old 12-13-2008, 05:46 PM   #1
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Dimmer Switch


I bought a dimmer switch to use in my finished basement today and bought a single pole dimmer since the switch I am changing out is the only switch that controls the lights. After pulling out the switch I am thinking I have a 3 way switch. When I pulled the switch out there were 3 wires connected to the switch, a black, red, and white wire. On the dimmer switch I got there are two black wires and one green wire. Am I able to use this switch or do I need to go back and get a 3 way switch? Do home builders normally install 3 way switches where a single pole switch would work?

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Old 12-13-2008, 06:02 PM   #2
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Dimmer Switch


You are describing typical 3 way switch.

Does it say on/off? if so, it's a single pole.

Does it have 3 terminals? If so, it's a 3 way.

If it's a 3 way, there should be another one somewhere...unless it was eliminated for some reason. Look at the other entrance to the room.

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Old 12-13-2008, 06:18 PM   #3
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There isn't another entrance to the room and I have looked for another switch. I asked advice from a friend as well and I hooked up the red from the wall to the black on the dimmer, black from wall to black on dimmer, and white from wall to green on dimmer and the dimmer works. Although when I hold my ear right next to the switch while it is on you can hear a very very faint buzz coming from the switch. Doesn't make the sound when it is off and when it is on you litteraly have to be holding your ear next to the switch. Is something wrong?
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Old 12-13-2008, 06:40 PM   #4
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Dimmer Switch


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Originally Posted by Vandiyan View Post
There isn't another entrance to the room and I have looked for another switch. I asked advice from a friend as well and I hooked up the red from the wall to the black on the dimmer, black from wall to black on dimmer, and white from wall to green on dimmer and the dimmer works. Although when I hold my ear right next to the switch while it is on you can hear a very very faint buzz coming from the switch. Doesn't make the sound when it is off and when it is on you litteraly have to be holding your ear next to the switch. Is something wrong?
Please disconnect the switch. The green screw is for a ground wire and only a ground wire. In the US that would be a bare copper wire or a green wire. The white is very likely current carrying (hot) and you have energized the whole switch. This is a shock hazard, if you are grounded and you touch a metal part of the switch such as a screw,,, you can die.

Best advice would be to either hire someone to trace down why it is a 3 way switch or get another 3 way switch.

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Old 12-13-2008, 08:24 PM   #5
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Well I disconnected it since I really don't feel like dying. I will just take the switch back and get a 3 way dimmer. Thanks for the advice.
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Old 12-13-2008, 09:13 PM   #6
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Well I disconnected it since I really don't feel like dying. I will just take the switch back and get a 3 way dimmer. Thanks for the advice.
Sounds like a good plan. :-)

If your new switch has a green ground screw, you should connect it to the ground wire if that is available in the switch box. In a residential setup, this is almost always a bare copper wire. When a ground is connected properly, it help prevent a shock if the yolk of the switch ever becomes energized.

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Old 12-13-2008, 09:49 PM   #7
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Is something wrong?

Focus..... and ignore advice from your neighbor unless he is an electrician.

1 question:


Did the old switch say on/off?
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:48 AM   #8
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Focus..... and ignore advice from your neighbor unless he is an electrician.

1 question:


Did the old switch say on/off?
No the switch didn't say on/off. There was one black screw and two gold screws on the switch as well.
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Old 12-14-2008, 12:10 PM   #9
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Dimmer Switch


if this is in your basement, it is at the bottom of a stairway. a stairway requires that a 3 way switch is located at the top and bottom. is this the case?
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Old 12-14-2008, 05:00 PM   #10
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if this is in your basement, it is at the bottom of a stairway. a stairway requires that a 3 way switch is located at the top and bottom. is this the case?
Yes this is my basement. The switch in question is at the top, but there isn't a switch at the bottom. It is only 7 stairs and leads down to a finished basement.
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Old 12-14-2008, 06:42 PM   #11
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Dimmer Switch


You can convert a 3 way switch circuit to a regular switch circuit using an ordinary dimmer. You say you do not know where the other switch in this 3 way circuit is or was. Should someone find it and flip it, your dimmer controlled light may or may not stop working until that switch is flipped back.

You can convert a 3 way switch circuit to dimmer operation, preserving the 3 way operation, by getting a 3 way dimmer kit.
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Old 12-14-2008, 08:46 PM   #12
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Just as an additional question. When I put the original switch back in I had made a note to where to put the black wire in but did not note to where to put the red and white wires since I had read it didn't matter and only needed to mark the black wire. Does it matter which slots the red and white wires are in because now the lights turn on when the switch is up and turn off when the switch is down? Could the red and white wires being switched when I put the switch back in cause this or is it due to something else. It doesn't really matter to me right now since I will be putting in a dimmer just didn't want it to be a hazzard to have the red and white mixed up if in fact I do.
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Old 12-14-2008, 09:18 PM   #13
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Dimmer Switch


What you needed to make a note of is the wire attached to the common or wiper terminal which usually has a black stained screw. Not necessarily the black wire. The two travelers, connected to the other (usually bright colored) screws, can be exchanged with no ill effect.

If all you have to go by is the black wire, you will need to do more verification. Actually there is no hazard in using trial and error here; the only consequence is that this switch or the other switch doesn't "work right". (Do not connect the green dimmer wire to anything other than ground wires.)

Last edited by AllanJ; 12-14-2008 at 09:30 PM.
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Old 12-14-2008, 09:33 PM   #14
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Dimmer Switch


I have a friend that lives in a small apartment in the basement of her daughters home.
One night her lights started to flash, for no apparent reason.
It turned out her grand-daughter, wondering what a switch was for, operated it a few times.
Seems that it was a regular 3 way switching arrangement, from the first floor kitchen to the basement.
When the basement was made into separate living accommodations, including a separate entrance, the switching was never changed!

I mention this story, because the mating switch may be installed somewhere that may not be expected.
Do you have any switches elsewhere, that do not appear to have a function? Especially ones that are not marked off/on!
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:21 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Wildie View Post
I have a friend that lives in a small apartment in the basement of her daughters home.
One night her lights started to flash, for no apparent reason.
It turned out her grand-daughter, wondering what a switch was for, operated it a few times.
Seems that it was a regular 3 way switching arrangement, from the first floor kitchen to the basement.
When the basement was made into separate living accommodations, including a separate entrance, the switching was never changed!

I mention this story, because the mating switch may be installed somewhere that may not be expected.
Do you have any switches elsewhere, that do not appear to have a function? Especially ones that are not marked off/on!
Nope no switches that seem to control the lights in the basement other then the switch in question.

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