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Old 11-06-2010, 09:06 PM   #1
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I really, really, really could use some help....


......I am hoping that someone can help. I had the brilliant idea of changing all of my outlets and light switches in my living room and have somehow created a mess. First, I replaced all the outlets and everything worked fine, then I started on the light switches. At the hallway entering the living room I have switches there that controls dimming ceiling lights, overhead living room lights, and the bottom of EVERY outlet in the living room. In the living room I have four outlets that control 1) The bottom of every outlet as well 2) The Overhead living room lights as well 3) A ceiling fan 4) The outside light. Round one, ceiling fan (which I did not touch) dimming lights (which I did not touch) and outside lights (which I did replace) worked. The one that controls the bottom outlets and the overhead lights did not work. I googled it and read that I needed to break the tab on the outlets which could be a possible cause to what was going on. So, I went back, broke all the tabs and tried again. This solved the problem of the outlet switch so everything is working properly except my overhead lights. They will not come on at all. Now, of the two overhead light switches that I had, I only replaced one of them (the other I never touched!). I was VERY careful not to mix up the whole three wires but now nothing works. Yes, I say three because for some reason that one is not grounded (I am still using the switch that contains the four screws)........ it wasn't before and still isn’t. Well, when it did not work, I put on the old switch and yet it still will not work. I thought maybe I did mix up those three wires so I tried it a different way but still nothing...... (those wires are red, black, and white if that is relevant). Now I don't know….. All I do know is that my hubby is none pleased with my brilliant adventure and that I now have seriously messed it up. Any help/insight you could provide me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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Old 11-06-2010, 09:11 PM   #2
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I really, really, really could use some help....


When you broke the tab on the outlets, did you only break the bronze colored one or did you do both the bronze and silver?

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Old 11-06-2010, 09:15 PM   #3
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I only broke the right side (bronze colored) one. On the previous ones I uninstalled only the right side was broke......
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:25 PM   #4
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I really, really, really could use some help....


are the lights that aren't working switched from only one switch or are there more than one switch that operate those lights?
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:26 PM   #5
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I only broke the right side (bronze colored) one. On the previous ones I uninstalled only the right side was broke......
Good - that is correct.
You say you have a switch with four wires. Is one a bare copper wire going to a green screw or do all four wires have insulation?
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:28 PM   #6
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The lights that are not working are operated by two different switches (one of them I changed) and the other I did not touch.... once it wouldn't work I tried to put the old switch back on, but it still does not work.
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:30 PM   #7
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The one switch that I did not touch has four wires (one is the bare copper grounding wire). The one that I messed with only has three wires (missing the grounding wire).
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:31 PM   #8
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if they operate from 2 locations, you need to use a 3-way switch at each of those locations. Do you have a couple 3 way switches? They will have 3 terminal screws plus (probably) one for the ground wire (which should be green).


do you have any way to check for voltage on a wire? Makes it a lot easier.
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:33 PM   #9
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The new switch,is it a "Three Way switch" Hence- Two Brass screw and a black one? The old switch is it like what I described above?
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:33 PM   #10
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if they operate from 2 locations, you need to use a 3-way switch at each of those locations. Do you have a couple 3 way switches? They will have 3 terminal screws plus (probably) one for the ground wire (which should be green).


do you have any way to check for voltage on a wire? Makes it a lot easier.

Yes, I have those switches.... I got the new ones from Lowes (after I took one of the old ones in) and specifically asked for help. When it didn't work, I doubted them and ended up going back to the old ones (which did work before I messed with it!!). I have no way to check for voltage on a wire, I do not even know what that means!!
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:42 PM   #11
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The new switch,is it a "Three Way switch" Hence- Two Brass screw and a black one? The old switch is it like what I described above?
Yep, it has two brass screws one on each side, one black one, and one green one.
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:48 PM   #12
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3 ways... I always find them tricky to work with. Sometimes the screws on the switch won't correspond with the ones on the old switch.

you can always use crocodile clips to setup a simple circuit using batteries so you can find which screw does what, then try to reproduce the same thing with the live wires, then connect it from there.

This diagram helps visualize what is going on in those switches:



The power feed can also come through the light or the switch on the end. You can probably figure this out by the number of wires in there, and if some are just wirenutted together. Speaking of that, make sure if they are, that they did not come lose.
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:59 PM   #13
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3 ways... I always find them tricky to work with. Sometimes the screws on the switch won't correspond with the ones on the old switch.
Okay, so I am thinking out loud here. Could it have NOT been working because I only replaced the one side and not the other? Like the switch in the hallway, I changed, but I never made it to the other one in the living room because it wouldn't work and I didn't want to mess it up anymore? And then when I reinstalled the old one I just randomly picked up screws that I found from this crazy project and I really do not know if they were the right ones?! Yikes......... What is your insight on this?
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Old 11-06-2010, 10:15 PM   #14
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well, ever hear of Occam's razor?

the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.


Applying that to your situation: the lights worked before you changed the switch. They didn't work after you changed one of the switches. They still didn't work after you returned the original switch to duty.

simplest explanation is;

It's something you did.


so, if you didn't mess with the other switch in this circuit, don't start now.

with a 3 way switch, there are only 6 combinations of connecting the wires to it. any combination should cause the light to work is some combination of the two switches position. So, hook them up how you think they were. Turn the circuit back on and try the switch. Be sure to go to the second switch and try that one as well with the first switch in each of it's positions.

If it isn't connected correctly, you will not be able to turn the lights on and off from each switch like you should be able to. So, you turn off the circuit and swap 2 wires and try again.


the possible connections

wire colors
__________________________________________________ ____
screw 1 black black white white red red

screw 2 red white black red white black

screw 3 white red red black black white.

there are 2 of those 6 connections that will work. The other 4 will result in the light not operating correctly by using both switches in various combinations.

without being able to check for voltage, that's about the best I can suggest.

well, that doesn't format well. maybe this will be more readable


(screw) 1, black (screw) 2, red (screw) 3, white

1, black 2, white 3, red
1, white 2, black 3, red
1, white 2, red 3, black
1, red 2, white 3, black
1, red 2 black 3 white

just number any screw 1, 2 or 3. It doesn't matter which is numbered which way. It is only a reference number.

Last edited by nap; 11-06-2010 at 10:20 PM.
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Old 11-06-2010, 10:16 PM   #15
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Could possibly be. If one of the switches it not wired properly it can throw off the whole circuit, either make it act funny, or not work at all. There is always a "common" screw. Internally, the switch turns over power from that screw, to one of the other two screws. Usually the common is an odd color then the other two screws but I've seen situations where you just have to do guesswork.

What makes 3 ways hard is it's not always possible to actually identify what wire is what and where it goes but if you can do that, it makes it much easier. In most cases it is safe to just brute force until you get it going, if you're really stuck. Just be sure to identify the hot(black) and neutral (white) that come from the panel, so you do not cause a situation where they are put together. I had to do this in my hallway as it was hard to identify where each wire went.

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