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Old 11-30-2009, 06:16 PM   #1
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Light switch installation problems


Hello all,
I tried to change out some switches this weekend and ran into an issue. I am hopeful someone might be able to give me some pointers or point me in the right direction.

The original setup was a single gang box with 3 switch combination switch installed (is that the correct term?), it's not a 3-way switch but 3 switches built the size of a single normal switch. The switch was in the entrance hallway, one switch controlled the hallway ceiling lights, one controlled the adjacent room's switched outlets and one controlled the outside lighting.

We wanted to add a timer switch for the outside lights so I needed to expand it to a 3 wide gang box. While attempting to remove the old gang box, my labels came off and I had to reassemble the wires according to memory. I have attached a picture to show what I recall as being correct.



After installing everything, the hallway and adjacent room functioned correctly (A,B D), the outside lights did not (C,E). When C1 and E2 are connected to the timer switch with E1 as live it causes issues with the switch, one started smoking the other seems to have a protection circuit and keeps tripping it. C1 can be connected with E1 as live without apparent issues. I took a multimeter to it and C1 and C2 appear to have continuity.

If the white wires from the respective conduits are disconnected the switch does not operate that item. I would think this means it's a 3-way setup but there are no other switches for any of these lights.

Finally, the mappings are as follows:
  • B = one outlet in the room
  • D = 1 outlet in the room
  • A = hallway overhead lights
  • C = Outside lights by the door
  • E = Outside light on a pole in the yard

The first timer switch was rated at 5A and I thought that might have been the issue so we replaced it with a 15A switch. That switch trips as I indicated above. If I use a regular switch instead of a timer everything seems to work properly.

Any help is greatly appreciated. If anyone needs something I may have left out or clarification on something. please

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Old 11-30-2009, 06:49 PM   #2
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Light switch installation problems


Ok, I will just give you a general method to figure out what is what.

Lights can be powered at the fixture or the switch.

If the light is powered at the fixture, then there would be just two wires going to the switch. Shorting these wires would make the light turn on.

Like this...




Or lights can be powered at the switch like this...



Then next is an ohm meter or a continuity tester. With this you can see if two wires connect. You could see if a wire in a light fixture connected to a wire in the switch box. Here is how to use a continuity tester...
http://www.dinosaurelectronics.com/Test_Fuse.htm

NEVER use a continuity tester with the power on! It will be wrecked!

Then if you have a black and white wire going to a light bulb socket, and a bulb in the socket, you will measure continuity from the white wire to the black wire. If you remove the light bulb, there will no longer be continuity there.

So if you wanted to find out where the black wire went, first mark where it was connected, then disconnect it, and you will not get a reading via the white wire!

If you are trying to read continuity on one wire, and all the wires connect to each other at light fixtures or the main breaker panel, you will see that everything connects to everything else! Thus you need to disconnect things at both ends before measuring continuity.

And turn off the main power always before doing any electrical work. Things can be on separate breakers. You may turn off one breaker, but another is still on! Turn off the whole house main breaker!

As to marking wires, you can use colored paint and one of those small art paint brushes. Paint a dab on the wire and a dab on where it goes. Many different colors in an art set.

That should get you started. If you can identify some wires, then easier to identify the remaining wires.

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Old 11-30-2009, 07:05 PM   #3
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Light switch installation problems


Your switching involves only the black/red wires

You have 5 wires to figure out. Power coming in, power going out and three switch legs (going to the different lights).

a) Hook all whites together.

b) Find the power coming in. (could be any of the blacks or red)

c) connect the power in to the other 4 black/red wires one at a time to determine where they go (the lights will turn on)

An electrician would simply do this hot, being careful not to get hurt or make sparks . A homeowner should turn the breaker off, connect one wire at a time and check the results.


Whan you are done you should have

1) all neutrals (whites) together,

2) power in and power out wirenutted with three pigtails (to feed the 3 switches)

3) three switch legs (going to the 3 lights)

The switches simply connect/disconnect the constant power and the switch legs.

Last edited by 220/221; 11-30-2009 at 07:07 PM.
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Old 11-30-2009, 07:05 PM   #4
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Light switch installation problems


I forgot the most important part!

One is that you may be able to go in the attic and giggle a wire while someone below notices which wire that is.

Also if you have a light fixture 15 feet away from the switch wiring and you want to see which wire goes from the switch to the light fixture, use a long length of wire. Connect it to a wire at the light fixture with alligator clip test leads, then use the other end of the wire at the switch box for testing various wires. (Just use cheap speaker wire or whatever for testing.)

Alligator test leads like this come in handy for this...

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Old 11-30-2009, 07:14 PM   #5
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Light switch installation problems


Crap...I didn't see this part.


Quote:
B = one outlet in the room
D = 1 outlet in the room
A = hallway overhead lights
C = Outside lights by the door
E = Outside light on a pole in the yard
Wirenut B and D along with 3 pigtails. Attach one pigtail to each switch (or timer pigtail).

Attach A,C and E to the second switch terminal (or timer pigtail)
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Old 11-30-2009, 08:03 PM   #6
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Light switch installation problems


Quote:
Originally Posted by 220/221 View Post
Crap...I didn't see this part.




Wirenut B and D along with 3 pigtails. Attach one pigtail to each switch (or timer pigtail).

Attach A,C and E to the second switch terminal (or timer pigtail)
I assume you're talking about the white wires in each set. A little more info in case it matters. When the white wires are not wirenutted, and the A switch is on, A2 shows 125v. When B/D switch is on, B2 shows 125v. I am unsure about D since I can't connect the timer. However, neither wire is hot.

Also, C1 is orange and not a red (hot) wire. If C1 is bridged to a hot wire, and C2 is wirenutted with the other whites the doorway lights turn on. If E1 and E2 are bridged, the pole light turns on regardless of the other white wires.
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Old 11-30-2009, 08:08 PM   #7
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Light switch installation problems


Quote:
Originally Posted by Billy_Bob View Post
Ok, I will just give you a general method to figure out what is what.

Lights can be powered at the fixture or the switch.

If the light is powered at the fixture, then there would be just two wires going to the switch. Shorting these wires would make the light turn on.

Like this...




Or lights can be powered at the switch like this...



Then next is an ohm meter or a continuity tester. With this you can see if two wires connect. You could see if a wire in a light fixture connected to a wire in the switch box. Here is how to use a continuity tester...
http://www.dinosaurelectronics.com/Test_Fuse.htm

NEVER use a continuity tester with the power on! It will be wrecked!

Then if you have a black and white wire going to a light bulb socket, and a bulb in the socket, you will measure continuity from the white wire to the black wire. If you remove the light bulb, there will no longer be continuity there.

So if you wanted to find out where the black wire went, first mark where it was connected, then disconnect it, and you will not get a reading via the white wire!

If you are trying to read continuity on one wire, and all the wires connect to each other at light fixtures or the main breaker panel, you will see that everything connects to everything else! Thus you need to disconnect things at both ends before measuring continuity.

And turn off the main power always before doing any electrical work. Things can be on separate breakers. You may turn off one breaker, but another is still on! Turn off the whole house main breaker!

As to marking wires, you can use colored paint and one of those small art paint brushes. Paint a dab on the wire and a dab on where it goes. Many different colors in an art set.

That should get you started. If you can identify some wires, then easier to identify the remaining wires.
Billy Bob, thank you for the reply.
The biggest issue I have is the non-standard colors used by the wiring. Here is some additional info I've tested and maybe it can help with figuring out the white wires.

When the circuit breaker is on, and the switch connected to B1 is on then B2 shows 125v. When the switch connected to A1 is on, A2 shows 125v. D2 does not show voltage under any condition and I can't tell about C2 since it is not on a switch yet.

Also, I was doing the diagram from memory but there is an addition blue wire in the D conduit, it is the one that is bridged to B3 and the switch for D.
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Old 11-30-2009, 08:55 PM   #8
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Light switch installation problems


I would not pay attention to wire colors and I would not bother with which ones have voltage or not - for now.

Anyone can connect any color wire to anything they want. And they could connect a wrong color wire!

So the best method is to figure out what goes to what, and what colors are used for what. (As opposed to saying to yourself: This wire is purple, therefore it MUST be for this. But maybe not so!)

And the easiest thing to start with is which wires go to the lights, then label them, then which to the outlet, then label, them, etc.

Then you would be left with just a few wires which will then be easier to "figure out".

So I would start by figuring out which wire goes to the ceiling light fixtures. And if the power for those lights comes from the switch? Or if the power for those lights is provided in one of the light fixture electrical boxes.

And if the power for the lights is provided in a light fixture electric box, then the two wires going to the switch would probably be black and white. And technically the white should be marked black because this is switching the hot. But many times this is not done. Thus the reason to not necessarily go by wire colors.

So keep it simple and just start with that one switch.
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Old 11-30-2009, 09:25 PM   #9
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Light switch installation problems


The timer needs a neutral. If it's an electronic timer, the contacts will not close unless the timer has both hot and neutral (plus the load hot) connected to it properly.

If it's a mechanical timer (with trippers for the time of day), it should still close the contact and turn on the light if the neutral is missing, but the clock motor won't run and it's just a switch, not a timer.


FW

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Last edited by KE2KB; 11-30-2009 at 09:31 PM.
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