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mnp13 12-03-2011 08:25 PM

Three way switch mess
1 Attachment(s)
Ok, before I start with this, there are a couple of things that I have to let you know... Some of the wires are inaccessable / unchangeable. There was also an error made when wires were being cut, which can't be fixed / reset now.


Our house has knob and tube in the walls and ceilings. Over the last three weeks we have removed all of the knob and tube from the attic and have run all new wires for receptacles and lights on the second floor. There is one exception - the three way switches that run the lights in the upstairs.

There are three lights and one switch in the upstairs hall. There is one light and one switch in the downstairs hall - the downstairs light and the downstairs switch are the ones that I can't change or access the wires to. We believe that the wires were changed when the bathroom floor was ripped up, because they are newer wires, but they are attached in the walls.

Initially, my plan for the lights and switches was to carefully trace where and how everything was connected and then attempt to duplicate it minus the KaT wires. However, due to a miscommunication a number of wires were cut and pulled without the cutter noting where they went or what they connected to.

In the attic, there was woven covered romex that connected to the KaT in a number of different places. There is also woven romex that goes down into the wall to the downstairs. The woven romex goes to the downstairs light, but newer, plastic covered romex goes to the downstairs switch. There was no plastic romex in the attic - there are junctions somewhere in the walls. Two pieces of cloth covered romex come out of the floor in the attic.

So, I did the best I could and traced back the wires to where I thought they were and went from there. The upstairs switch had two romex running to it, black and white were connected to the switch from one and white only from the other. The white-only wire went up to the attic and connected to the KaT. The other romex ran down the joists and connected to one of the wires that drop through to the first floor. A second piece of romex connected to the KaT and then went down the joist to the other wire that drops to the first floor. The connection to the upstairs lights was the one that was "lost."

Below is the best drawing I could make from what was in the attic after the wires were cut and removed. I do not know exactly how the lights connected to the romex from the KaT.

I re-wired everything, and tried to follow the same setup, and then tie it into the finished wiring.

First, I found out the hard way that there was power getting to the three way wires when they weren't connected (or at least hadn't been connected by me!) Not full current, but one heck of a buzz.

So we tried again, and the downstairs light was on, but when I turned it off from upstairs it flipped the breaker. Then I tried it again, and it was on, but wouldn't turn off from either switch.

I have now stopped because I don't know if the problem is that something in the switch broke when the breaker tripped, or if the problem is the wiring. I have new 3 way switches, but if it's going to break them if I trip the breaker, I'm not going to keep on trying things - they are too expensive to waste like that!

Thoughts? I'm sure that's all clear as mud... but I tried to cover everything. I'm sure there are a million things I missed that you need to know - so ask questions or try to read my mind! :laughing:

joed 12-03-2011 08:37 PM

You are not permitted to modify K&T wiring. If you touch it you must replace it. K&T runs single wires all over the place. It not possible simply replace it with new NM cable. You need to start over and run the required cable for the required functions. sometimes you have to make holes in the walls. There is no way around it.

I don't not understand your drawing at all. Cloth romex? how many wires? how is it connected? What's that black squiggle line?

Are you trying to get the three light to work together off the two switches?

mnp13 12-03-2011 09:17 PM

Every bit that I touched I removed. I did not touch the stuff in the walls, if I could access it I'd remove it. Every inch of the upstairs is now rewired - to the current total of 750 feet of Romex. The remaining KaT is in the ceiling of the first floor. It runs out of the wall upstairs and connects in the panel. I didn't change anything with that, nor can I. I have no idea how they got it in there, and I'm not planning to attempt removal.

The black squiggle is the mystery of three wires (two plastic one cloth) turning into two wires (both cloth) inside the walls between the first floor and the attic.

The old set up was two switches controlling three lights. I want the same thing to work now.

Perhaps Romex is the wrong name for the stuff? I looks just like the Romex I bought, but instead of plastic around the two wires and ground, it is black woven material with a slightly metallic silvery paint over it.

jammin06 12-03-2011 10:41 PM

Ditto what Joed said. Double ditto.
You said " every bit i touched, i removed".
No dancing here. The safety of your family is on this.
You can't replace part of the circuit. The WHOLE CIRCUIT must be replaced.
The part inside the ceiling and walls, while HARDER to replace, is just as
dangerous as the rest.

joed 12-03-2011 10:48 PM

When you say wires do you mean cables? Until you figure out where the wires/cables go there is nothing I can do to help you.

mnp13 12-03-2011 11:00 PM

If it was in the attic, I replaced it. The stuff in the walls/ceilings has been there for God only knows how long and will be staying there. Currently I have nine ceiling lights on one 15 amp breaker, this is a vast improvement from four weeks ago when my KaT was also powering my refrigerator, and a number of outlets on the first floor.

The only mystery wires in the attic are the ones that go down to the first floor and connect to that one switch and one light. I truly "get" what you're saying, but we've been in this house for five years, and updated this as soon as we found it. (we had no idea that the KaT was actually powering more than half the house, as soon as I found it we started ripping into it. It's fine for lights. Not so fine for refrigerators!!!!

mnp13 12-03-2011 11:12 PM


Originally Posted by joed
When you say wires do you mean cables? Until you figure out where the wires/cables go there is nothing I can do to help you.

I guess. Maybe. lol

In Michelle Land, in this context, "wires" means the unit of three copper wires (the coated hot and neutral and the uncoated ground) that are inside of another wrapping keeping them together. I have some in my wall that is plastic on the outside, some that is cloth on the outside, and the stuff that I installed is the normal 14/2 Romex brand.

With two exceptions, the closet switch and light in two rooms, we re-ran every inch of wire in the attic and second floor. The two closets we left were already Romex (cloth outside, not plastic) and the wires were really difficult to pull so we left them.

I haven't re-wired the fridge receptacle or basement yet, so they just don't have power until I have a chance to get down there. The fridge is running off of a 20 amp dedicated circuit via extension cord for the time being. Not ideal, but far better than what we were doing before (without realizing it!)

I understand this is not ideal, and since you're not here can't see the whole thing. But I'd like to trouble shoot the switch wiring problem without breaking any more switches or shocking myself!!

joed 12-04-2011 10:37 AM

Then you need to make new drawing showing where all the cables go and tell us what the cables are. Are they 2 wire + ground or 3 wire + ground. We don't really care about the grounds. They simply all get tied together in all the boxes. Then we might be able figure something out.
Three way switches require some three wire cable. If you didn't use any then you are probably going to need to change some of those cables.

mnp13 12-04-2011 02:08 PM

I will make a new drawing when I get home. All of the cables are two wires plus ground. What I pulled out was also two wires plus ground. None of the wires were three wire cables

mnp13 12-04-2011 03:00 PM

1 Attachment(s)
Attachment 42011

The biggest question I have right now is this: if I experiment with the wires on the switches, and I guess wrong will it ruin them?

The new switches have a screw labeled "common" but I have no way of knowing which wire is common to both, since I can't get to the downstairs wires.

This setup was functioning with all two wire cables up until last week, so I know it's possible.

I do not know which wires were attached to which screws in the downstairs switch, as my helper cut the wires without labeling them.

joed 12-04-2011 06:24 PM

You have what appears to be the remains of what is called a California three way. The only part that looks useful is the 2 wire cable between the lights in the attic and the power junction box.
The proper way to make this work it to eliminate all the rest and add the following.
From power feed junction box
3 wire cable to upper switch box
3 wire cable to lower switch box.
2 wire cable to lower light. This cable might already exist as the 2 wire cloth covered cable.

AS has already been stated you are messing the K&T. Replace it all. You are not permitted to alter it.

mnp13 12-04-2011 06:26 PM

Perhaps a better question - in my switch boxes, I have two sets of two wires.

without the switches installed, which wires should create a circuit?

I know that one of the four wires in each box will not be used, and in the upstairs box, I know which one that is (or was) I do not know which one in the downstairs box was unused.

joed 12-04-2011 06:28 PM

Without knowing EXACTLY where all the wires go it is impossible to even give you wrong answer that will work.

mnp13 12-04-2011 07:44 PM


Originally Posted by joed (Post 786029)
Without knowing EXACTLY where all the wires go it is impossible to even give you wrong answer that will work.

Well, that sucks...

so... will tripping the breaker due to cross wiring ruin the switches if I decide to wing it? Apparently it broke the old one, which is why I ask...

mnp13 04-07-2012 10:01 AM

So I thought I'd post a followup to this now that it's solved.

I hired an electrician to come in and help me. That's a huge step for me... :laughing:

It took two of us five and a half hours to sort out the mess. We went up and down the stairs about 100 times testing switches, wires, mapping what went where and looking for the mystery wires.

So, he tests one set of wires by plugging them in and POW! blows a connection in the wall. :eek: Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened. We found a mess of wires that were twisted together under the floor boards in one of the bedrooms. No junction box, no nothing. Just twisted together - and one of them didn't even have a wire nut on it!

So, the switch at the bottom of the stairs ran through the light at the bottom of the stairs, then to the knot of wires in the floor, then to the attic. The wires also pass through a chunk that was cut out of the joist and join up to the two plastic Romex wires that go to the downstairs switch. So we still have an unknown set of connections, but did pull one new wire to the attic.

We put a junction box under the floor, and reattached the floor board with screws instead of the nails that were there. (and of course, I broke two boards trying to get the nailed ones up, so that's another project... ugh.) But at least that's done correctly now. When I redo the bathroom, I'll find the remaining wire connections and fix that step.

Had he not created that short, which actually blew apart one of the connections, we never would have found mess #1 under the floor. I'm guessing there is an equal mess under the bathroom floor, but that's got to wait because I really can't get into ripping up the bathroom right now!

So, we have light now! YAY!

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