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Old 02-23-2010, 03:01 PM   #1
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


I have an electrical box currently fed by two wires: a 12-3 from a 3-way pilot light switch and a 12-2 from the source. I want to control a new (to be installed) ligth fixture from this pre-exising 3-way pilot light switch and a new regular 3-way switch (no pilot light). I can change anything but the existing 3-way switch and its 12-3 connection (feeding an additional cable is not an option at this point). Can anybody please explain me how to wire this, ideally even send me a diagram? I'm pretty sure the exising pilot light switch is a 3-way switch as right next to it is an identical swich working in a 3-way circuit, plus markings around the electrical box indicate there used to be a light fixture plus a second switch connect to it.

Thanks for your help in advance.

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Old 02-23-2010, 03:08 PM   #2
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


When you say pilot light switch do you mean a switch that is lit so you can see it in the dark? Is the "new to be installed fixture" replacing an existing fixture or being added with a new box? A three way switch will have 3 wire terminal screws on it and possibly a ground screw. A three way switch is needed to operate a light from two locations like the top and bottom of a stairway.


Last edited by daveb1; 02-23-2010 at 03:29 PM. Reason: clarification
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Old 02-23-2010, 04:02 PM   #3
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


There is a red light below the switch which should be on if the light fixture is on (because they are in different rooms). There is no light fixture installed at the moment. I will buy one and can add as many boxes as needed. I know the pilot light switch I have is a 3-way switch because I have a second one (which looks identical) acting as a 3-way switch in a functioning circuit consisting of the same setup (one pilot light switch and one regular light switch, both controling one light fixture). Unfortunately, I cannot properly trace this other circuit, otherwise I would just dubliate it. My main question is around the 12-3 connecting the exising pilot light switch with the electrical box. I find many diagrams that would need a 12-4, but have not found one yet for a 12-3 connection. But I know it must be possible because of the second circuit in my house using the same pilot light switch connected with a 12-3 wire disappearing in the wall.
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Old 02-23-2010, 04:26 PM   #4
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Did you want the new fixture to turn on and off at the same time as the existing light? From the existing switch locations?
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Old 02-23-2010, 04:36 PM   #5
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Sorry if I wasn't clear: currently there is NO light fixture installed at all. What I have is not a functioning circuit but a leftover of one from a previous owner. Currently installed are only:
(1) a 3-way pilot light switch in room 1
(2) a 12-3 connecting it to a box in room 2
(3) a 12-2 running from the source to the same box
What I want to add is a ligth fixture and a second switch but without pilot light in room 2. Currently I'm looking for a wiring diagram that allows me to do that without replacing the 12-3 with a 12-4 or running another cable to the pilot light switch.

Thanks for your help!
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Old 02-23-2010, 05:22 PM   #6
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


The room 1 3 way switch you are working on cannot be both three way and pilot lit when you finish the circuit by adding wires to the room 2 unoccupied junction box in the middle and use the source coming into the unoccupied junction box.

The pilot light needs a neutral. The neutral must come from the same cable as the unswitched hot power that the switch will control.

The 3 way switch needs three wires not counting a neutral.

So you need two travelers, hot, and neutral.

You do not have enough wires to bring the 3 way travelers back from room 1 through the unoccupied box in room 2 and on to the brand new matching non-lit 3 way switch in room 2.

Furthermore I am led to believe that this incomplete circuit pilot light switch is not three way. Rather the room 2 source probably fed an ordinary pilot light switch via that 3 wire cable with the switched power coming back to room 2 on the red wire. A three way pilot light switch works only when it is at the point in the circuit where it is connected to the light fixture, as in
power - unlit switch = pilot switch - light
Not
power - pilot switch = unlit switch - light

By the way a night light 3 way switch (on when the light is off) works at either or both 3 way location(s) and does not need a neutral..

How is the incomplete 3 way switch circuit wired up so far? Supply a picture.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 02-23-2010 at 05:39 PM.
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Old 02-23-2010, 05:45 PM   #7
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Simple very common setup.

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Old 02-23-2010, 06:19 PM   #8
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Won't work, unless you change the 12/3 to a 12/4. You need to have that 4th conductor return to the pilot-light switch for it to properly function.
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Old 02-23-2010, 11:01 PM   #9
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Sorry, but I don't manage to add the picuture I took, so I will describe: the pilot light switch I want to connect to a circuit has currently 5 screws and one seems missing:

left-top: gold, connected to white wire
left-middle: gold, no wire connected but conducting to left-bottom screw
left-bottom: gold, connected to black wire
right-top: silver, connected to red wire
right-middle: green screw missing
right-bottom: silver, connected to ground wire

I make the assumption on the missing screw based on the other, identical pilot light switch I have which currently works as a 3-way pilot light switch even though is is only connected to one 12-3 cable (just like the currently inactive one). This other switch differs only in two aspects: it has a green, unwired screw at the right-middle position, and the red and while cables are switched.

Is it possible that the 12-3 is used as 12-4 by misusing the grounding wire as forth conducting wire? If yes, how bad is that? Would that be fine if I managed to get a ground contact to the grounding screw from a neighboring switch?

Last edited by flitz; 02-23-2010 at 11:09 PM.
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Old 02-24-2010, 07:30 AM   #10
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Yes, some folks try to light the pilot lamp by connecting one light terminal to ground as the fourth conductor instead of neutral, but that is very improper. That will also trip a GFCI if the circuit has one of those.

Unfortunately, describing a switch using words like "left top" and "right center" is not helpful to electricians. From the looks of it you would need to do continuity tests between every combination of terminals taken two at a time, for both switch handle positions, before someone could figure out how to wire it up. Turn off power and unscrew light bulbs controlled by the switch before doing continuity tests of switch terminals.

Also, measuring voltage from each terminal to ground (both switch handle positions) will help identify the switch terminals in most situations.

Currently, which color wire is used for which position on a 3 way switch is also likely to vary so you can't tell which terminal is common or lamp neutral etc. just by looking.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 02-24-2010 at 07:46 AM.
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Old 02-24-2010, 07:45 AM   #11
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


If you still want the pilot light to work you will need to run the fixture cable to the switch with the pilot light or replace the cable between the switches with 14/4 cable.

We will not even discuss using the ground wire as current carrying conductor.
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Last edited by joed; 02-24-2010 at 07:47 AM.
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Old 02-24-2010, 09:28 AM   #12
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Thanks so much to all of you for your replies. Probably what I will do is to replace the currently inactive 3-way pilot light swich with a regular pilot light swich, use the existing 12-3 and forget about the second switch ... .
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Old 02-24-2010, 10:54 AM   #13
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


You could still use the three way switch. It will work just fine as a single pole switch. One of the traveller terminals will be left empty. It will save the purchase price of a new switch.
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Old 02-24-2010, 12:01 PM   #14
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


Cool, thanks!!! I think I will do another post asking for the best and most comprehensive DIY electrical wiring book out there ...
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Old 08-20-2012, 06:46 PM   #15
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Two 3-way switches: one pilot light, one regular


An eagle 294v-box switch (probably what you have) will do what you want with 12/3 wire!

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