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r1racer 11-07-2010 03:33 PM

Unusual three way switch wiring help
 
Hi,

Okay, so here's the skinny...a friend of mine had a kitchen remodeled. They partially knocked down a wall (turned into a pony wall) that had a 3-way switch and moved it to another wall. All of the original wiring was aluminum (sucks) but the newly relocated switch (that has copper wiring attached) is connected to the aluminum wiring somewhere that can't be found. I have not checked any outlet boxes yet but by the looks of things I wouldn't be surprised if it was connected and capped off and left somewhere in that wall :no:. Either way, the 3 way switch does not work properly.

Here is the problem:

Switch 1 must remain in the on position in order for switch 2 to work properly. If switch 1 is in the off position then switch 2 does nothing. I have attached pics of the switches and their wiring as well as the wiring to the fixture.

Switch 1: It has a white and two red wires on its terminals.
http://i484.photobucket.com/albums/r...er/switch1.jpg

Switch 2: It has red, white and black on its terminals.
http://i484.photobucket.com/albums/r...er/switch2.jpg

Workbox:
http://i484.photobucket.com/albums/r...er/workbox.jpg

The fixture was wired with one red wire from a 12-3 cable going to the black wire of the light fixture and the white wire from the 12-3 cable to the white wire of the fixture. In the work box there are a total of three cables (two 12-2 and one 12-3). All of the whites are capped together, all of the blacks together and like I said above the one red wire to the black of the fixture and the white to the fixture as well.

Can anyone help me troubleshoot? Thanks.

r1racer 11-08-2010 11:24 AM

bump

anyone?

oberkc 11-08-2010 12:20 PM

Do you have a volt meter? Are you comfortable using it? Do you know how to measure resistance? Do you know which circuit controls this box.

It appears from the pictures that your supply starts in your ceiling box. The first step I would take is to confirm this with a volt meter. If you can confirm this, do a search on this forum or google or whatever to find a diagram of a three-way installation where supply comes into the ceiling box. The next steps are simply to determine where your wiring does not match this diagram.

As I understand a three-way circuit, the supply hot would then be routed to one of the switches. (From the picture of the ceiling box, this appears to be the case.) My next step would be to identify which of those switches it is. One of the switch switches should have a source of uninterrupted power. Use a volt meter to identify.

If installed properly, the supply should be attached to the black screw of one of the switches. If not, we may have found the problem. If correct...

Between switches there is likely three wires (disregarding ground). My next step would be identify which wire end in one switch box corresponds to which wire in the second switch box. I would do this by measuring resistance between the two ends. (This is done with power off.)

From there I would determine which wires in the switch are not on the correct terminal. I assume the problem is with switch 2, since it is the one that was changed.

r1racer 11-08-2010 01:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by oberkc (Post 530823)
Do you have a volt meter? Are you comfortable using it? Do you know how to measure resistance? Do you know which circuit controls this box.

It appears from the pictures that your supply starts in your ceiling box. The first step I would take is to confirm this with a volt meter. If you can confirm this, do a search on this forum or google or whatever to find a diagram of a three-way installation where supply comes into the ceiling box. The next steps are simply to determine where your wiring does not match this diagram.

As I understand a three-way circuit, the supply hot would then be routed to one of the switches. (From the picture of the ceiling box, this appears to be the case.) My next step would be to identify which of those switches it is. One of the switch switches should have a source of uninterrupted power. Use a volt meter to identify.

If installed properly, the supply should be attached to the black screw of one of the switches. If not, we may have found the problem. If correct...

Between switches there is likely three wires (disregarding ground). My next step would be identify which wire end in one switch box corresponds to which wire in the second switch box. I would do this by measuring resistance between the two ends. (This is done with power off.)

From there I would determine which wires in the switch are not on the correct terminal. I assume the problem is with switch 2, since it is the one that was changed.


Yes, I have a volt meter, I know how to measure resistance and I do know what circuit it's on. I have wired 3-way switches in my own home before but have never seen anything like this. My two biggest problems are not understanding where the copper wire to aluminum wire connection has been made as well as why the power (black) never connects to the light nor two switch 1.

If the power is indeed coming into the ceiling box, it is not hooked up to the fixture like in a normal diagram. All of the black wires are pigtailed to black, white to white and fixture and red to fixture. There is only one 12-3 cable in that box that goes to switch 1. There is then another 12-3 cable that leaves switch 1 and goes somewhere (this is the missing piece). It is not directly connected to switch 2 as switch 2 is a copper 14-3 cable.

So with this said, what would you recommend that I do once I find the power source? Thanks a bunch.

oberkc 11-08-2010 02:17 PM

Quote:

If the power is indeed coming into the ceiling box, it is not hooked up to the fixture like in a normal diagram.
Three way switches are not normal. They are like helicopters...they shouldn't work.

In a three way, power would come from the ceiling, sent to one switch, to the other, back to the first, then to the fixture, itself. I highly recommend getting a diagram from the web.

Based on your pictures, i am guessing you have supply to the ceiling, which is pigtailed to a wire going to a switch, and also to another, yet undefined device, such as an outlet. My guess (also from your pictures) that the power from supply is sent to switch 1. This should be connected to the black terminal of this switch.

Since switch one is in a double box with another switch, it is possible that the supply from the ceiling fixture feeds both switches. You may have to trace the supply through a wire nut. With the other switch in place, it is hard to visually trace the wiring from your picture.

Quote:

All of the black wires are pigtailed to black, white to white and fixture and red to fixture.
The red to the fixture should be a return from a switch, most likely from the same switch to which power is fed.

Quote:

There is then another 12-3 cable that leaves switch 1 and goes somewhere (this is the missing piece). It is not directly connected to switch 2 as switch 2 is a copper 14-3 cable.
Yes, it is connected directly to switch 2, but through aluminum wire, wire nuts somewhere, and copper. (BTW, copper to aluminum can be a corrosion problem. It may be worth locating that junction and identifying how that connection is made.)

Switch 2 is where I suspect your problem is. Most likely, swapping wire positions on switch 2 will solve your problem. You may even use trial and error. I believe the risk is limited to your lights not working.

You can also try completely removing the three wires from switch 2 and probing for voltages. One wire will have a voltage when switch one is in one position. Another wire will have a voltage when switch on is in the other postion. One wire will never have a voltage. (This is the wire that should be on the black terminal of switch 2.)

Still, knowing how this should be wired is 90% of the problem. This will point to troubleshooting steps.

r1racer 11-08-2010 02:36 PM

Okay this makes more sense...I will pull switch 2 and test for the voltages. Will keep you posted.

I told my friend to call the contractor that did the work regarding the improper switches, outlets and connections throughoutr the house regarding the aluminum wiring as my understanding is that you need co/alr rated switches and outlets and penetrox-a and 3m wire nuts. Thanks a lot for your help.

heartlessmcfly 11-08-2010 03:43 PM

your travelers and common wires are mixed up

r1racer 11-10-2010 10:48 PM

1 Attachment(s)
Okay, yesterday I checked switch 2 (with the red, white and black copper wires). The black wire is the power source and is hot at all times. So, this is definitely the hot leg. I was in a rush so I didn't get a chance to check switch 1. But I'm hoping that is simply one of the traveler wires are on the common terminal. Will be checking tomorrow.

Does this look like the diagram that fits my situation? But instead of the taped white wire being hot (in the diagram), my 12-3 cable in the ceiling carries the black (hot) all the way through (not connected) to switch one and then connects to switch 2 (which is the hot leg)?

oberkc 11-11-2010 02:33 PM

I am not sure if this is an exact match of yours (since yours is mis-wired), but this represents one of two correct ways of doing it. Your only remaining task is to make sure your wiring matches this diagram .

Quote:

Okay, yesterday I checked switch 2 (with the red, white and black copper wires). The black wire is the power source and is hot at all times. So, this is definitely the hot leg.
So you have positively identified the supply! I think you have solved your problem. Make sure this supply is hooked to the black lug of the switch. The other two are the travelers that go between the two switches. Make sure these two travelers are on the correct switch lugs (not black) of both switches. The black lug of the second switch becomes your switched power, feeding the fixture. This should be hooked to the wire returning to your fixture.

Nice job.

r1racer 11-11-2010 08:49 PM

Thanks for the help. Turns out that everything was wired correctly. It was just a bad switch. I replaced both and everything us working fine. The contractor is coming back also to put a jbox in the ceiling as the copper to aluminum was capped off and covered up. Thanks again.


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