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Old 03-12-2017, 10:27 AM   #1
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4-Way switch problem


Hi, everyone, and thanks in advance for your assistance.

I have a unique-ish problem with a 4-way switch:

Recently bought a house and I am updating the look of the switches and plugs, as well as other improvements and repairs. There are 3 bathroom fans, all on the same circuit (the only things), all with 4-way switches. The 4-way I am having trouble with is the first of the three I am trying to replace. My problem is that everything works with the old switch, but once I replace it, switching on any of the fans trips the breaker.

Here is the wiring of the old switch (grounds not detailed):

3-wire: Black to wire nut, White to switch IN/Line
4-wire: Black to switch Out/Load, White to switch Out/Load, Red to wire nut
Wire nut: above, and red to switch In/Line

When the new switch didn't work, I tried switching the whites thinking I may have accidentally swapped them.

The "box" that makes up the new switch is quite a bit bigger than that on the back of the old, but otherwise appears similar.

Any thoughts?

- Nikko
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Old 03-12-2017, 10:44 AM   #2
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikko963 View Post
Hi, everyone, and thanks in advance for your assistance.

I have a unique-ish problem with a 4-way switch:

Recently bought a house and I am updating the look of the switches and plugs, as well as other improvements and repairs. There are 3 bathroom fans, all on the same circuit (the only things), all with 4-way switches. The 4-way I am having trouble with is the first of the three I am trying to replace. My problem is that everything works with the old switch, but once I replace it, switching on any of the fans trips the breaker.

Here is the wiring of the old switch (grounds not detailed):

3-wire: Black to wire nut, White to switch IN/Line
4-wire: Black to switch Out/Load, White to switch Out/Load, Red to wire nut
Wire nut: above, and red to switch In/Line

When the new switch didn't work, I tried switching the whites thinking I may have accidentally swapped them.

The "box" that makes up the new switch is quite a bit bigger than that on the back of the old, but otherwise appears similar.

Any thoughts?

- Nikko
I think you may be using incorrect terminology in your description of your issue. A 4 way switch is used when turning on lights etc from three or more different locations. When using a 4 way switch there must always be at least 2 3 way switches being used in the wiring layout. You state all switches are 4 ways switches, that can't be.

Also you state all fans are on the same circuit. Are you referring to all the fans in one bathroom the same bathroom you are working with this switch?

Sorry, something does not make sense.

If you are working with a 4 way switch can you tell us the brand or post a link to it on the internet for us to see.

The other thing I have seen is if it is supposed to be a 4 way switch some people have bought the incorrect switch thinking because it has 4 screws and a ground screw that they have the correct switch when it fact they purchased a two pole switch which will have the same number of screws but for a different application all together. Does the switch you have show a marking on the switch it self as "on" and "off". Is it a regular toggle switch or a decora switch?

As I said just need to know exactly what you are working with for us to give you the best advice. Also can you post a picture of the old switch you are trying to replace and the new switch.
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Old 03-12-2017, 11:03 AM   #3
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


Great questions.

There are 3 bathrooms, each with its own fan. They are all wired to the same breaker. The switches all look the same with four screws (no ground), and wires connected to each screw.

I had assumed they were 4-way switches, because that is the only type with four screws that I had seen in the hardware store, and in my internet "how to" searches--might be one of the curses of "the more instances of an item on the internet means it is more likely that is what you are looking for; I'll put everything else on page 3567."

The switch I had bought was a Cooper "4-Way decorator switch with ground".

I'll see about getting some pictures up.
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Old 03-12-2017, 11:43 AM   #4
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


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Originally Posted by Nikko963 View Post
Great questions.

There are 3 bathrooms, each with its own fan. They are all wired to the same breaker. The switches all look the same with four screws (no ground), and wires connected to each screw.

I had assumed they were 4-way switches, because that is the only type with four screws that I had seen in the hardware store, and in my internet "how to" searches--might be one of the curses of "the more instances of an item on the internet means it is more likely that is what you are looking for; I'll put everything else on page 3567."

The switch I had bought was a Cooper "4-Way decorator switch with ground".

I'll see about getting some pictures up.
Also maybe if you tell us a bit more detail we may be able to assist you further. How many light switches control the fan in one of the bathrooms. I would assume only one switch. As I had said normally the 4 way is only for turning a light or something like that one from three or more locations. So would seem odd that you are using a 4 way switch in one bathroom to turn the fan on from three different locations in that one bathroom. That is what caught my eye. If the bathroom were large and had three doors to enter from such as from two different bedrooms and the hallway then a 4 way may be used to turn the lights on from any of the three entry doors. But unlikely someone would set that up for the fan; although possible.

Once you post a pic of the existing switch that you are replacing and a pic of the new switch we can go from there. Also if you can layout flat the diagram (instructions) for the new switch and take a pic of that it may help also.

But confirm please that there is on fan in a bathroom and you only turn the fan on from one location/switch.
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Old 03-12-2017, 12:10 PM   #5
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


A three switch setup will have two three way switches and one four way switch.
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Old 03-12-2017, 12:49 PM   #6
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


Not sure what the confusion is here. I have 3 bathrooms. Each has a fan. Each has a switch that controls only its own fan. Each switch is located inside the door of each bathroom. All three switches are wired to the same fuse/breaker with nothing else on the circuit. (So lights on 3-way switches, etc. doesn't enter in to it.) All 3 switches have 4 screws with wires attached to all of them. I took these to be 4-way switches, but that was an assumption on my part.

I don't have a photo-sharing account/service (and not keen on signing up for one), so trying to figure out best way to get photo uploaded.
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Old 03-12-2017, 02:55 PM   #7
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


If all three switches have four screws(not counting grounds) then you have something other than a three way switching circuit. A three way switching circuit will have two switches with three screws and one with four screws.
Do the switches have any make or model numbers on them? Try posting some pictures of them.
You could upload the images as attachments. Go to advanced reply and click the paper clip. It will show you maximum file size for the different types of images.
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Old 03-12-2017, 03:16 PM   #8
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikko963 View Post
Not sure what the confusion is here. I have 3 bathrooms. Each has a fan. Each has a switch that controls only its own fan. Each switch is located inside the door of each bathroom. All three switches are wired to the same fuse/breaker with nothing else on the circuit. (So lights on 3-way switches, etc. doesn't enter in to it.) All 3 switches have 4 screws with wires attached to all of them. I took these to be 4-way switches, but that was an assumption on my part.

I don't have a photo-sharing account/service (and not keen on signing up for one), so trying to figure out best way to get photo uploaded.
Is this similar to what you're describing as a 4-way switch? (the switches on the left side marked Exhaust fan, fan light, nightlight)
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Old 03-12-2017, 04:17 PM   #9
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


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Originally Posted by Nikko963 View Post
Not sure what the confusion is here. I have 3 bathrooms. Each has a fan. Each has a switch that controls only its own fan. Each switch is located inside the door of each bathroom.
A true 3-way/4-way switch loop will control all loads (fans) connected to them. You cannot control individual fans from individual switches. The fact that they are on their own circuit, although a tad unorthodox, I don't believe is relevant to the diagnosis.

Also, confirm you have 4-conductor cable as part of this circuit? Your connection description in post 1 doesn't make sense as described. Maybe a photo or diagram. If you select 'go advanced' in Post Reply you will see attachment icons.

Last edited by lenaitch; 03-12-2017 at 04:22 PM.
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Old 03-12-2017, 06:40 PM   #10
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


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Originally Posted by LawnGuyLandSparky View Post
Is this similar to what you're describing as a 4-way switch? (the switches on the left side marked Exhaust fan, fan light, nightlight)
That's what i got from the OP.....


Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikko963 View Post
...
Here is the wiring of the old switch (grounds not detailed):

3-wire: Black to wire nut, White to switch IN/Line
4-wire: Black to switch Out/Load, White to switch Out/Load, Red to wire nut
Wire nut: above, and red to switch In/Line
...
Grounds are not counted in wire counts. I assume that you mean 2 conductor with ground, and 3 conductor with ground?

Do you have something like this? (probably without the heater, so no extra cable)


PS. Don't use the backstabs like it shows.

Cheers!
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Old 03-12-2017, 07:16 PM   #11
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


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Originally Posted by Nikko963 View Post
Not sure what the confusion is here.
The confusion is the "title" being "4-way switch problem". So until we actually know the details it is difficult for us to guide you as to what the solution may be to your issue. 4 way switches to electrician's knowledge sends us to "left field" while you are in "right field" with your thoughts/terminology. This is why I had said terminology is so important. Be patient and we will help you.

Once you post pics that will help us.

And yes, I am getting the vibes that you have in post #8 that lawnguy shows which is a single gang-3 single pole switch device which would be 4 screws not including the ground screw.

Last edited by afjes2015; 03-12-2017 at 07:24 PM.
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Old 05-13-2017, 02:34 PM   #12
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


It turns out, this wasn't a 4-way switch, it is a 2-pole switch, so..yes..the title is entirely misleading.

It was yet another example of a phenomenon I have noticed before: Search for an item you aren't sure about but are looking for info on, and you get steered one way in every thing you read.

Later, you realize it isn't working out, do yet more research, and find a single reference to a seemingly obscure thing. But when you search for that obscure thing, you now find a zillion references, along with the common note along the lines of "this is commonly mistaken for xxx". Or, my other favorite, "don't do what is commonly recommended because it will cause this catastrophe (after following those recommendations and having had the catastrophe)."

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Old 05-13-2017, 02:38 PM   #13
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


With the realization that this was, in fact, a 2-pole switch, my original problem is solved: just a matter of buying the right kind of switch. But I have another question about replacing one of these switches in a new thread, "Replacing 2-pole (double-pole) switch".

I would appreciate any help there, if possible.
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Old 05-13-2017, 05:38 PM   #14
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Re: 4-Way switch problem


Sorry, this response is 2 month too late. I can't go back and review all the posts in this thread and remember everything I had in my mind at the time. A two pole switch is TOTALLY different than a 4 way switch. And what other post (a link may help) are you referring to now? Maybe you should try starting with a new thread.
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