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Old 02-14-2019, 10:52 AM   #1
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4 way switch replacement


So a month ago I decided to replace a light switch with a beige handle with one with a brown handle. When I pulled out the beige switch I discovered it was a 4 way switch and that 1 terminal was fractured and the whole switch was wrapped over and over with electrical tape (so then it HAD to be replaced - the former owner must have broken the terminal and just shoved the thing in the wall regardless.) Well, fast forward to the end, I ended up replacing all 4 switches in the set. There's a couple takeaways from this I thought I would let everyone know if you have the misfortune to work on one of these.

1) Home Depot does not carry 4 way switches in the stores. You can order them online and have them delivered to the store. However, the 4 way switches with brown toggles are apparently a special order even for HD and take 2 weeks.

2) Apparently to save money, Leviton is now using switch casings from DPDT switches for 4 ways. There is NO writing on the switch ANYWHERE that identifies it as a 4 way. The only way you can tell is there's no ON/OFF on the handle, and by using a meter to test it in both positions.

3) MANY of the circuit diagrams on the Internet for 4 ways are wrong. There are several that show both red wires going to the black terminals which may be correct for some switch manufacturers but not Leviton. Here is one of the few I found that is correct - somewhat - although for the ease of drawing they flipped switch #3 terminals (it doesn't matter BTW) and they mislabeled switch #4. I STRONGLY recommend NOT following the drawings exactly as I have yet to find a completely accurate one. (maybe I should draw one)

4) The positioning of the switch terminals means nothing different manufacturers will put the "input" terminals and the "output" terminals in different places on the switch.

5) The two traveler wires can be crossed at the switch and it will still work HOWEVER you will create a situation where the light will be on if all 4 switches are in the down position. (which is irritating to me) The proper way is to keep the black and the red traveler wires going to the associated "uncrossed" terminals. If you do it right then when ALL switches are down the light is off and ANY up pattern that is "binary odd" the light is on any that is "binary even" the light is off. If your into computer math, hexadecimal and base 2 numbers you may notice that this is just a binary system.

6) You can put an unlimited number of these switches in a string it is possible to have 1 light controlled by say 10 switches. (But likely very silly) The 2 switches at the "ends" of the string must be 3 way though. It is actually very simple once you figure it out - a 2-switch system will have 2 3 ways, a 3 switch system will have 2 3 ways and 1 4 way, a 4 switch system will have 2 3 ways and 2 4 ways, a 5 switch system will have 2 3 ways and 3 4 ways and so on and so on.

Here is a procedural way of reconnecting this kind of a switch setup assuming it is properly wired in the wall and you are having no luck keeping the wires going to the same terminal positions on the replacement switches:

a) Turn off power and take all your switches out of the walls that are in one of these strings. Make sure the wires are sticking out of the wall and the bare ends are not touching anything. MAKE SURE YOU GET ALL THE SWITCHES IN A CHAIN don't leave any of them in the wall. If ANY switch comes out with a white wire attached to the switch you either have some very screwed up wiring or some other weird setup like the 4 way switch has a pilot light on it.

b) Using a continuity meter check every switch in both positions and make sure it's a 4 way or a 3 way. The diagram shows what a 4 way switch is IT IS NOT A DOUBLE POLE DOUBLE THROW SWITCH and what is connected in what position. Make sure the black terminals are the "fulcrum" side of the switch (the terminals that don't move) and the white/brass terminals are the "contact" side of the switch (the terminals that swap positions) Don't trust the switch unless you test it some goofball may have swapped around the screws.

c) Locate the "end" and "middle" positions in the wall - they will have 3 wires going to the switch, 2 blacks and a red. The "middle" positions will have 4 wires 2 blacks and 2 reds. If there are any whites going to the switch make a resistance test from the whites to ground it should show 0 ohms if they are indeed neutrals. Whites can be travelers if the electrician didn't know what they were doing. Push the whites that are neutrals aside for now they will be connected last.

d) turn on power and locate the "source" end position. It is the end position that has 120v between 1 of the blacks and ground/neutral. Check every other wire coming from every other switch position there should be NO power on any of them. Turn off the power.

e) At the "source end" position connect a 3 way switch with the black terminal going to the black wire that was hot and the remaining black and red "traveler" wires going to the brass terminals. Put the switch in the wall and plate it and turn on power again. (unless you have an unconnected white neutral more on that later)

f) Test each "middle" position for 120v at one of the wires. (black or red) That is the "middle #1" position. toggle the 3 way you just installed and test that position for another hot. You should end up with a red and a black that pass the hot between themselves according to how the "source" 3 position switch is toggled. That is the "input" pair of "middle #1" The remaining black and red that did NOT get hot are the "output" pair of "middle #1" Turn off power

g) Connect the first 4 way switch so that the black terminals are connected to the "input" pair of black and red wires and the brass terminals are connected to the "output" pair. Push the switch into the wall and plate it and turn on power again.

h) Check the remaining "middle" positions for a hot black or red. That position is "middle #2" Toggle the last middle switch you just installed and find the black red pair in "middle #2" that pass the hot between them. That is the "input" pair. Turn off power and install the next 4 way switch the same way you did the first one and push it into the wall and turn on power again

i) Repeat steps f, g and h for all the remaining "middle" positions until you use up all the positions with 4 wires (2 blacks and 2 reds) sticking out of the wall and you are left with the remaining "end" position with 3 wires sticking out of the wall. Turn back on power and find the "input" black/red pair. Turn off power. The leftover black in that position is the "output" or "load" wire. Connect this to the black terminal on the 3 way switch and connect the "input" traveler wires to the brass screws. Put the switch in the wall and test it all out - congratulations you just correctly wired up your light.

If you have whites in this mess:

whites CAN be travelers! There is such a thing as a 4 way pilot switch (this is a 4 way that has a light or electronics in it that requires power) that will require a neutral. (I personally have NEVER seen one myself but I understand they do exist) But a regular 3 way or 4 way will NOT have more than 3 or 4 terminals respectively and you should NEVER see a white connected to one of these. If you do you either have a piloted switch or you have a dangerous situation that some idiot created or you have a double pole double throw and not a 4 way at all. In the first case the white neutrals should always test with continuity to ground. In the remaining cases my advice is to pray! Probably it would be best to call in a pro but if you want to figure that one out you can do it with a meter and an extension cord to create a very long long test lead for one of the test leads on the meter.

Hope this helps someone! I create this myself (except for the image) you are free to copy/redistribute it.
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Last edited by tmittelstaedt; 02-14-2019 at 11:10 AM.
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Old 02-14-2019, 03:38 PM   #2
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


Quote:
Originally Posted by tmittelstaedt View Post
2) Apparently to save money, Leviton is now using switch casings from DPDT switches for 4 ways. There is NO writing on the switch ANYWHERE that identifies it as a 4 way. The only way you can tell is there's no ON/OFF on the handle, and by using a meter to test it in both positions.

I can see Leviton using the same casing for both types of switches to reduce costs. But a DPDT switch would have 6 screw terminals, while the 4-way would only have 4 (not counting the ground screws). Seems like that would make it easy to tell which is which. Or, are you saying the 4-way has 6 screws and 2 of them are no-connects?
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Old 02-14-2019, 05:51 PM   #3
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


So after your long description/story - may I ask what your question is that you need help with?


Yes, 4 way switches need to be in between 3 ways physically in wiring.


Difference between 4 way switch and two pole switch is two pole switch has "On"/"Off" imprinted on it.


Did I miss something?


Your Question?
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Old 02-14-2019, 08:34 PM   #4
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


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Originally Posted by RAL238 View Post
I can see Leviton using the same casing for both types of switches to reduce costs. But a DPDT switch would have 6 screw terminals, while the 4-way would only have 4 (not counting the ground screws). Seems like that would make it easy to tell which is which. Or, are you saying the 4-way has 6 screws and 2 of them are no-connects?
Arg that's what I get for not checking acronyms. I meant DPST. I should have looked here:

https://www.littelfuse.com/technical...nd-throws.aspx

Good catch, thanks! I'll correct.
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Old 02-14-2019, 08:41 PM   #5
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


Quote:
Originally Posted by afjes2015 View Post
So after your long description/story - may I ask what your question is that you need help with?


Yes, 4 way switches need to be in between 3 ways physically in wiring.


Difference between 4 way switch and two pole switch is two pole switch has "On"/"Off" imprinted on it.


Did I miss something?


Your Question?
You didn't read the last line here it is again:

Hope this helps someone! I create this myself (except for the image) you are free to copy/redistribute it.

I used the search function and found nothing on this site that explained 4 way switches in this manner. Mainly responses from people who understood them and were unable to convey their understanding to people who didn't. The saddest one was a month ago where the poor questioner got so frustrated he said he was just going to cap off all the switches with blanking plates. Presumably in the future someone will use the search function and find this post and then not have to ask.

OK OK I know I'm probably a bit naieve on that! But seriously there is so much misinformation on this out there mostly on blogs that have zero zilch peer reviewing so there's no way to correct them other than sending the blog author a nastygram and mostly they ignore them. Particularly if their misinformation has been out for a long time, is on a page that is ranked high in the search engines, and is slathered with adverts paying them money.

I take it since you commented on the post with a non-content comment that you didn't find anything wrong with the content - thanks!
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Old 02-14-2019, 08:50 PM   #6
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


Quote:
Originally Posted by tmittelstaedt View Post
Arg that's what I get for not checking acronyms. I meant DPST. I should have looked here:



https://www.littelfuse.com/technical...nd-throws.aspx



Good catch, thanks! I'll correct.


It is a DPDT switch function but the throws are cross connected internally.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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Old 02-15-2019, 12:41 AM   #7
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


Quote:
Originally Posted by curiousB View Post
It is a DPDT switch function but the throws are cross connected internally.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
A 4-way switch is a DPDT with the 2 load sides connected internally and one of them cross-connected to the other. The only other application I can think of than lighting is reversing AC motor direction.

But what I was trying to say is that Leviton is using the same case for the 4-way as on their DPST switches and is NOT marking anywhere on the 4-way switch that it is in fact a 4-way and not a DPST. Other switch makers DO print on the switch casing "4-way switch" So when buying these things at Big Orange make sure you are indeed getting a real 4 way and not a DPST.
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Old 02-15-2019, 11:39 AM   #8
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Re: 4 way switch replacement


Quote:
Originally Posted by tmittelstaedt View Post
A 4-way switch is a DPDT with the 2 load sides connected internally and one of them cross-connected to the other. The only other application I can think of than lighting is reversing AC motor direction.

But what I was trying to say is that Leviton is using the same case for the 4-way as on their DPST switches and is NOT marking anywhere on the 4-way switch that it is in fact a 4-way and not a DPST. Other switch makers DO print on the switch casing "4-way switch" So when buying these things at Big Orange make sure you are indeed getting a real 4 way and not a DPST.
Some manufacturers include a wiring diagram printed on the inside of the box. What I find confusing is that some manufacturers have their 4-ways wired top and bottom while others have theirs wired left side and right side.

Thank you for all of your research.
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