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Old 02-19-2010, 10:55 AM   #1
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Please help with my 3 way switch conundrum!


Hello. I've racked my brain enough and need help. From my best guess, I have a three way switch with the power at the light with one of the switches at the end of the circuit. So... Light-Switch-Switch. The 12-3 wire coming from the light goes to the switch at the top of my stairs. That's right, they used 3 wire from the light to the first switch, with the red being constant hot and the black going to the 3 wire of the last switch (bottom of stairs-end of circuit). My problem is, where does the neutral of the 3 wire traveling from the light to the 1st switch splice to? They used the "white" wire from the last switch for a traveler so it's no longer a neutral.

Currently, the light only works sometimes when I attach the neutral of the 3 wire coming from the light to the neutral of the downstream neutrals. I did my best to create an illustration of the setup. Please see attached and help!
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Old 02-19-2010, 11:52 AM   #2
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Here's a diagram for how to set up a Light--Switch--Switch 3-way configuration. You don;t need a neutral connection at any of the switches unless you want a fancy dimmer or timer switch (normal 3-ways do not require a neutral).

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Old 02-19-2010, 11:56 AM   #3
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The neutral from the light to the first switch is spliced only to the neutral going to "rest of circuit" in your diagram.

In the first switch box the hot red (unswitched) is connected as you have it (to both the common terminal of the switch there and black out to the second switch and also the black to "rest of circuit".)

Your diagram looks right. Double check to be sure your wires are indeed connected to switch traveler terminals (lighter) and common terminal (should be darker or marked C) to match your diagram. (red and white between the switches are your travelers)
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Stick to your lawn watering schedule until it really starts to pour. After the storm you have only the same number of rest days you always had and then you need to start watering again.

Last edited by AllanJ; 02-19-2010 at 12:28 PM.
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Old 02-19-2010, 12:03 PM   #4
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Thank you... The problem with that diagram is that they use 2 wire. I have 3 wire... so I have an extra wire running from the first switch to the light. Before, they had the neutrals all together in the light and then to the switch box which used to house 2 other switches. Those 2 other switches were moved to the other side of the wall using 2 wire. Everything in that group works fine because of the constant hot wired to the 2 wire "rest of circuit". So can I get away with disconnecting the neutral at the light, capping it and doing the same at the switch box?

Alan - that is correct, but what are you implying?
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Old 02-19-2010, 12:07 PM   #5
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You have a continuation (to some receptacles or other lights?) on your first switch box and labeled "rest of circuit". You need the extra white from the light to bring neutral to the "rest of circuit".

Without the "rest of circuit" the white from the light is not needed at the switches.

Caution: If "rest of circuit" is fed power from someplace else, both its hot and neutral in this first switch box should be disconnected and the ends taped individually and the ends curled up out of the way at the side of the box. Meanwhile if "rest of circuit" gets its power from this first switch box 1 (red) then it must get neutral here and not from the other end of that circuit. Hot and neutral must both be provided from the same end of the circuit or portion of a circuit.
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Stick to your lawn watering schedule until it really starts to pour. After the storm you have only the same number of rest days you always had and then you need to start watering again.

Last edited by AllanJ; 02-19-2010 at 12:22 PM.
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Old 02-19-2010, 02:24 PM   #6
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No need to post the same question in differnet forums. Same answer as before.
The drawing looks correct if the black wire on the top switch is on the COMMON screw and the dashed wire in the lower switch is the COMMON screw.
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Old 02-19-2010, 05:44 PM   #7
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Didn't really mean to post on 2 forums. I realized that there was an electrical forum after posting on the general discussion forum...

Anyway, I have everything hooked up per the diagram posted by the secu with the neutral going on to the rest of the circuit. Switch #2 only works when the switch no.1 is pointed to the travellers and Switch #1 only works when the switch is pointed to the common. So.. still not working properly. !
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Old 02-19-2010, 06:54 PM   #8
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Here's a picture. Note the black terminal is the common. It sure sounds like you have the wrong wire on the common terminal.

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Old 02-19-2010, 08:41 PM   #9
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I guess it is time to get out the multimeter and do some trouble shooting. It is possible you have a bad switch or a wire broken inside its insulation (probably one of the two travelers.)

Turn off the power.
Unscrew the light bulb.

In the first (middle) switch box measure continuity from the black/black junction to the switch terminal with the white wire. Measure continuity from the black/black junction to the traveler switch terminal with the red wire.
Flip switch #2 and repeat these measurements.

Also in the first switch box measure continuity from the common switch terminal (with a red wire) to the traveler terminal with the red wire. Measure continuity from the common switch terminal to the terminal with the white wire. Measure continuity between the two traveler terminals. Flip switch #1 and repeat these three measurements.

Report your results.

I assumed that the lower right switch terminals as shown on your diagram are the common terminals because you colored them in dark that way. But when working with the switches themselves, terms like rear center and upper left cannot be used to describe the common terminal.
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Stick to your lawn watering schedule until it really starts to pour. After the storm you have only the same number of rest days you always had and then you need to start watering again.

Last edited by AllanJ; 02-20-2010 at 07:03 AM.
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Old 02-20-2010, 01:55 PM   #10
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I fixed it! I took a gamble and bought a new three-way switch and it works! Go figure, the first brand new switch was bunk. Cheaper than buying a continuity tester! Thanks so much!
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