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Old 04-01-2019, 12:31 PM   #1
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This wiring doesn't seem safe...


I have a question about what I'm seeing in an existing box that I just opened.

It's at the bottom of a stairway with an adjacent room. One of the switches is a single-pole that controls a ceiling light (and nothing else). The other switch is a three-way that controls the stairway light along with another three-way at the top of the stairs (they're both just on-off toggles). The switch at the top of the stairs is alone in its box.

The two switches in question are on different circuit breakers, but the one of the neutrals from the three-way is connected to the single-pole neutrals - diagram attached that I think shows it clearly. (There's also grounds that are all connected together but I didn't bother showing that).

The toggle switch at the top of the stairs has the two blacks and one neutral connected.

Are neutrals like the ground wires, in that they can be intermingled even if they are on different circuits? This doesn't seem right to me, especially after reading some other posts here. It's scaring me, although apparently it's been wired that way since I moved in 4+ years ago.

I'm looking at this because I want to replace the two 3-ways (bottom and top of stairs) with smart switches. I have two Lutron Caseta on/off toggle switches that have four wires - red, black, blue and white. According to their site I should be using the black, red and blue and then connecting the neutral to the white on the switch, but I don't know how to do that now after seeing what is in the boxes. It seems I'm "a wire short" somehow, as I only have the two blacks coming in (plus two neutrals).

What is the best way to do this?

Thank you!
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This wiring doesn't seem safe...-dual-switch.jpg  

Last edited by chileboy; 04-01-2019 at 12:36 PM.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:41 PM   #2
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Neutrals from different circuits must not be connected together.
However in your drawing there is only one neutral. The white wire connected to the three way is not a neutral. It is being used as a hot traveller wire between the switches.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:41 PM   #3
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Neutrals from different circuits must not be connected together.
However in your drawing there is only one neutral. The white wire connected to the three way is not a neutral. It is being used as a hot traveller wire between the switches.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:48 PM   #4
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Just because a wire is white, doesn’t make it a neutral.

A white wire on the common screw is either power into the 3 way, or it could be switched power out going back up to the light.

A white on one of the other 2 screws of the 3 way, is a Traveller.

When you use a white as other than a neutral, you are supposed to remark it with paint or tape to indicate it. Unfortunately, I think I have seen more cases unmarked, than marked.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:58 PM   #5
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


The 2 neutrals should each go to their own light only. You will not have a neutral at the other 3 way switch.
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Old 04-01-2019, 01:10 PM   #6
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
Neutrals from different circuits must not be connected together.
However in your drawing there is only one neutral. The white wire connected to the three way is not a neutral. It is being used as a hot traveller wire between the switches.
Oh, ok, that makes sense - you mean it just runs between the two switches...is the black wire in the same jacket the one that is connected to the "Common" lug one each switch?

But, isn't that a neutral that is wired to the wire nut incorrectly? Because the switches are definitely on different breakers.

And how would I wire my Caseta in this case?
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Old 04-01-2019, 01:15 PM   #7
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


I have rental properties in suburban Philadelphia, that are wired EXACTLY as you have described. Essentially, they did not wish to use 14/3 wire between the two 3 way switches. Had they done that, you would be also seeing a red wire at both 3way switches. My bet is that, if you remove the upstairs hall fixture, and look in the junction box, you will find an un-used white wire.

I am not sure if that wiring was ever correct under the electrical code, but every one of my properties (in this 800 row home neighborhood built in the late 60s and early 70s) is wired this way. It is called a "shared neutral". The problem is that, according to current code, the neutral wire MUST run in the same cable as the hot wires, and the handles of the two breakers must be tied together, which causes the hots to be on opposite phases. That is called a "multi-wire branch circuit" (MWBC). A MWBC is perfectly legal and safe when run that way.

Since I don't want to rewire my houses, I change the two single breakers to a double-pole breaker (NOT a skinny or tandem breaker) which has a handle tie across both breakers, so that both must be on or both must be off. I also wire-tie the two hots together just after they leave the breakers. Again, that is done to ensure that the two circuits are on different phases. This is a "workaround", rather that "correct" wiring. I am not sure if it is code correct, but I believe it is perfectly safe, when done this way.

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Old 04-01-2019, 02:36 PM   #8
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Without seeing the other switch box it is hard to know what is going on here. However there should be no need for that neutral to go through to the other switch. The power source at the other switch should have a neutral with it.

The extra white wire with the three way should just be capped and connected to nothing.
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Old 04-01-2019, 03:29 PM   #9
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
Without seeing the other switch box it is hard to know what is going on here. However there should be no need for that neutral to go through to the other switch. The power source at the other switch should have a neutral with it.

The extra white wire with the three way should just be capped and connected to nothing.
So you're saying I should wire the new Caseta using the incoming 2 blacks and the traveler (to the red, black & blue wires) and just cap the white (neutral)? Because the Caseta says "requires neutral".

Sorry if I'm being dense here, just want to be sure to get it correctly...
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Old 04-01-2019, 05:37 PM   #10
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by chileboy View Post
So you're saying I should wire the new Caseta using the incoming 2 blacks and the traveler (to the red, black & blue wires) and just cap the white (neutral)? Because the Caseta says "requires neutral".

Sorry if I'm being dense here, just want to be sure to get it correctly...
I am saying the wire labeled a neutral from circuit B should be disconnected from the neutrals from circuit A.
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Old 04-01-2019, 07:04 PM   #11
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
I am saying the wire labeled a neutral from circuit B should be disconnected from the neutrals from circuit A.
OP: And then the circuit B wiring used for the smart switch if it's confirmed to be neutral and not just a dead wire.

The second switch for lutron can be their special companion switch, the wireless remote, or any old toggle switch.

PS. You need to specify exactly which switch you're using. They have many in that lineup. Here's one list of the caseta wireless lineup.

Cheers!


www.casetawireless.com/3way

Last edited by supers05; 04-01-2019 at 07:17 PM.
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Old 04-02-2019, 07:53 AM   #12
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by supers05 View Post
OP: And then the circuit B wiring used for the smart switch if it's confirmed to be neutral and not just a dead wire.
|
PS. You need to specify exactly which switch you're using. They have many in that lineup.
It's the PD6-ANS Neutral switch.

I understand your other comments, thank you!
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Old 04-03-2019, 02:56 PM   #13
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by Oso954 View Post
Just because a wire is white, doesn’t make it a neutral.

Well, this is kind of debatable. My understanding is that white wires doing some other function than neutral are supposed to be recolor coded. Maybe this is local code, or maybe it's not actual code but just good practice.


Technically someone can use black for neutral and white for hot and get their whole system to work fine, so technically just because a wire is black doesn't make it hot, I suppose.
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Old 04-03-2019, 03:17 PM   #14
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Well, this is kind of debatable. My understanding is that white wires doing some other function than neutral are supposed to be recolor coded.
This is true. However it is not the case in this situation.
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Old 04-03-2019, 03:44 PM   #15
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Re: This wiring doesn't seem safe...


Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
This is true. However it is not the case in this situation.

Well if it is not the case that white wires are doing some other function than neutral, why did he say "Just because a wire is white, doesn’t make it a neutral."?
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