Three Way Light Switch Not Working

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MartinEllinger
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Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Thu Oct 03, 2019 12:15 pm

Good afternoon.

I've got a three way switch for two sets of lights in the front of the my house. The first set of lights is over the entryway to the house and the second is over the second floor porch. They're supposed to be controlled by two three way switch in the living room and master bedroom but for some reason don't function properly.

When the lights are on, I can turn them off with either switch. However it will only let me turn the lights back on with whichever switch turned it off previously. This obviously is not how three way switches are meant to function. Pictures of the wiring to each switch attached. Let me know if you have any ideas. I'd rather not pay for an electrician if it's something I can easily fix.
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emtnut
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by emtnut » Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:58 pm

Did this ever work ? New install ? renos ?

Do you know where the power originates, where the travellers are, and where the load wire(s) is ?
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MartinEllinger
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:26 am

It's never worked properly. Rehabbed in 2010 but we bought it two years ago. I'm not certain where the power originates.

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Aaron
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by Aaron » Fri Oct 04, 2019 3:02 pm

If I had to guess the power originates in the box with the splice (yellow wirenut), in your first and second pic. Call it box A.

It cannot originate at the 3-way switch with just the one cable coming into the box and all its wires connecting to the switch. Call this Box B.

Can you take a pic of Box A with all the wires pulled out, and also the light fixture box?

You're going to need a circuit tester to test for the presence of power.

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:31 pm

Thanks for the reply.
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MartinEllinger
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:33 pm

Also I don't have access to the light fixture boxes easily as they're (4 of them in all) all outside lights. I could take those off too if you think it's necessary to solve the problem.

I have a voltage tester.

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Aaron
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by Aaron » Mon Oct 07, 2019 3:04 am

Ok, don't need to get a pic of that right now because I think we can work with Box A at the moment.

Go ahead and very carefully unscrew the yellow wirenut from the two white wires (don't take them apart, just expose the copper). Can you use your voltage tester to see if you get 120V between that neutral splice and the black screw of switch?

(Make sure your tester works in a known good receptacle first.)

npautler
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by npautler » Mon Oct 07, 2019 8:28 am

**Preface this advise by saying I am not an electrician like Aaron**

However, I had this exact situation happen to me when changing out a three-way switch in our entry (i.e. one three way switch only worked when the other switch was in the "on" position and visa versa). My travelers changed colors from box to box which was part of the confusion (three-way switches are still confusing to me because of the numerous way they can be ran) also adding difficulty was that this was a single-gang combination switch (3-way on top, single pole on the bottom). But anyway, this video helped me identify which wires were which. The only downside was that I had to go up and down two flights of stairs to shut the power off at the panel every time. But took about 45 minutes to correctly wire the switch and never had an issue since.

After this I labeled which wire was what (e.g. Power, Traveler, Load) on the inside of the wall plate with a felt pen. So, next time I (or the next guy) doesn't have to put that much effort into it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp4FWJRzHdo

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Shannon
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by Shannon » Wed Oct 09, 2019 9:01 am

That is a very handy video. Think i will do one similar to that sometime.
To make this safer and maybe simpler I would find the hot wire (goes on common screw) . Then connect the two travellers at that location together temporarily. Leave breaker off and go to other switch location .There disconnect the wires from the switch then check for two wires that have continuity with your volt meter. Those will be the travellers and the left over wire is the load wire (goes to common screw)
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by emtnut » Thu Oct 10, 2019 8:07 am

Shannon wrote:
Wed Oct 09, 2019 9:01 am
That is a very handy video. Think i will do one similar to that sometime.
To make this safer and maybe simpler I would find the hot wire (goes on common screw) . Then connect the two travellers at that location together temporarily. Leave breaker off and go to other switch location .There disconnect the wires from the switch then check for two wires that have continuity with your volt meter. Those will be the travellers and the left over wire is the load wire (goes to common screw)
That is a MUCH better way to do it !!

If you know for sure that the 3 wire cable goes from one switch to the other, then his method would work. But in DIY land, I would NEVER do that ... who knows where those wires go, or if the circuit was ever wired properly to begin with. (possibly one could be a neutral, and you'll have sparks flying).
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by emtnut » Thu Oct 10, 2019 8:16 am

Not sure if you're still checking in. But since you have different color travellers on each switch, the only time that happens is if the light is wired inbetween the 2 switches.
At one of the lights, you should see a black or red wire twisted on to a white wire that goes to the other switch. This is assuming the cables were ran properly, and just the travelers are mixed up.

You will definitely need a multimeter with continuity (resistance) measurement to trace the wiring.
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MartinEllinger
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Sun Oct 13, 2019 12:36 pm

I didn't get continuity between the white neutrals and the black screw.

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:33 pm

emtnut wrote:
Thu Oct 10, 2019 8:16 am
Not sure if you're still checking in. But since you have different color travellers on each switch, the only time that happens is if the light is wired inbetween the 2 switches.
At one of the lights, you should see a black or red wire twisted on to a white wire that goes to the other switch. This is assuming the cables were ran properly, and just the travelers are mixed up.

You will definitely need a multimeter with continuity (resistance) measurement to trace the wiring.
I do see a black and white wire connected in switch A.

How do I know which wire is a traveler?

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:46 pm

I swapped the circled wires and it didn't seem to help. If the light was on I could turn it off and on from either switch, but if off I could only turn it on from the one that had turned it off.
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Aaron
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by Aaron » Sun Oct 13, 2019 7:37 pm

MartinEllinger wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:46 pm
I swapped the circled wires and it didn't seem to help. If the light was on I could turn it off and on from either switch, but if off I could only turn it on from the one that had turned it off.
Have you been able to identify the presence of power in Box A?

If not, I think that is your problem, because it really looks like power should be entering that box. Finding the source of power is the first concern before you start worrying about traveler wires.

You don't have any breakers turned off in your service panel, do you?

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Sun Oct 13, 2019 10:07 pm

I was able to confirm the presence of power, in both boxes.

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Aaron
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by Aaron » Sun Oct 13, 2019 10:36 pm

Okay, so which wire in each box is the hot wire? You can determine this by using the ground as the neutral with your tester.

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Mon Oct 14, 2019 9:41 am

Circled hot wires in box A.
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Mon Oct 14, 2019 10:32 am

The black and white wires in Box B are hot too.

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by emtnut » Mon Oct 14, 2019 11:38 am

MartinEllinger wrote:
Mon Oct 14, 2019 9:41 am
Circled hot wires in box A.
The hot wire on the switch should be going to the black screw. The other two should be the travelers.
(in other words, swap the 2 black wires on that switch)

The other hot wire seems to be part of a separate circuit, and likely a switch loop.
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MartinEllinger
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Mon Oct 14, 2019 1:21 pm

Still not working correctly.

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by MartinEllinger » Mon Oct 14, 2019 1:39 pm

I pulled out all of the wire and grouped them by which port in the box they're coming through and numbered them. Hot circled in red.
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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by Aaron » Mon Oct 14, 2019 9:43 pm

So does wire #6 have power?

You had a black and white spliced together before and they are now separated (I don't know which two those are). You said those were hot. Has any other light stopped working because those are now separated?

Basically you have a bunch of wires in that box which may or may not be relevant to your 3-way switch problem. They may be the same circuit or not.

So you may be best off getting an electrician out there to trace it all out for you because there are so many possibilities in your wiring.

You said it's never worked before?

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Re: Three Way Light Switch Not Working

Post by emtnut » Tue Oct 15, 2019 12:28 pm

MartinEllinger wrote:
Mon Oct 14, 2019 1:21 pm
Still not working correctly.
OK, Leave that the way I asked. Now on the other switch (box b) , move the white wire to the black screw (switch it with either the red or black ... doesn't matter)
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