3 Way Switch Problem

Discussion in 'Technical Corner' started by kyleb, Sep 4, 2019.

  1. kyleb

    kyleb En-Route PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2008
    Messages:
    4,713
    Location:
    Marietta, GA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Drake the Outlaw
    I'm yanking out a ceiling fan in our kitchen to replace with can lights. The ceiling fan is on a 3 way circuit (two switches), which has worked properly for 15 years.

    Anyway, after pulling down the fan I found that regardless of the position of the two wall switches, there is always a hot wire in the junction box that served the ceiling fan.

    Does this <probably> tell me that whoever wired the thing goofed up and is switching the neutral side of the circuit, rather than the hot side?
     
  2. Greg Bockelman

    Greg Bockelman Administrator Management Council Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2005
    Messages:
    9,917
    Location:
    Yona (Say Joan ya), Guam
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Greg Bockelman
  3. kyleb

    kyleb En-Route PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2008
    Messages:
    4,713
    Location:
    Marietta, GA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Drake the Outlaw
    You may be describing it absolutely correctly. But here's what I'm thinking:

    I only have 3 wires going into the junction box at the fan. The ground, neutral, and hot wire. The hot wire is always hot, regardless of the position of the two wall mounted switches. My expectation (possibly wrong) is the only way that would have switched the fan for the last 15 years would have been if the three way switches were switching the neutral, rather than the hot side.

    To me, it is spooky having an always hot wire in a junction box where I assumed a switch setting would de-power the junction box.
     
  4. Matthew

    Matthew Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2005
    Messages:
    15,588
    Location:
    kojc, kixd, k34
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Matthew
    I think you might be right. If power was coming in through the ceiling box you'd probably see more than just the 3 wires.
     
  5. chartbundle

    chartbundle Cleared for Takeoff

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2011
    Messages:
    1,295
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    chartbundle
    Rule 1: Electricity is always trying to kill you, doubly so if someone else did the wiring.

    Yes it is likely that the neutral is switched. It's time to turn off the breaker and open the switch boxes and see what the hell is going on.

    And I highly recommend (if you're not using it already) a non-contact voltage sensor to make sure the boxes are dead before poking around in case some other circuit routes through them.
     
  6. Greg Bockelman

    Greg Bockelman Administrator Management Council Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2005
    Messages:
    9,917
    Location:
    Yona (Say Joan ya), Guam
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Greg Bockelman
    Look at the second diagram in the link I attached. I think that is probably what you have.
     
  7. kyleb

    kyleb En-Route PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2008
    Messages:
    4,713
    Location:
    Marietta, GA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Drake the Outlaw
    I think I have the third diagram "figure B", as it were. But with the positive and neutral reversed.

    And, yes, I do use a non-contact circuit tester. Cheap insurance.
     
  8. RJM62

    RJM62 Touchdown! Greaser!

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2007
    Messages:
    12,799
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Geek On The Hill
    That's what it sounds like to me.

    Rich
     
  9. Art Rose

    Art Rose Pre-takeoff checklist

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2017
    Messages:
    144
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Art
    The wiring you describe sounds correct. The wire you found hot is likely the traveler. Normally, if wired by a professional, it should be red. Neutral directly to the load. Hot to the black terminal of the first switch. Hot out to the load from the black terminal of the second switch. Traveler between the switches. Always turn off the power, and check it with your meter, (before you start work), Jr. Sparky.
     
  10. PaulS

    PaulS Final Approach

    Joined:
    May 29, 2007
    Messages:
    8,789
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    PaulS
    Assuming can get you zapped. I did a kitchen undercab lighting project a few years ago. I ran a wire up the wall to power the lights. I turned off the breakers, then was working in a box with a plug and I got zapped. My wife started laughing when I went in and got zapped again. There was more than one breaker to the wall plugs, I assumed there was only one. I'm usually more careful than that and check the wire with a meter, I got lazy that day.
     
  11. kyleb

    kyleb En-Route PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2008
    Messages:
    4,713
    Location:
    Marietta, GA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Drake the Outlaw
    The travelers go between switches, not out to the fixture, as I understand it. This one seems to have the neutral, not the hot, wired through the switches and an always hot at the fixture.

    It can work that way, but that isn’t the safest way to do it or the standard way.
     
  12. Dan Thomas

    Dan Thomas Final Approach

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2008
    Messages:
    5,645
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Dan Thomas
    That's a common arrangement for kitchens. There are breakaway tabs on the receptacles so that the upper and lower sockets can be run to separate breakers. That way you aren't forever popping breakers when you plug the toaster and kettle into the same receptacle.

    [​IMG]
     
    denverpilot and PaulS like this.
  13. Art Rose

    Art Rose Pre-takeoff checklist

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2017
    Messages:
    144
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Art

    You are correct, it will work with the neutral broken by the switches, but it's proof that some dipwad did the original wiring job. It can be dangerous wired that way, (as you found out), and it violates code. Makes you wonder what else is screwed up. Don't know how well I'd sleep at night.
     
  14. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

    Joined:
    May 8, 2015
    Messages:
    7,090
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Luvflyin
    Nothing wrong with that. It’s wired ‘switch beyond appliance.’ The circuit has to get fed with juice from somewhere to work. If it was wired ‘appliance beyond switch’ there wouldn’t always be a hot wire in the fan box, but there would always be a hot wire in one of the switch boxes regardless of switch setting. It’s the wire that feeds the circuit it’s juice.
     
  15. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

    Joined:
    May 8, 2015
    Messages:
    7,090
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Luvflyin
    It’s a standard way when using Romex. If it’s done with conduit you can pick your colors and run them through the conduit. Romex comes in black and white or red, black and white. When making the white wire hot in a switch leg, it’s marked. Usually by putting a piece of black tape on it. That meets code.
     
  16. Juliet Hotel

    Juliet Hotel Cleared for Takeoff PoA Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2018
    Messages:
    1,442
    Display Name:

    Display name:
    Juliet Hotel
    My house was built by a very good builder who then lived in it for a while before he sold it to a complete a**hat. The a**hat and his wife had it for 20 years until we bought it from them. Anytime I open up anything electrical I can instantly tell if its original or if the a**hat had his hands on it. There's a pole building that was put up a few years before we bought the place and the a**hat did most of the wiring.

    He worked for the state road dept and wanted to build the pole barn for as close to $0 as he could so he stole all the electrical supplies from work and from dumpster diving. There's lots of scraps of 12/2 UF (underground) wire but in many places, the scraps weren't long enough so he'd just wire nut a few of them together to get the length he needed. Did he put those wire nut connections inside a box like you're supposed to? Oh no, boxes cost like $0.59. Can't afford that, just leave them hanging out in the breeze to collect dust. I'm currently removing and replacing everything from the circuit breakers on.