Troubleshoot 4 way switch

brussoMarch 7, 2012

I have four switches that control the hallway chandalier: one by yht front door, on e inthe kitchen and two at the top of the stairs. This is a real withc to use because the switches have to be set a certain way to make this light work. So, I am convinced that something is scwered up with the wiring or the switches. By setting certain switches, I can get the light to go on/off at every switch. So, I think the wiring is ok and perhaps the problem is with the switches. I have worked on three way before (two switches) but not this. This is , I guess a five way (four switches - gee even the naming is confusing). I have spent hours already trying to identify the switch combo. MY guess is that if done correctly, any switch would turn on/off just a s a normal 3 way(2 switch). How do I attack this?


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At each 4-way switch location, there are 4 "travelers" attached to the switch. 2 of the "travelers" will come from one cable and the other 2 will be from the second cable. If the switch has two dark screws, the travelers from one cable should be installed one on each of those screws. The other 2 travelers should be on the brass colored screws. See if that works. Do you have an ohmmeter for further testing if necessary?

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 12:07PM
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A four way switch setup has 3-way switches at each end of the setup and two four way switches between the 3-way switches.

The 3-way switches each have a common and two travelers.
The 4-way switches have four travelers.

There could be a traveler on a common on a 3-way, or mixed travelers on the sides of the 4-way switches.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2012 at 3:14PM
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Thanks, I found a reference to how 4 switches are installed. Brickeye is on taget, as usual. It is generally a set of three way switches, thenif you want to ad another, simpley add a four way switch in between and another and another etc. So, saturday's project is to dig into this and finally get it fixed correctly, i'll post an update.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 12:17PM
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Good luck.

If anything has been altered lately, check that first.

Switches do occasionally fail though.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 2:54PM
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Check any switches that look "newer" than the others. I'm sure it worked originally. As soon as joe homeowner changes out a switch, either because it went bad or his wife wanted another color, then is when the problem starts.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 5:15PM
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Hello brusso

There is always a chance that some of your switches are worn out...and must be replacedâ¦

Assuming that the switches worked previously, and that only the switch terminal connections are wired wrong, I advise the following procedure.

First off, did all the switches ever work right?? If not, TURN OFF THE BREAKER TO THE 4 WAY SWITCHES
Then the first thing I would do is open the boxes and take out both 4 way switches...
Take off all the wires (except the GROUND WIRE) that are on the switch. Then WIRE NUT each of the 2 traveler wires
from the incoming cable to each of the outgoing cable traveler wires. . Do the same for the other 4 way switch.. This will bypass the 4 way switches... Now you can work with just the 2-3 way switches

Assuming that the switches worked previously, and that only the switch terminal connections are wired wrong, I advise the following procedure.
If you are comfortable using a voltmeter. Follow these easy steps (for 2 - 3 way switches).

1) Turn the power OFF and physically remove both switches, and take off the wires from the switches only. You do NOT have to remove the GROUND WIRE. This will leave 6 exposed wires (3 in each box).

2) Turn the power ON and identify the HOT wire (it will be the only one of six). Measure between each wire and the metal boxes or GROUND WIRE until you find it.(remember this wire) Then turn power back OFF. Mark this wire

3) The HOT wire found in step 2 is the COMMON wire, and goes on the DARKEST screw of the switch. The other 2 wires can go on either of the two remaining screws. Wire this switch (#1) back up and put it back into the box. This switch (#1) is now correct and you can focus on the other switch. (#2).

4) Turn the power back ON and identify a HOT wire at switch box (#2). Then toggle the (#1) switch and identify another HOT wire at box (#2). The COMMON wire at this switch (#2) box is the wire that was NOT HOT.
(remember this wire) Then turn power back OFF. Mark this wire

5) With the power OFF, wire up the second switch, The COMMON, wire goes on the DARKEST screw of the switch. Then wire up the two HOT wires to the two other screws.

Once you get the 2 - 3 way switches working, you can
now wire in the 4 way switches. The 4 way switch will
have either four screws, one pair will be a dark color
the other will be a brass color. Or the switch itself
will be marked "IN and "OUT.. Put the wires from one cable
to the "IN" screws or the two same color screws. Then put the wires from the other cable
to the "OUT" screws or the two screws that are left.

Hope this helps

Let us know how you made out with your wiring project

Have A Nice Day


    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 5:40PM
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Well, it turned out to be one of the four way switches on the second floor. It was cracked. So, it probably did work ok at one time but hasn't worked correctly since I lived here(xx years) . The hardest part was finding a four way switch . Big Box Boy didn't know what I was talking about (anyone surprised?). Had to go to electric supply house. Took 10 minutes to install, 2.5 hours to purchase it. geesh

thanks for everyone's help.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 2:03PM
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So, word got out in my neighborhood that I fixed the chandalier problem. Another neighbor had the same issue so my wife told him ' I would help him out'. geesh. Well first thing I noticed was that there is a dimmer switch on his switch by the front door. So, following everyone's advice I checked it out first. It was one of the three way and a previous owner installed a three way dimmer but he wired it wrong . Fixed his problem in 15 mins. Earned a six pack out of it too. Again , thanks for the knowledge.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 10:16AM
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