Replaced 3-way switch, now it works only in one position

Clumsy_HamsterMarch 5, 2014

I've seen other posts regarding this but none that quite matched my scenario.

I replaced two 3-way switches that controls the ceiling light in the kitchen, and now it works on only one position. Not sure who the electrician was but the box uses the ground for a traveler (no red wire). The problem is that it looks like the traveler is the ground and the neutral and the hot is the black. What is most confusing about this is that the wires to the light are at the first switch where the power comes in. So like

power -- switch -- wire to light
power -- switch -- wire to other switch

So the power, switch and wire to light are all at one switch and then the other switch is by itself. I've tried looking at different diagrams and following some that seemed to be the same but always with the same results. It used to work but I'm not sure why it doesn't work now. I'm hoping to avoid rewiring.. Any help is really appreciated.

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Ron Natalie

The person who installed this cob job was no electrician. Using the bare wire for one of the travelers is NOT legitimate in any way.

However, if it used to work you're not understanding what is going on. There are TWO travelers on 3-way switches. The common wire on one end is typically connected to the power feed and on the other to the lamp.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 11:33PM
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Prob right. All work I've done I've always used 14/3 for the work. But this house which we purchased 10 months ago uses 14/2 for the 3 ways. Yes, I understand this isn't best practice and removes the ground for the purpose it is for. Fortunately, they have put a black sleeve on the ground so it's not a bare wire per say.

Anyway, back to the prob. Using a continuity tester I was able to figure out which ones are the travelers. What confuses me is the the wiring at the 1st switch where the power is also has the wire that goes to the light.

This diagram over at
I followed but with the same results. Any other ideas are appreciated.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 11:19AM
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For the benefit of others who might be reading this thread, in cases where one is not entirely familiar with the circuitry involved and both switches are to be replaced, it is best to replace one and verify that all works properly and then proceed to do the other one. Doing both increases the probability of problems.
Now, tell us why the switches were being replaced.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 2:59PM
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Kitchen remodel. Any other questions not really relevant to the problem.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 8:44PM
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The installation is hack and the only right thing to do is run a 3 wire cable between the two switches or order something like this:

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 9:27PM
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It's easy really this is the old way they use to do 3-ways. It's called 2-wire travelers, if you have power in both switch boxes it works. The power is supposed to be from the same circuit, whether that's right or not I don't know but let's say it is. You would take the black and the white going between the switches they are the travelers the ground is the ground NOT a hot or traveler. The white (neutral) coming from your power wire on the switch that goes to the light will splice with the white wire coming from the light fixture. The black wire coming from the light fixture is your common and goes to the black screw on the switch. The two travelers I mentioned earlier go one on each of the other screws and the ground goes to the green screw. On the other switch cap off the white coming from the power wire it's NOT used at all. Again the two travelers I mentioned earlier go to the two screw that are the same color one on each doesn't matter which. The black from the power wire is your common and goes to the black screw. The grounds goto the green screw. This is how to wire it and it will be safe and work safely if you do this. The ground is NEVER used as a hot anywhere it can cause someone to get electrocuted. The electrician new what he was doing so I wouldn't worry about the rest of the house. You may have just mixed up the wires when you took it apart.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 3:42PM
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Except you missed the part where he said the line and load were both at one switch, making the other switch a dead end. You also missed the part where he said the bare ground wire was sleeved and intentionally used as a hot. I doubt this installation was done by a professional.

This post was edited by joefixit2 on Fri, Mar 7, 14 at 18:09

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 6:06PM
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power -- switch -- wire to light
power -- switch -- wire to other switch

This is what he said he had doesn't mater what he said about the rest any electrician that knows what he is doing can easily make the 3-way work with these wires. Obviously your not an electrician joefixit. He does have the light and power in one box but there is also power in the other box. The only reason you need to use a 3 wire is to send the neutral to the other switch so it can send it to the light. Well he has a neutral at the switch with the light according to what he said above. So if you tie the neutral through to the light cap off the hot on that side and don't use it you now have the neutral you need at the light. Land the black wire coming from the light to the black screw on the switch that is the common for that switch. Now according to what he said there is a wire running between the switches, so there should be a black and white in that wire, those are the travelers you now have your neutral, travelers, and common over at the switch going to the light. On the other side you have the power and the wire to the other switch so now you cap off the neutral cause you don't need it now cause there is one already going to the light after you do what I said earlier, the black hot wire is your common and it goes to the black common screw on the switch now there will be two wires left, according to what he said they are going in between the two switches so the black and white that are left are your two travelers. If your so sure this is wrong tell me how, because there is now way possible to make this not work unless the wire he said that were there arnt actually there I'm just going off the info given

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 9:40PM
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Copy and paste this link if you don't believe me or just type in two wire travers in google somewhere you'll see it.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 9:51PM
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"So the power, switch and wire to light are all at one switch and then the other switch is by itself."

This is the info I am going off of. To me he is saying the other switch is a dead end.

I am totally familiar with the setup you describe and I did not say it wouldn't work (although it is a violation). I said it won't work for the OP because I read his statement to mean there is no line at the other box, he said it is all at the first box.

Incidentally the setup you describe violates 300.3(B). Additionally it can be a source of line noise and audio hum due to the large magnetic fields formed around the single conductors. It is something that I, or any of the electricians I have ever worked with, just wouldn't do.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 11:01PM
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It's an old situation it's not new wiring where in the code does it say you need to bring every house up to code when you work in it. Have you ever heard of the grandfather law. Knob and tube is against code to so is aluminum wiring do you replace all that when you show up to a job to change a switch. I know the code.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 7:29AM
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power -- switch -- wire to light
power -- switch -- wire to other switch
To me this sounds like one switch has power, and a wire between the two switches. And the other switch has power, a wire to the light and it must also have a wire between the switches, it's not written but if you read between the lines you can see if one switch has a wire going to the other switch then the other switch has a wire coming from the other switch. So that's what I went off of. I totally agree with you on the fact that 2-wire travelers are bad practice if this is new it is way wrong. But if it old then you can work with what you have. Also if you wan to really get technical you are not allowed to do dead end 3-ways anymore either unless you have a neutral in the box, and unless you run and extra wire just for the neutral or the box already has one then a deadend 3-way is technically against code. But you know your code so you know this already.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 7:56AM
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Clumsy hamster can you tell me exactly what you have in each box. How many PAIRS of wires (pairs meaning more then one single wire in a jacket). If you have what I think you have, the way I discribed to wire it will work, if you don't have what I think is there it won't work and you will need to run new wire.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2014 at 8:21AM
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Thanks niick84. The house is over 40 years old so I don't know if they even made 3 wire at the time or if the electrician was just old school and this is how they did it. Im not going to question someone I don't know or know nothing about but how it is everything is grounded. Just a bit different then what I've seen. It may not be to code now or the past while but the wiring is all in great shape so I didn't feel it necessary to try to redo it especially considering all we were doing to the switch was changing them. I've done plenty of remodels myself and have always used the 3 wire for the 3 way switches but this was the first that I've seen it like so.

Anyway I got the switch working using the diagram I initially listed. Just substituted the ground for the red as they had done and things starting going again. Your diagram was spot on as well. Appreciate your help.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2014 at 6:35PM
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Using the ground as a traveller is (and always has been) illegal and dangerous.
Just because you are "only" changing out the switches, doesn't mean that you shouldn't correct any dangerous situations that you encounter.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2014 at 9:08AM
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