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BF laid off! Can't hire electircian, plenty of time no money.
January 30, 2009 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Wiring question: What is this crazy non-standard switch I need?

I have a hall with three switches. One for the attic, one for the closet, and one for the hall. The power in for all three comes into the one that is supposed to control the attic light. It was a really old switch and the toggle basically crumpled.

We tried to rewire it and now, either the hall and the closet or on or the attic is, but they are never both off. So we basically need a switch that allows the two other toggle switches to be on continously (unless their respective toggles are moved) while keeping the circuit to the attic light completely seperate. Does that make sense? No one at Ace, Depot or wherever thinks they can help and said we would have to go to a specialty lighting store, but they weren't sure either.

There is a black wire that is the "in" a black wire that is the attic wire, a green for the hall, and a white for the closet. If it helps, this line was orginally for the whole house fan.

This is the kind of thing that is so freakin hard to google.
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
 
It does not make sense to me. Can you reference a photo of the wires and the old switches? Were the old switches standard single pole? If there is a single 'hot' wire it should not be hard to replace them.
posted by TDIpod at 10:03 PM on January 30, 2009


It sounds like the original wiring was a hack, and it would be much better now to just rewire the switches so that power goes to each one individually.
posted by zippy at 10:05 PM on January 30, 2009


The black "in" needs to go to each switch. I assume it was going from one to the next, which is fine, but when you added your new switch, you hooked it up differently.

An easy, simple fix is to just add three short wires to your black "in" and run those, one each, to each switch.
posted by lee at 10:05 PM on January 30, 2009


Uggg... yeah, we really need a good diagram here. Plus, it would be very helpful to know what circuits all the respective lights are supposed to be on.
posted by sbutler at 10:17 PM on January 30, 2009


it is called a 4 way switch....here and what your asking requires a little more than than shown
it is also why electricians spend 4+ years in apprenticeship. don't be foolish electricity can burn down your house.
posted by digital-dragonfly at 10:34 PM on January 30, 2009


It's not a four way switch, it's a box with three switches.
posted by lee at 10:45 PM on January 30, 2009


call it what you want....I did my 4 years... . yes it is 3 boxes.
2 with 3 way switches, 1 with a 4 way switch
electricty can still cause fires (& I have seen the results)
posted by digital-dragonfly at 10:53 PM on January 30, 2009


are you saying all 3 switches are in one box? in only one location?
posted by digital-dragonfly at 11:00 PM on January 30, 2009


if so, there is a single black coming in that is always hot- it needs to go to one side all three switches.

there should be 3 black wires (testing dead -one for each lamp) that go off one per switch.

all white wires go together.

other wise its a odd hack.
posted by digital-dragonfly at 11:14 PM on January 30, 2009


This might help: Wiring a 4-way switch.
posted by zippy at 11:22 PM on January 30, 2009


Apprenticeship or no, I don't see anything in the OP that suggests a 4-way switch.

I agree that there really isn't enough information here to give a clear answer. You most likely replaced the broken switch with a different type of switch, or hooked up wires differently than they were in the first place. A diagram or some notated photos are necessary.
posted by jon1270 at 12:13 AM on January 31, 2009


I don't see any reason to think a 4-way switch is what stormygrey is looking for. Each light is supposed to be controlled by exactly one switch, right? It's just that all three switches are in the same box?

In that case, you want three normal switches and some short leads/pigtails and wirenuts, like lee et al. say.
posted by hattifattener at 12:23 AM on January 31, 2009


We tried to rewire it and now, either the hall and the closet or on or the attic is, but they are never both off. So we basically need a switch that allows the two other toggle switches to be on continously (unless their respective toggles are moved) while keeping the circuit to the attic light completely seperate. [...] There is a black wire that is the "in" a black wire that is the attic wire, a green for the hall, and a white for the closet. If it helps, this line was orginally for the whole house fan.

I think part of the confusion here is because your symptoms and your wire descriptions suggest different ways of wiring.

When you have lights on (for example) stairs you often have a switch at the top and a switch at the bottom, set up so toggling either switch toggles the light. You can also set this up with more than two switches, if you use 4-way switches. Because of the way these things are normally wired up, switching power between two wires instead of simply on and off, digital-dragonfly recognised it from your one-light-off-one-light-on description.

On the other hand, what you describe from the wire colours is that one wire is always hot, and each other wire connects straight to its respective light. That's what lee was talking about. If it's like this, you need a three gang switch, which is basically three switches side by side. You would connect the 'hot' wire to one side of each switch, and the three other wires one to each switch as shown here.

This should be a fairly simple bit of wiring but needless to say, if you aren't confident about it, it can't hurt to have a knowledgeable relative, friend, or professional double-check your work.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:54 AM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is a black wire that is the "in" a black wire that is the attic wire, a green for the hall, and a white for the closet. If it helps, this line was orginally for the whole house fan.

I'm not exactly sure what is going on, but it is clear that this is a pretty terrible hack job. You should never ever be putting live on a green wire. Ever. Green is reserved for ground. This is a serious safety hazard that should be fixed.

To better understand your problem..
Household wiring is done in bundles of single conductor wires. In modern household wiring, these cables consist of one white insulated wire, one black insulated wire, one bare copper wire, and there may also be a red insulated wire. Sometimes, instead of a bare copper wire, you would have a green insulation wire.

Please tell us how many cables enter your electrical box, and the colours of the insulation for each wire in those cables.
posted by Chuckles at 1:14 PM on January 31, 2009


And where they go (to switch 1, 2, or 3; wire nut to a wire in some other cable; screwed down to the electrical box).
posted by Chuckles at 1:16 PM on January 31, 2009


What you have to do is find the feed(the unswitched live wire) and the 3 switch legs(the wires going to the devices you want to control) then put it in a 3 gang box and connected the switches
Now if you only have 2 switch legs you will either have to run a new wire or have 2 devices on the same switch in a 2 gang box
posted by SatansCabanaboy at 8:47 PM on February 1, 2009


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