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Jason
Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3614
Experience:  Over 15 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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Installing a NuTone Fan \ Light in bathroom. In the attic,

Resolved Question:

Installing a NuTone Fan \ Light in bathroom. In the attic, my supply wire has: Black, Red, White, and Ground. New Fan has little pairs of wires: Red\White, Blue\White, Black\White, and ground.
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Jason replied 10 months ago.

Jason :

Hello. Welcome to Just Answer.

Jason :

Thank you for requesting me to answer your question. I really do appreciate that.

Customer:

Sure. The switch is a 3-flip switch. The unit I'm replacing also had a fan / light / night light. However, the unit itself had fewer wires than the new unit.

Customer:

Currently the top switch is controlling a vanity light. The remaining 2 switches were controlling the old unit's light / fan / night light.

Customer:

However I cannot seem to get the new unit wired correctly.

Jason :

So you have a combination switch, which is capable of turning 3 total components off and on?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

Is the vanity light portion of the wiring still working?

Customer:

The top switch is controlling a sink vanity light.

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

Very good. So we just need to focus on the (ceiling) fan/light combo.

Customer:

Yes. From that switch comes black, red, white, and ground.

Customer:

To the ceiling combo unit.

Jason :

OK, we'll start with the really simple part. Connect ceiling ground wire to fixture's ground wire(s).

Customer:

Currently, it is as follows:

Customer:

Ok

Customer:

Yes that's done.

Customer:

Green to bare

Jason :

Good. How many total wires does the new unit have that are strictly white (with no colored tracers on them)?

Customer:

3

Jason :

OK, does the new combo unit have the following features?:

Fan

Main Light

Night Light

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

Since you only have 2 wall switches for control of the combination fixture, do you want to use the night light feature?

Customer:

I don't need to, no. In fact, I have that combo capped off.

Customer:

Red/white capped.

Jason :

Perfect. So that leaves two sets of wires in the fixture, each set having a wire that is white only.

Customer:

Yes. Currently those whites are connected to the white from the outlet.

Customer:

3 whites total.

Jason :

That would be the white ceiling wire? 3 total in one wire nut... two from fixture, one from ceiling?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

That splice is good to go. Let's move on to the colored wires.

Customer:

I also have black to black.

Jason :

Good, and?

Customer:

Which leaves red from attic and blue on unit. Those two together.

Jason :

So, each wire (ignoring night light) from the fixture is connected to a ceiling wire, leaving no wires disconnected. So far, so good. What is the fixture doing when you flip the switches?

Customer:

Correct. Let me confirm in the attic, and run right back, if that works? Will tell you exactly whats happening.

Jason :

Not a problem. I'll be here.

Customer:

The top switch still works for the vanity. The middle switch flips on the fan, but the lights "flash" quickly on each switch. The bottom switch turns on the light.

Customer:

However, they cannot be run at the same time. Meaning, if the fan is on no light is on.

Customer:

If I turn on a light while the fan is on, it kills the fan and turns on the light.

Jason :

Very odd. Have you checked your splices, just to make sure all wires are secure in the wire nuts?

Customer:

Yes they are tight

Jason :

OK, the problem may be in the light switch box. Have you had it open at all?

Customer:

I have not.

Jason :

Can you take the wall plate off, and remove the two screws that hold the switch to the wall? Then, pull the switch out carefully, but don't disconnect any wires from it. If you could post a photo of that, it may be very helpful in diagnosing the issue.

Customer:

Sure. Where do I post a photo?

Jason :

Hopefully, there's a paper clip icon on a toolbar somewhere on your screen.

Jason :

If so, click that to browse to where the image is stored.

Customer:

http://cl.ly/image/2V2u2c3W2X1t

Customer:

There is the image.

Customer:

Red/red/black and White/white/ground are the capped portions.

Jason :

OK, let me see if I can pull it up. I had to step away from the computer briefly.

Jason :

Can you make sure all splices in the wall box are secure... no wires will pull out of any wire nuts?

Jason :

Also, a question for you, about the combination switch.

Customer:

Yes?

Customer:

They all seem very secure

Jason :

I see that the wires are connected via push-in holes. I don't see any screws on the side of the switch.

Customer:

Looks that way, yes

Jason :

The push-in holes have been known to be problematic, relative to the integrity of the connections.

Jason :

Are there any markings on the back of the switch, near where the wires go in?

Customer:

Just a note about the common line (black) and an indication to push in the release.

Customer:

I can appreciate that, but the old unit was working

Customer:

The old unit had 3 whites, black, blue, orange. They *were* all connected.

Jason :

That answers what I was looking for. If we need to know which wire is the feed to the switch, it is marked "common" (black). However, I just noticed a white wire connected to the back of the switch. That's not incredibly odd, but isn't extremely common in this situation either. Looking at the orientation of the switch in the photo, does the white wire line up with the lowest of the 3 switches?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

And what does that lowest switch control?

Customer:

The fan light

Jason :

The (main) light portion of the fan/light/night light combo?

Customer:

Yes

Customer:

The night light is currently capped off

Customer:

Unused

Jason :

Do you have a volt meter? Though I suspect I know the answer to my next question, I need to ask anyway... Are there any other wires at the ceiling?

Customer:

I do not. No there is just this single line to the ceiling fan unit that has the Black, red, white, ground.

Jason :

OK. Let me explain what it sounds and looks like is happening.

Jason :

The fact that the switched hot going up to the main light portion of the combination fixture is a white wire causes me to think that a white wire should be connected to the colored wire for that part of the fixture. I hope I didn't word that in a confusing way.

Jason :

Is there any marking on the switch next to that white wire?

Customer:

No markings, no.

Customer:

It is a little confusing. The colored wire from the light portion of the fixture should be connected to the white wires?

Jason :

Not to the white fixture wires, but the white ceiling wire.

Jason :

Do you by chance remember if all whites internal to the old fixture were connected to the ceiling white?

Customer:

The white ceiling wire connects to the blue from the fixture.

Customer:

I think so? They are all still bundled. I should have taken a photo.

Jason :

You have ceiling white to fixture solid blue?

Customer:

I have not changed anything yet. Just asking if that's what you meant.

Jason :

OK, thanks for clearing that up. We need to pick two wires at the ceiling that will cause one portion of the fixture to work normally. We can either try by trial and error, or, a volt meter would likely make this quick and simple. Do you think a neighbor would have one you could borrow? Can you post a photo of the wires at the ceiling, making sure all are shown?

Customer:

I do not think so. Sorry! A photo will be exactly as I indicated earlier, but would you still like to see one?

Jason :

If you don't mind. Could be a long shot, but there may be something very obvious to me once I see the wires.

Customer:

One moment

Jason :

Thank you

Customer:

http://cl.ly/image/3g0f0f2W2X0f

Jason :

The pic looks great, I appreciate your patience while we work through this.

Jason :

Have you exposed the wiring in the vanity light at all?

Customer:

I have not

Jason :

OK, good. Let's leave that alone then. Well, are you good with a substantial amount of trial and error?

Customer:

Sure thing

Jason :

Great. Let's try this...

Jason :

Sorry for the delay, I'm looking at the last pic

Customer:

It's all good

Customer:

Appreciate your time

Jason :

Switching gears for a minute here - can you follow the black, white, and red from the switch (ignoring "common" black), and see if they all go into the same outer covering?

Customer:

They do, however that red is a part of that red/red/black splice

Customer:

The white and black go right to the covering

Customer:

The red meets up with the slice then goes back to the covering

Jason :

Let me see if I can discern that in the photo. I may need another shot, with all wires pulled out of the box, but left connected as they are.

Jason :

When you flip the end switch, opposite of the end where the white wire is connected, what comes on (or is supposed to come on)?

Customer:

That "top" switch is the vanity light

Jason :

Is it one fixture with multiple bulbs?

Customer:

http://cl.ly/image/0u072W1W3s3h

Customer:

Yes

Customer:

In that recent photo realize red is top

Customer:

The vanity

Jason :

Great. I'm checking it out now. I do see something that concerns me.

Jason :

At the far right of the photo, there is a bare wire in a wire nut with two white wires. Am I seeing that correctly?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

I think I've figured out what the previous installer did. Unfortunately, it's a Code violation. It appears they used the bare wire that goes from the switch box up to the ceiling as a neutral.

Jason :

Let me look at the photo of the switch box again.

Customer:

Huh yeah, it would appear that the bare in that white/white combo is going up to the attic with the others

Jason :

Is it in a red/black/white/ground set... the only set like that in the wall box?

Jason :

It's hard to tell from the photos.

Customer:

Yeah its the ground from the set that goes to the attic. Along with the black/white and red that you see being spliced.

Jason :

OK, that's not really supposed to be done these days. Bare neutrals were banned quite some time ago.

Customer:

I believe this was done in 1996

Customer:

(I just moved in)

Jason :

Surprising it would have been done at that time, as that's well after bare neutrals became a Code violation.

Customer:

Yeah, odd I guess

Jason :

We really should change it, to comply with current codes.

Jason :

But it could cause something else to stop working.

Customer:

Is it possible to work with what we have here?

Jason :

It will work, but it won't comply with Code. I am required to disclose that, as I'm sure you understand.

Customer:

Yeah, I understand

Jason :

What's strange about it is that there are enough wires running up to the attic that it wasn't necessary to use the bare in an improper manner. Was the old fixture a fan/light only?

Customer:

Fan, light, night light

Customer:

Same deal, but this new unit has more wires

Jason :

That explains why they did it then.

Customer:

Actually

Customer:

Previously, the center switch ran the fan AND the fan light. I believe the bottom switch only ran the night light. If that makes sense.

Customer:

Which I suppose is ideal, however I haven't come close to that so far.

Jason :

Yes, that makes sense.

Customer:

What should we try?

Jason :

Still looking at the photo of the wall box, brainstorming. Do you mind standing by?

Customer:

Not at all

Jason :

Just hoping you don't need to sign off soon, I should say.

Customer:

Nope, this turned into a day project, obviously

Jason :

I may need to sketch this out, if you have time to wait. I will probably need confirmation for connections I'm not able to see from the photos.

Customer:

Ok

Jason :

Great. Let's just go through each wire in the wall box, one by one. Is that okay?

Customer:

Yeah

Jason :

For the sake of time, let's ignore the bare wires.

Jason :

Grounding isn't usually too difficult.

Jason :

You have two sets of black/white only, and one set of black/white/red, correct?

Customer:

And those grounds on the black/white only are what you see hanging out in back.

Jason :

OK, good. One set of black/white only is at the left, and the other is at the right. Black/white/red is in the middle. Am I seeing all of that correctly?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

The two whites from the black/white only sets are connected to each other, along with a bare that I want to ignore for now. Is that accurate?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

OK, is one of the blacks from the black/white sets the "common" black, marked on the back of the switch?

Customer:

Yes, the one coming from top left of the box / picture

Jason :

Where is the other black from the right hand black/white set going?

Customer:

That is the black of the red/red/black splice.

Jason :

The short red from that splice, which terminates on the switch, is across from the "common" black, correct? They both connect at the same end of the switch, correct?

Customer:

Yep exactly

Jason :

White from the red/black/white set goes to the opposite end of the switch?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

Black from the red/black/white set goes to the center of the switch?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

We can fix this simply, and comply with the Code.

Customer:

Great, I'm all ears

Jason :

Take the red that goes out of the box in the black/white/red set... out of the splice. Leave the short red and the black together in a splice, OR, release the short red from the switch, and push the black into that hole.

Jason :

Let me know which option you went with, and I'll update my sketch.

Customer:

I removed the red from the black/white/red set from the splice.

Jason :

Then you put the wire nut back on?

Jason :

Black to short red?

Customer:

Yes

Jason :

OK, good. You said the ideal setup would be the center switch running fan and main light at the ceiling, correct?

Customer:

I believe so, yes. Fan/light combo center and "night light" at bottom.

Jason :

You answered my next question as well with that reply. You would use the night light feature if we could make it work.

Customer:

Ok

Jason :

Release the white wire from the switch, if you can. If not, don't cut it off at the switch. I'll stand by while you try it. Update me when ready.

Customer:

I was able to release it

Jason :

OK, now remove the bare from the white,white,bare splice, and add the white you just released.

Customer:

Ok, all 3 whites are now together. Loose red and loose bare.

Jason :

Push the loose red into the hole you released the white from.

Jason :

Twist all bare wires together.

Customer:

Ok, done.

Jason :

Is there a connection point anywhere on the switch for a ground wire?

Customer:

Doesn't appear to be.

Jason :

OK, the switch wiring is done. If you don't mind waiting until we're done to put it back in the wall, it will allow us to speed along to the ceiling connections.

Customer:

Cool

Jason :

At the ceiling... red fixture wire to red ceiling wire.

Customer:

Ok, give me them all and I'll do it in one pop.

Jason :

All 3 fixture whites to ceiling white.

Jason :

Fixture black and fixture blue to ceiling black.

Jason :

Fixture ground to ceiling ground.

Jason :

Is the circuit breaker off right now?

Customer:

Ys

Customer:

Yes

Customer:

Headed up to update the config.

Jason :

Good. After all connections are made as described, restore power and test operation.

Jason :

Should I give you about 10 minutes and then check for a reply?

Customer:

Success! Top vanity works. Center switch lights fixture light and fan. I'm unsure if I have the correct bulb for the night light however, as that is not working.

Jason :

I think it would have to be something minor like that, as we were so detailed going through each wire at each location.

Customer:

Nope check that, it was a tough screw in

Customer:

Works!

Customer:

Brilliant

Jason :

Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX that.

Customer:

Well done, sir.

Jason :

We try hard here for excellence.

Customer:

Are you on Twitter or anything? Would love to give a shout out.

Jason :

Me personally? No. No Facebook either. But you could give the entire site a shout out (I've heard about those, but am rather "cavemanish" when it comes to social media). Not because I'm old... only 42, LOL.

Customer:

Ok fair enough! Well thank you again Jason. I'll turn power back off and clean up. Appreciate it.

Jason :

Happy to help, enjoyed it. Is there anything else?

Customer:

Thanks all, have a good night!

Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3614
Experience: Over 15 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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