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3 pole dimmer switch, which I replaced, keeps tripping the…

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3 pole dimmer switch, which...
3 pole dimmer switch, which I replaced, keeps tripping the breaker at the main panel when I flip it. Checked the connections including ground and all are tight. It is for kitchen lights and it breaker runs 4 additional outlets, 1 other in kitchen and 3 more in dining room. Any thoughts?
Submitted: 8 years ago.Category: Electrical
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Answered in 6 minutes by:
6/26/2010
Electrician: Jason, Service Technician replied 8 years ago
Jason
Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 4,304
Experience: Over 20 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
Verified
Chat Conversation Started
Jason :

Hello. Is this dimmer switch in a box by itself, or are there other switches or outlets in the same wall box?

Customer:

Box by itself

Jason :

Thank you. Is there a second switch that controls the same lights that are controlled by the dimmer? Did you replace a previous switch with the new dimmer?

Customer:

Yes, that is a 3 pole switch as well with no ground wire

Jason :

Thank you. The second switch is not a dimmer, correct? Also, did you make any changes at the second switch?

Customer:

The old dimmer was replace with a new dimmer. the other switch activates the lights as well

Customer:

no, I did not, except for replacing the switch itself

Jason :

Okay, that's good information. Now, just focusing on the new dimmer switch, how many wires from the wall are in the box, and what are their colors?

Customer:

3 white tied together not going to dimmer. 2 black tied together with 1 of the dimmer red wires connected to them. 1 other black on black dimmer wire. 1 red on red dimmer wire and 1 ground

Jason :

Great. Let me sketch this out. Just to clarify, did you say you replaced the second switch that controls the same lights that are controlled by the dimmer?

Customer:

yes

Jason :

And there is no ground wire in the box where the second switch is located? Also, the second switch is not a dimmer, correct?

Customer:

Correct

Jason :

Okay. I am going to sketch out the wiring at the dimmer box. I'll post again shortly...

Customer:

I believe there are 2 black and one white going into that second switch

Customer:

ok, thank you

Jason :

Please try the following: move the dimmer black wire to the set of 2 black wires from the wall. take the red dimmer wire off of that set and move it to the wire from the wall that the dimmer is currently connected to.

Jason :

clarification - move the dimmer black wire to the set of 2 black wires from the wall, and put the dimmer red wire (that is currently connected to 2 blacks from the wall) on the single black from the wall that the black from the dimmer is currently connected to

Customer:

ok, will try

Jason :

Typically, when a 3 way switching system is not wired right, it won't trip the breaker. It just won't switch the lights properly.

Customer:

done, do you want me to flip the breaker?

Jason :

Yes, go ahead and try turning the breaker on. Please be aware that dimmer switches are often damaged by tripping breakers. So if this dimmer has been connected to a circuit that has had a tripping breaker, the dimmer may need to be replaced.

Customer:

Breaker still trips

Jason :

Okay, let's try something different. Go to the second switch that controls the same lights that the dimmer controls. Is that switch mouned in the wall box, with a faceplate in place?

Customer:

yes

Jason :

Okay. Please take the faceplate off, then remove the 2 screws that fasten the switch to the box. Pull the switch out of the wall, but don't disconnect any wires. Tell me how many wires are in that box, and their colors. Also, do you have a volt meter for testing purposes?

Customer:

I do not have a volt meter, but will take it out

Jason :

Okay. We may end up needing a meter to get this resolved. But we'll try it without one first.

Customer:

3 pole, left side red on top black on bottom. right side back black

Customer:

yes

Jason :

Okay. I'm updating my sketch. Just a moment please...

Customer:

2 hanging

Jason :

Do you know if the wire goes from the first fixture to the second fixture? Or do you think each fixture has a wire that is routed to the dimmer box?

Customer:

They are approx 8 feet apart hanging from a vaulted ceiling, so I would think they are routed separately.

Customer:

2 separate slopes of the cathedral ceiling

Jason :

Okay, assuming they are routed seperately, then the set of 2 black wires that were together, along with the black wire from the dimmer, should be connected to the black wire from the dimmer. If you disconnect the dimmer completely, will you have 3 black wires, 3 white wires, and 1 red wire in the box?

Customer:

correct

Customer:

the 3 white are connected together and not to the dimmer

Jason :

Okay, they need to stay that way. The whites will not be connecting to the dimmer, only to each other. Let's try this - take the dimmer completely out. Leave the white wires connected to each other. Once the dimmer is out, connect all 3 black wires and the red wire to each other at the dimmer box. Then turn the breaker on and see if the other switch will turn the lights off and on.

Customer:

Breaker popped with a spark

Jason :

Okay, it sounds like one of the black wires at the dimmer box needs to be disconnected, at least temporarily. Take the set of 3 blacks and 1 red back apart. Spread them out so none of them are touching each other or anything else. Then try the breaker again. This time, we are just checking to see if the breaker will hold. The lights won't come on.

Customer:

Already tried that before I contacted you

Customer:

sorry, 2 of the black coming out of the box were already tied togather. Should I untie them as well?

Jason :

If they were tied together before you made any changes, then they need to stay tied together.

Jason :

I'm looking over the sketch again...

Customer:

ok

Jason :

This is starting to sound like a damaged wire. If you can get a volt meter tomorrow, I'm sure we can figure it out.

Customer:

would a wire be damaged by just changing out the dimmer? I can get access to a volt meter

Customer:

I did get a little spark when connecting all the wires together as you instructed, if that is any help

Jason :

No, you didn't damage the wire. It could be a staple driven too tight, or a rodent in the walls. Something else you can try is taking the bulbs out of the fixtures, then putting the dimmer back in. I have seen a couple of instances in my career where a bulb blew in such a way that the circuit was shorted until the bad bulb was removed from the fixture.

Customer:

Bulbs are working fine. What is the next step and how do we continue this tomorrow?

Jason :

The next step is to take some readings with a meter. It needs to be capable of reading Ohms and AC Volts. Tomorrow is a very busy day for me, I have to do 2 jobs tomorrow. I don't want you to have to wait for me, unless you don't mind waiting until evening. If you prefer not to wait, I will ask one of the other electricians to take it from here.

Customer:

I am free in the morning, unfortunately. tomorrow evening I will not be available.

Jason :

That's okay. All of the other electricians have signed off for the night. But one of the guys always signs on by 6:30 every morning. I will send him a message and a link to this conversation tomorrow morning.

Customer:

Thank you, Jason

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