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Mike, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 1425
Experience:  Licensed Master Electrician - OnQ Certified Data Voice Audio Video Installer
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I made a dumb mistake and pulled a 3 way switch out of the

Customer Question

I made a dumb mistake and pulled a 3 way switch out of the wall before turning it off at the panel. I heard a popping noise. The switches still worked but only in a certain positions, not both ways. I thought I fried the switch so today I went to replace it. I tested it and it still only worked in one of the two positions at both switches. Like an idiot I went to push it back into the box and it popped again. Now nothing works. Help
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Kevin replied 10 months ago.

Hello and welcome to Just Answer. My name is ***** ***** I will be happy to assist you with your electrical question.

1) Kill power at the breaker and back out the 3-way switch from the wall box that you didn't replace. At this 3-way, what are the wire colors that are terminated to the 2 brass screws?

2) How many house wires and the wire colors in the box at the 3-way you replaced?

3) Do you have a 2 wire lead AC voltage tester (a contact type) or a mulit-meter available?

4) What is the approximate age of the home?

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
I will get that info now
Expert:  Kevin replied 10 months ago.

Very good...........Thanks:)

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
1) There are 2 black wires terminated at the brass screws in the switch I didn't replace.
2) at the 3 way I replaced there was one black, one white and a red wire. The red wire went to the dark screw.
3) I have a contact AC voltage detector, not sure if it is a 2 wire.
4) The home is 1918 but updated in 2010 or so
Expert:  Kevin replied 10 months ago.

OK, Thanks

1) What is the wiring scheme that was installed? NM Romex cables or conduit or other?

2) Reason I'm asking is that the color codes don't make sense. At the switch you didn't replace, you had 2 blacks terminated to the brass traveler screws. However at the replaced box, you only have 1 black and not 2 blacks?

3) It is is possible that there is another nearby junction box where somebody transitioned the traveler wire colors.

Expert:  Kevin replied 10 months ago.

1) It is also possible that 3-ways were Carter or California wired since the home was built in 1918. Not sure if the 3-ways were wired to modern methods when it was updated in 2010? If Carter or California wired, the wiring method is totally different than that of modern 3-way wiring.

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
We didn't own the house at the time of the remodel so I have no idea I will attach an image here in a second
Expert:  Kevin replied 10 months ago.

OK, thanks.

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
there is another 3 way in the background, it is on another breaker and working properly. Ironically it has one black and one white. My guess is that it was added during the remodel while the switch I am having trouble with was done when they transitioned from knob and tube. There is also a junction box in the attic space just next to the light box that I am having trouble with. it is a rats nest and difficult to determine what is what
Customer: replied 10 months ago.
One additonal piece of news that may just make this harder. At the box for the switch I replaced I also pulled out the adjacent 3 way switch that matches the one from the other box. It has 2 black wires terminated at the brass screws as well as one red. No white......
Expert:  Kevin replied 10 months ago.

Thanks again for the replies and the pic.

1) Since the home was built in 1918, K&T wiring was the only available method at that time. Cater switching for 3-ways was also very common during that era. I suspect yours may may wired using the older Carter method.

See link shown below:

2) Unfortunately, Carter and/or California switching methods are one of my weaknesses and I don't want to steer you in the wrong direction.

Therefore, I am going to opt out of the question and place it back to the open board.

We have another electrical expert here who is very good at older 3-way switching methods. No need to reply back to me, you will be notified once another expert picks up the question..........Thanks:)

Expert:  Mike G. replied 10 months ago.

Hi, I'm Mike G and I'll be assisting you. Do you have a 2 wire voltage tester?

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
i do not
Expert:  Mike G. replied 10 months ago.

To troubleshoot the problem you'll need one. The non contact tester won't do. We need to test not guess. Pick one up at any home center and we can continue.

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