Yesterday, Tara and I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do for years (since we bought the house)… replace the old “round” electrical receptacles with newer “rectangular” ones. All and all, it was easy work, but somewhat stressful as we only had about an hour to do them all before the sun went down and made that part of the house too dark to work. In that time, we did about 15 receptacles, and 5 switches. 2 of those switches being 3-ways. And that’s where the fun began.
So, I removed the old 3-way switches, and made mental note of which wires went where. But, upon putting the new ones on, I couldn’t get them to work right. One of them would work correctly only if the other way turned on. If the other one was turned off, the first switch wouldn’t work at all. Now, this could have been an early sign that the first switch was bad (as it did stop working at all later that night), but at the time, I really couldn’t figure it out.
Thankfully, my network equipment is all on UPS, so I still had internet access. And let me say, this page and this page are what saved me. So let me summarize if you can’t figure out the 3-way switch wiring thing…
- Disconnect both switches completely (with the power off), then turn the power back on. Use a current tester to find the wire that is “hot”. There should only be one. That’s the wire that connects to the “common” of the 3-way switch that is your “hot end”. The other two wires are “travelers”… we’ll get back to that. Now turn the power back off.
- Now, have someone go to your “leg end” (that is, the OTHER switch location that we didn’t just work on), and take a meter set to measure Ohms, or resistance, and touch two of the wires. Now, on your “hot end”, touch the two remaining wires together. The person with the meter will either see nothing, or see resistance drop. If they don’t, move on to another pair. There’s only 3 possibilities, so it shouldn’t take long. Having found the ones that register lower than infinite resistance, connect those wires to the traveler (the light colored terminals that are not the ground screw, and not the common terminal (which should be darker than the other terminals) terminals on the second switch. The remaining wire can be connected to the “common”.
- Last, connect the remaining 2 wires to the “hot leg” travelers terminals. These should be the two wires you touched together in the previous step.
- Turn the power back on, and all SHOULD be well. If not, please refer to the pages I linked above.
All that said, I’m pretty sure the way I ended up connecting them that worked, is the exact same way they were when I started… so I’m not convinced that the switch that ended up breaking didn’t start out partially broken. But, whatever, I figured it out.
This switch process alone took 1.5 hours. I finished well after dark, and had to use my flashlight for the bulk of the work.
To add to the frustration, after I got everything done, and turned the power back on, I noticed my TED wasn’t receiving a reliable signal. Looking at the “Link Performance” (Gotten to by holding $, > and ^ together for 3 seconds), showed me 002. So, for every 100 seconds, it was getting 2 packets. This is crazy since the new outlet should give it a better signal than the old crusty one. I cycled the breaker for the sending unit, and cycled the power for the RDU. Neither helped. So in frustration, I went to bed. This morning, I wake up, and it’s working flawlessly. Link Performance of 90. Huh. So I go to work, figuring it’s fixed. Get home at 17:30, it still works. Looking again at 7:00, it’s stopped working. What, the, hell. I think about what’s changed, and realize that maybe the CFL I have on a timer from 6pm to 12am shining on my Plumeria could be the culprit. I turn it off… TED works. Turn it on, TED stops. Huh. So, why? I figure that it’s similar to putting a new antenna on your HAM. Sure, you get better signal, but you also get more noise. The new outlet works better, and therefore allows more noise from the CFL. Figures. Anyway, I don’t really need the CFL at this point, and when I do need it again, I’ll install one of these I have laying around, and it should resolve the issue. I installed one “in front” of the Smart Strip SCG3 I have in another room, and it prevented it from sucking up the TED signal.
So, the lesson? First, for the love of god, use some tape to mark the “common” wires BEFORE you remove them from 3-way switches. I knew this, but I figured my brain, and “sorting” of the wires would be sufficient. Alas, it was not. Second, new receptacles mean better power flow, but also more noise. So, TED and X10 owners, take note. =)
UPDATE 2012-10-06: Having just done another 2 sets of 3-way switches, I can honestly say, I’m always going to default to the above. It’s just easier to clip my multimeter to the two non-hot wires on the hot leg, then find them on the end-leg, and wire from there. Biggest other tip: don’t believe the words on the back of the switch. What you think it says is the “common” push-in hole, may not be. Just use the screws and be done with it. =) Happy wiring!