Strange three way circuit

Apr 29, 2019
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United States

First of all, I would like to let you know I am a beginner, so please forgive me for any imprecision.

After repainting a corridor, I decided to upgrade the switches of the 3-way circuit as well as the lamp that they control.
No changes to the wiring at all. Just a simple straightforward replacement of the old components that have been there for 50 years or so.

The first strange thing was that after turning one switch off on the breaker panel, and checking if there was current in the switches and the lamp, I was still getting the "hot" signal until I turned another breaker panel switch off.
Basically, the circuit itself is on two switches of the breaker panel, covering two contiguous areas of the house (rooms on one side plus corridor, rooms on the other side) and somehow they cross each other.

The second strange thing is that in one of the boxes for one switch there is a situation I have never encountered: there are 3 triple cables coming in, all the "neutrals" connected together, a hot red cable to the single side of the 3way switch, and on the other a regular hot black cable, and a "skinned" hot black cable (basically connected to the switch but continuing towards somewhere else, I guess functioning as a bridge).
The other box is normal, with the 3 cables as I would expect them

The third strange thing is that after changing the switches and the lamp, I can control the lamp with the switches as one would expect, but when it is in the "off" condition, the lamp actually remains lit, although dimmed (but it's not a special lamp or light bulb).
Also, if I turn the lamp off from the switch on the lamp itself, I break the circuit.

As mentioned, I am not an expert, but I have enough experience to understand explanations and directions, and I am always trying to do things in a way that is safe.

I would like to fix the situation without too many complications and rewirings.
What perplexes me the most is the "skinned" wire and the dim light staying on.

Apr 29, 2019
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United States

I've finally had more time to look more carefully into the situation and here is what I found:
1. the current comes from one wire only, as it should be, and it gives electricity to the corridor light as well as the rooms on one side
2. the "skinned" wire is the actual hot one (see pictures, out of focus, but should give you the idea)
3. the dim light is still there

Here is a description of the "schematics" (all neutrals are together, and all ground are together)

In BOX 1, there are 3 cables:
- CABLE 1 with 3 wires (ground, white and hot black) that goes to the breaker
- CABLE 2 with 4 wires (ground, white, red and black)
- CABLE 3 (ground, white and black)

In BOX 2 there are 2 cables
- CABLE 2, coming from BOX 1
- CABLE 4, going to the CEILING BOX

In the CEILING BOX there is CABLE 4 (the "hot" is not marked black)

Please also see the attached drawing (forgive its roughness).

Apart from the quirk of the skinned wire to bring the electricity to the switch and continue to the other room, all looks fine to me, but I cannot understand why the lamp stays on (albeit dimmed) even when the switch is off.

Did I connect something wrong when I replaced the switches?

Thank you




Jun 3, 2018
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What you are describing is incorrect wiring.

First, on the back of the switch near one of the hole you will see the "Common" just above the hole. Common in this instance means the this point is common to both the other screw points.

For switch #1, you would connect the power source black to this screw. Sometimes the screw is black for identification purposes. The other two screws belong to the "Travelers". These two wires connect the switches together.

At switch #2, again check for the word, "Common". This screw will hold the black wire going to the light. Again the other two wires are the "Travelers", they must be connected on the switch in the same way as on the other switch.

Neutral (White) is not connected to switch #1any reason. This the return path from the light to the source. So In the box for switch 1, the white wire from the source is connected to the cable carrying the travelers. At the second switch outlet box, Neutral is connected to the white wire going to the light. Finally, at the light, the white wire from the light is connected to the white wire going to the switch #2 box.
Three-Way light switches.jpg

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