4 way switch problems

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by cathead, Jul 3, 2008.

  1. cathead

    cathead New Member

    Messages:
    5
    I recently painted my house and changed all of the light switches and outlets. I have a split foyer home with a light in the foyer area. There is a 3 way switch as you come in the door, a 3 way switch at the bottom of the stairs and a 4 way switch at the top of the stairs all to control the foyer light. I put the wires on the new switches in the same position that they were on the old switches. Now it seems that the 4 way must be in the up position for the light to be functional. If I turn the 4 way on I can use the other 3 way switches to turn the light on and off. If I turn the light off with the 4 way switch and attempt to turn it on with any of the other 3 way switches the light will not work. I put the old 4 way switch back and the light worked fine.

    I bought another 4 way switch (Cooper), wired it exactly as the old 4 way and had the same problems. Red wires on top and white on the bottom. Anyone have a clue as to what I screwed up?
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    You have to look at the terminals on the switches:: the arrangement of the poles may be different on the old one and the new one. On the 4-way, there ar terminals for two sets of "travelers". I think one set will be brass or silver color, and the other set would be black screws. These pairs may not be physically laid out the same on old and new.
  3. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,317
    Location:
    New Hampshire
    Do you have a meter to check the switch?

    My guess is that one red/white pair is the input and the other red/white pair is the output.

    I just checked a 4-way that I have. The input from one 3-way is connected to the pair of terminals at one end of the switch, and the two terminals from the other end of the switch are connected to the other 3-way switch.

    The two terminals at one end are both marked with the number 4. The others are unmarked.

    The following is based on the assumption that the red/white wires were connected to the 4-way terminals and that the black wires go through without being connected to the switch.

    I suspect that the red/white conductors from one cable should be connected to one end (upper or lower) of the switch, and the red/white conductors from the other cable coming into the box should be connected to the terminals at the other end of the switch.
  4. Billy_Bob

    Billy_Bob In the Trades

    Messages:
    422
    You need to understand which wires are for what and what the terminals on each switch are for. Note that manufacturers will have the terminals for their switches in different positions.

    If I could not identify the terminals on the switches or which wire went to what, I would use a continuity tester (with the power off) or a volt meter with the power on. If you are not experienced with using these testers, then might be best (and safest) to get an electrician.

    Here is a diagram of two 3 ways and a 4 way in the middle...
    http://www.electrical-online.com/Fall204.gif
  5. cathead

    cathead New Member

    Messages:
    5
    Thanks for the replies. I just returned from vacation and will give it shot again this weekend.
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,519
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    4 way

    You have to know how your 4 way switch is configured internally. For want of a better description 2 terminals are "in" and the other 2 are "out", (your switch may call them line 1 and line 2, line A and line B or something similar to designate which 2 go together). The diagram on the box will tell you whether the IN/OUT terminals are on each side or at the ends of the switch. The wires from one switch must attach to the IN side and then the OUT goes to the other switch. If you cannot determine which pairs of wires go together, then you are stuck with the task of testing the four wires to determine which are pairs.
  7. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,532
    Location:
    North Carolina
    On a four way switch there is no line and load nor is there a in and out. Every four way I have worked with in over 40 years took the travelers from one switch on one end and the other switch on the other end.

    What is described sounds more like the switch leg or the supply has been installed on one the traveler screws.
  8. Randyj

    Randyj Master Plumber

    Messages:
    1,047
    Location:
    Alabama
    From time to time I have to wire a room addition or add lights and switches. So, for the inexperienced this is a helpful hint. First...it does help to read everything on the package the switch comes in. When I'm confused or not sure of my wiring I sit down with a pencil and piece of paper to draw out the circuits and the switches in every position so I can follow the path of the current. It is a tremendous help in understanding and getting a mental picture of the flow of electricity. The regular switch is a simple single pole, single throw switch. The three way switch is a single pole double throw type of switch (two positions that a single current can be carried through). And the 4 way switch is like a double pole double throw switch (two positions that two sources of electricity can be in).
    Single Pole(3 way)... up goes to this wire, down goes to that wire
    Double Pole (4 way)... up comes from this wire, goes to this wire. down comes from that wire and goes to that wire ...
    If unsure about which terminals connect inside the switch in either position then check continuity on terminals when switch is in each position.

    Makes sense to me....
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2008
  9. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,519
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    4 way

    With a 4-way switch, in one position the flow goes directly/straight from one pair of terminals to the other. In the other position the flow criss crosses to the opposite terminals, so you have to know which terminals are the inlet/A/ or other designation so you get the flow correct. Otherwise in one setting the flow is cut off and merely sent back to the other side of the sending switch, while the other setting does send it to the next switch because of the criss cross circuitry.
  10. cathead

    cathead New Member

    Messages:
    5
    I took the switch off today and there were no labels on the new switch like the old one had (line 1 and line 2). I labeled the wires and connected them a different way and the light works perfectly now. I have taken the switch off so many times that I noticed I have almost stripped the 3 gang work box that the switch screws into. I had to pull the box with a pair of needle nose pliers and push the screw in while I turned the screwdriver.
  11. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,519
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    lables

    I took the switch off today and there were no labels on the new switch like the old one had (line 1 and line 2).

    That is why you have to keep the box and look at the diagram on the back of it.
  12. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,317
    Location:
    New Hampshire
    You can check it in a minute if:
    1. You have a multimeter or continuity testing device, and
    2. You know how the switch is supposed to work, and
    3. You know how a circuit with a 4-way switch works.

    A 4-way switch works as follows:

    Call the inputs A and B, and the outputs 1 and 2.

    In one position:
    Input A is connected to Output 1 and
    Input B is connected to Output 2.

    In the other position:
    Input A is connected to Output 2 and
    Input B is connected to Output 1.

    The letter and number designations here are only for the purpose of this description and are probably not marked on the switch.

    The circuit works as follows:
    1. The two travelers from one 3-way switch are connected to A and B
    2. The two travelers from the other 3-way switch are connected to 1 and 2.

    It doesn't matter which switch is connected to A and B, and which is connected to 1 and 2.

    It will not work if one of the travelers from a switch is connected to one of the lettered pair and the other traveler from the same switch is connected to a numbered pair.
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