electrical solution or an exorcism?

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by GatorKenD, Oct 23, 2011.

  1. GatorKenD

    GatorKenD New Member

    Messages:
    24
    Location:
    Gainesville, FL
    Hey kremeoweet - the 3-way switch on the left only looks different because it's new. The other three in the box are 1979. When this problem first surfaced, I assumed one or both of the 3-ways had some intermittent short. I replaced both with new switches on Monday. It's just a basic 20a 3-way switch.

    Your point that the extra red/blacks purpose is unknown is exactly right. I think whatever they go to (timer maybe?) is the source of the short. Whatever that is, its not something I've used or am aware of after living in the house for two years. I wrapped this up for the night last night by leaving the extra red/black wires disconnected (with wire connecters screwed on). I suspect that's solved my immediate probem. With them disconnected, the two light switches work as you would expect them to. They did not turn themselves on last night, but another day or two will probably tell.

    Having said that, I'd still like to know what they were supposed to do. I was hoping that someone would see the wiring configuration and offer up a, "hey, you'd wire in an 'xyz' that way!" As it is, I'm not sure what I'm looking for. The switch next to has the same "extra" set of wires. Like the first one, it's one of two 3-ways. Unlike the one in question, I'm not getting that odd 25-30v reading on the off switch and it doesn't turn itself on.
  2. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,534
    Location:
    North Carolina
    These two wires (red/black) could in no way turn the light on or off as installed. They would not work on a timer of any kind that I have ever worked with. Connected in parallel they could not turn the lights on or off.

    Without knowing where they go we have no more of an idea what they were intended to do than you do.

    Once again, and I am trying to stress upon you the importance in doing so, have an experienced electrician come and look at the switches. Something is just not right with the installation and it could be that more is going on here than we know or even want to know.
  3. GatorKenD

    GatorKenD New Member

    Messages:
    24
    Location:
    Gainesville, FL
    Hey JW - I don't see why these red/black wires couldn't cause the lights to come on. If those red/black were on a switch (or timer), I'd have current on both brown travelers and the lights would be on, regardless of the position of either switch. During the time the red/black were "on," the two 3-way switches for be effectively disabled. (Not saying this would be an acceptable way of hooking up a timer. That I don't know.)
    wiring0001.jpg
  4. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades Master of one

    Messages:
    4,211
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Why are the two wires on the outside switch Brown ?

    Is that zip cord or a X10 Module with brown wires coming out of it ?

    The red and black could go to a Motion Sensor then in turn send a signal to turn the lights on.

    That would make some sense because of the 50V reading that you are seeing. You read the return voltage
    of something that is drawing Small amounts of current. Could be as little as a Lighted Switch.


    Have a good time.


    Be careful playing with electricity.


    DonL
  5. GatorKenD

    GatorKenD New Member

    Messages:
    24
    Location:
    Gainesville, FL
    All of the wiring, including the brown, is 12 gauge. As mentioned earlier, the wire connectors shown in the diagram are in the box with switch #1 (diagram doesn't make that clear). Brown goes to switch #2.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2011
  6. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,534
    Location:
    North Carolina
    You caught me with my britches down. You are correct that it would bypass the travelers and make the light come on.

    If it works with the black and red disconnected then leave them disconnected and also disconnect the ones on the other switch.
  7. GatorKenD

    GatorKenD New Member

    Messages:
    24
    Location:
    Gainesville, FL
    If you were putting this in during new construction, would this be an appropriate way to put in a timer, motion sensor or x-10 device (although where the hell they has me stumpted).
  8. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades Master of one

    Messages:
    4,211
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    NO it is not normal to have Brown Zip Wire inside a Box like that.

    It may work, But Electrical Code may be hard to meet.

    If you build your home here, You can do what you want. Just have your own money to cover for Insurance.


    DonL
  9. GatorKenD

    GatorKenD New Member

    Messages:
    24
    Location:
    Gainesville, FL
    Hey Don - There's no zip wire here. The brown wires to switch #2 are 12 gauge. I haven't seen anything in this house where any expense was spared for first class work. But after all this, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out where the red/black go.
  10. Chad Schloss

    Chad Schloss Member

    Messages:
    329
    Location:
    USA
    "I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out where the red/black go. "


    just temporarily disconnect the red and black, wire nut them, and see what does not work.
  11. GatorKenD

    GatorKenD New Member

    Messages:
    24
    Location:
    Gainesville, FL
    Never say die!

    I thought I'd bring some closure to this with a "reveal."

    Disconnecting the "extra red/black" wires solved the problem of the lights turning themselves on, but it was very unsatisfying not knowing where those wires went and what they did. I borrowed a toner generator and inductive amplifier from a friend in an effort to trace these down. Attached is a photo of "culprit:" an X10 switch located in a corner of the courtyard.

    The wall switch in the courtyard is only 20 feet away from this X10, but I've got a hunch why it's there. This spot in the courtyard was where the hot tub used to be. I'm guessing this was so you could turn on the courtyard lights while you were in the hot tub. Or, maybe more accurately, turn OFF the courtyard lights! The architect who built and lived in this house for 30 years would have been mid-40's when it was built in 1979. I'm guessing this house has seen some shagadelic hot tub parties in it's time. On a side note (but related to shagadelic): I've got all the original plans for the house, which included a fairly complex solar hot water system. I cracked up when I finally figured out what the pump marked WB was for... that was the solar hot water for the water bed!

    I'm totally unfamiliar with how these X10 devices work, but I assume it either has a timer component that started turning on randomly or a short. Thanks to all for the feedback.

    Regards,
    Ken the culprit.jpg
  12. BobL43

    BobL43 DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,793
    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    I'm glad I mentioned it in my post # 13. something, somebody with an X10 transmitter device or even a multimedia system may be sending out the signal to turn this on
  13. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades Master of one

    Messages:
    4,211
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Some of the X10 stuff is good, Some not so much.

    The X10 replacement light switches have a bad habit of getting SCR damage.

    They trigger on / off or get stuck on, Shorted or partial shorted.

    Appliance modules seem to be much more reliable, because they use a relay and are not Dim-able.

    Besides the faults triggers of the X10 stuff, They are a lot better than they use to be. IE RCA/RS
  14. BobL43

    BobL43 DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,793
    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    I have a ton of X10 stuff, and only had a very few failures. I still have one or 2 X10 Motion detector flood lights that have been out there for about 19 years and work fine. I control my outdoor low voltage light with them, and lts of interior lighting. Great when using the Home Automation software and the USB interface controller. Not reliable enough for a life support system, but the stuff has worked well for me. I even had a bunch of their cheap wired and wireless cameras in use before I went to more sophisticated video stuff. Smile, you're on Candid Camera
  15. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades Master of one

    Messages:
    4,211
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    I do not like the way that they give you the software for the products that you buy.

    They should give you a copy on Disk, and not make you go thru a licenses server that don't work.

    You got to get the drivers while you can... Make your own backup.
  16. Electromen

    Electromen New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Pittsburgh
    Originally there was probably a photocell in that outside box.
  17. BobL43

    BobL43 DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,793
    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    yo mean before that X10 switch? probably, if there was anything before it.
  18. Electromen

    Electromen New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Pittsburgh
    Yes, X10 was first sold by Radio Shackin 1978. The house was built in 1979. Since it's concrete, conduit and wire, the outside box was probably original to the house. If it was X-10 originally it was one of the first ones sold, but why put it outside? That's why I guessed photocell.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2011
  19. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades Master of one

    Messages:
    4,211
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    When Radio Shack® sold them they were not very reliable.

    I have found the newer X10® stuff to be a bit better.
  20. Electromen

    Electromen New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Pittsburgh
    Yes definitely.
    The latest system I installed was Leviton Vizia RF. The technology was come a long way.
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