7 way switch?

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by Erico, Sep 12, 2011.

  1. Erico

    Erico Member

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    I'm heading up to Michigan to this weekend to help out with a few projects on my buddy's vacation home - one project is to tackle an issue he has with outside flood-lights. There are approximately 18 floods (CFLs) affixed to his eves. Everything is working properly. The issue is that he rents the home from time to time and guests/tenants tend to leave the lights on 24 hours a day out of ignorance or plain old inconsiderateness. He'll come out, a week after the home being rented, to find the floods have been on for a week straight.

    We are looking for a solution to time these lights out. Motion detectors are ruled out because he doesn't want to have the lights on at all when he is there. It kinda spoils the ambiance when you are trying to enjoy the stars and the place is lit up like a prison compound. He figures the guests get a little nervous and turn the lights on at night because they are new to being out in the woods for the first time. The problem is they never turn them off.

    I didn't pay any attention to the switches last time I was there but I assume the lights are on a 20amp circuit. The house looks like it was either built by someone with a lot of money or a builder. I've never seen so many circuits - all (most?)20 amp - in a residential building. I never counted the breakers or service but the box in the basement is huge and there is a sub panel upstairs. The HVAC system is equally impressive with two conventional systems and an outside boiler for firewood heat. The structure is totally over built with tons of steel in the 10 foot high basement. Pretty much how a lot of us would build if we had our dream design and budget. It was built in 1970.

    The issue is the lights are switched at 6 or 7 locations in the house. Each bedroom has its own switch - as does the living, family room and even the kitchen. All lights can be switched on or off from anywhere in the house.

    Ideally the switches would be replaced with a timer. Never having touched a 7 way switch I'm wondering/guessing that the switches are a combination of 4 way and 3 ways??? These are two button switches. If that is the case, can we change them out for a 3 way timer. Somehow I'm thinking that can't be done. Either way, we wants to at least change the switches out as the old ones are showing their age.

    I would never attempt wiring a setup like this but I am competent enough to change out the switch or switches mirroring the existing configuration IF we can find the right product.

    One of my other thoughts was breaking the service to the lights if, as I assume, the lights are on their own circuit. And installing some sort of timer that only allows the lights to be operated at a certain time - say 9pm to 2am. This would be better than having the lights blaring 24/7.

    What am I missing here or am I over thinking it - as usual.
     
  2. dlarrivee

    dlarrivee New Member

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    I'm not going to read all of that, but basically you have a 3 way on each end of the circuit and as many 4 ways as you can imagine in the middle...
     
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  4. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

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    With two buttons, they could be running a low-voltage control circuit. No way to tell until you check. It's also possible that there is some master controller, but probably not as likely if it was installed in 1970 since they pretty much didn't exist. You probably won't be able to tell until you tear into it. Suggest you take a picture before taking anything apart at each location and then tag each lead, or take them off one-by-one and put it on the new switch, if you end up replacing them. It may be a trial to find the feed point.
     
  5. Erico

    Erico Member

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    That's kind of what I figured. But can you replace them with timers. I've seen 3 way times but not 4 way timers.
     
  6. Erico

    Erico Member

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    I hadn't thought about a low voltage controler. But like you say, it's unlikely.

    I pretty much do as you say when replacing 3 ways. One by one.

    The question remains if I can do 6 or 7 timers.

    Another option is to remove five of the controls and keep one upstairs and one down. There really is no reason to have THAT many controls. But that option might get dicey because I would have to know which wires to connect in the abandoned switch boxes and will a wiring system, designed for that many controls, work if some controls are removed.

    It seems like a simple solution might be to isolate the feed, hopefully exposed in the basement if we're lucky, and install a junction box with a device - at the least a photo sensor and at best some sort of timer device.
     
  7. Erico

    Erico Member

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  8. Cookie

    Cookie .

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    Maybe tell them to do what we do with our mountain property which is to shut off the main power switch.
     
  9. ActionDave

    ActionDave Electrician

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    That would be the path that I would follow. One strategically placed time clock and what you are trying to accomplish will be achieved.
     
  10. Erico

    Erico Member

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    That might be an issue with the renters.
     
  11. Erico

    Erico Member

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    That may be the way to go. But do they make 4-way timers? I've seen 3-way timers but not 4-way.
     
  12. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

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    Why would you need either a three or four way timer? Place the timer at the most convenient place after the panel where it will be breaking the circuit supplying the switches and only one wire will need to be broke by the timer.
     
  13. Erico

    Erico Member

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    I'm weighing two scenarios in this thread. (plan A) is replacing existing 7 switch locations with timers . (Plan B)is placing a timer on the entire circuit if I can't find a 4-pole timer switch.

    The ideal set up (Plan A) would be a preset timer switch at the existing locations the guests can use/activate at any time and shuts off in, say, 2 hours. This would allow guests control of the lights but not leave them on 24/7 or leave the lights on while they are sleeping. If they really want to sleep with the lights on outside they are going to have to get out of bed every two hours. Or if they get scared by the boogie man they can flip on the lights. This set up would require changing all seven switches out - if such an animal as a 4-way timer exists and would the set-up work?

    What you suggest (Plan B) is definitely a good fall back but the trick is figuring out what time is good/fair for the guests. Should they be allowed to sleep with 18 flood lights burning through the night? I'm thinking of a 9pm to 2am set-up. Anytime after that and they can use a flashlight. The draw back is, when they leave the lights on, and they will, the lights will continue to cycle on evey night even when the property is unoccupied.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2011
  14. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

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    First, you need to determine what the switches really are. If they are simple 3-4 way switches, that's one thing. The thing could be controlled by a remote relay, or any number of other methods. Finding where the lamps are actually fed from could be a real pain.
     
  15. brownizs

    brownizs In the Trades

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    If he keeps the telephone line active all of the time, he could use a smart controller, that would allow him to turn them off from anywhere. Basically everything would work off of a central panel, that would allow total control of any of the lights in the home. Would also mean some rewiring for the higher end type panels.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2011
  16. Erico

    Erico Member

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    He does have a home automation system that he can control some things (front door, garage door, HVAC) remotely over the internet.

    Once we determine how this is wired, we may be contacting the automation people for a timer and have it installed in after the box by cutting in to the romex.

    Still, the preferable scenario would be a timer at the switches. This would give the guests SOME control but not the ability to leave the lights on all night.

    If I could only determine if 4-way timer switches are available.
     
  17. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

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    If it were me and I was as worried as this fellow about someone leaving a light on I would simply disconnect the circuit and tell those folks that they need to get their self a lantern.

    Do some research and find what you are looking for but I think you will find that you are asking for a bigger problem with multi-timers on one circuit.
     
  18. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

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    Change all the bulbs to compact flourescents at about 3 or 5 watts, and you will have nightlights instead of spotlights.
     
  19. Erico

    Erico Member

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    That's not a bad idea. But there ARE some times when he may want full light.
     
  20. Furd

    Furd Engineer

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    When you write that there are two pushbuttons at each control point that really points to a low-voltage control system. If is indeed a low voltage control then there are several possibilities including timers and connection to the home automation system.

    If it is a combination of three-way and four-way switches then there are time clocks that could interface either by themselves or with a relay depending on exactly where in the system it is wired.
     
  21. hj

    hj Master Plumber

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    Without knowing HOW the system is wired, we are just guessing. BUT if it is two three way switches and several four way, which would allow on/off operation from MANY locations, a single single pole timer installed BEFORE the first one, in the power to the first switch, or AFTER the last on as the power goes TO the fixtures, would do what you want to. You could also use a "mechanical wind up" timer which would allow them to turn the lights on, but woud turn them off after the time has elapsed.
     
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