2-gang light switch/GFCI problem - need help

Hi, I’m new here! I’m sorry this is a little long, but it’s been a long 2 days and I want to make sure I provide as much detail as possible about what I’m working with:

My wife and I just bought a house, and I am very excited about making it a smart house. My Smartthings hub is still in the box waiting for our internet coming in 2 days, and while I wait to get the system set up I was getting my switches wired and in place.

This is my first go at electrical work, but I studied up on the forums here and got a pretty good idea of what I would be looking at. When I pulled the first switch out, it was pretty straightforward - I got it right out of the gate. I am installing GE Z-Wave dimmer switches for the most part (1 in, 1 in progress, and 4 more to install after that).

My issue came up when I went after my 2nd switch - one in my kitchen connecting 2 lights, and sharing a 2-gang box with a GFCI outlet. I don’t think the lights were there before the house was renovated (built in 1975, professionally reno’d right before we bought it), and when I opened up the outlet it was a rat’s nest. I’m pretty sure the electrician was a sadist.

Originally, the switch had 3 lines running to the line/hot terminal - the actual “line” wire, one of the 2 “load” light wires, and a jumper from the GFCI line terminal. The switch also didn’t have a neutral attached - instead, all 4 neutral wires (2 coming in & 2 for the light) were pigtailed and jumped to the GFCI. I think the jumper from GFCI to switch and the load wire on the line terminal were acting as a neutral (somehow).

I took it apart but couldn’t get it back together with how the wires were cut/connected, so I went and got a spool of wire and a bag of pigtails to redo it all.

I got it connected with both lines run individually to the switch & outlet, the 2 load wires on the switch, both units grounded, and I re-pigtailed the neutrals all together with the extra one for the switch. I turned on the breaker, and the light was functioning correctly!! Except the outlet didn’t have power…

At that point, I thought the jumper from the GFCI load might have actually had a purpose, so I opened it back up and reconnected a jumper there. Nothing worked. When I opened it back up, it looks like the wires were too short and had pulled out of some of the terminals on both (which I assumed was the problem).

SO THEN, I pigtailed the 2 line wires coming in with a line wire for each unit (4 wires together in the pigtail), and I pigtailed the 2 load wires for the lights together into 1 (to extend it). That’s the last configuration I got to try before bedtime.

When I turned it back on, the dimmer had the blue LED lit, and the GFCI was functioning properly. But when I tried to turn on the light, the LED just went out. I tried flipping the breakers a few times, and resetting the GFCI (to see if that had anything to do with it - it didn’t), and no luck.

So my question is: where do I go from here? I’m so deep in this already I don’t want to have to get an electrician out here (saving money is on the list of good things, what with the whole “recent homebuyer” thing), and I was just hoping to get some troubleshooting help on what configuration/connection might work and what other things I need to test/try.

Thanks in advance for any help!

Not sure what to tell you here aside from checking with an electrician, but just wanted to make sure that you’re aware that the LED on the switch is supposed to go out when you turn the switch on. This is usually the default, though you can change it easily once paired to SmartThings. Good luck!

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Wow, that about LED actually helps a lot - hopefully it’s just an issue with my load wires (where I’ll be looking next). Hopefully it’s just a problem with them being pigtailed together, though I’m not sure if that would make a difference.

My main hope right now is that I didn’t burn up the switch somehow…

Hiring an electrician is still way cheaper than recovering from a house fire regardless of how good your insurance is. Also i am not an electrician, while i ave done a lot of wiring in my home if there is something i’m uncomfortable with (like 3-ways) i make sure i call one out. If they are good they can/will explain what they are doing so you can be more comfortable with it in the future.

With that said each light/outlet should have it’s own load wire, that wire should not be pigtailed to line, neutral or another load. Line and neutral can be shared/pig tailed/daisey chained but only to the same kind. Line can be bundled to other lines and neutrals can be bundled to other neutrals.

[quote=“mgreer709, post:1, topic:20765”]
I got it connected with both lines run individually to the switch & outlet, the 2 load wires on the switch, both units grounded, and I re-pigtailed the neutrals all together with the extra one for the switch. I turned on the breaker, and the light was functioning correctly!! Except the outlet didn’t have power…

At that point, I thought the jumper from the GFCI load might have actually had a purpose, so I opened it back up and reconnected a jumper there. Nothing worked. When I opened it back up, it looks like the wires were too short and had pulled out of some of the terminals on both (which I assumed was the problem).

SO THEN, I pigtailed the 2 line wires coming in with a line wire for each unit (4 wires together in the pigtail), and I pigtailed the 2 load wires for the lights together into 1 (to extend it). That’s the last configuration I got to try before bedtime.
[/quote] This sounds like you may be mixing up lines and loads somewhere. If you don’t have the tools to definitely know what is line or load an electrician is the safest bet.

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It sounds like a standard kitchen or bath circuit that uses a GFCI outlet to protect the lighting as well. But pic’s would make is much easier to troubleshoot. Did you happen to take any pic’s before you started on this wiring project? If you did could you post them?

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@sidjohn1: it sounds like you may have hit the nail on the head - the pigtailed load wires are probably my problem. I was suspecting that may have something to do with it, but I didn’t know that was a no-no. Learn something new every day, I guess!

And yes, if it doesn’t work on my last go-round tonight I’ll definitely be calling up the electrician. It already crossed my mind, but I want at least 1 more shot at it. Also, burning down our 5-day old house would most likely put the kibosh on my wife ever letting me have a smart house again…

@NMK95: (and also Sidjohn’s last comment) - I didn’t get a picture of the original setup (rookie mistake), but it’s pretty easy to tell what is going where in there. All of the line wires & original neutrals are 10-gauge wire (I’m guessing from the original 1975 wiring), and the 2 load wires & neutrals to the lights are 14-gauge copper (from the reno & addition of the lights).

That’s exactly what I’m going for. I can almost guarantee (even being new at this) that it wasn’t standard when I opened it up… The 3 wires going to the line terminal & no neutral on the switch clued me in there. I think I have it closer to where it needs to be, I just need to fix that load wire config.

Yep: always take before pictures of all connections including the screw attachments, before doing anything.

As far as your current situation, call an electrician.

Here’s the base problem: a GFCI is intrinsically impossible to combine with Z wave switch. They serve two different purposes. A GFCI is prepared to cut all power to the outlet. A Z wave device has to always have some live power coming to it or it can’t hear the next “on” command from the network. Consequently, you can’t buy a Z wave GFCI outlet. The two protocols conflict.

If your local code requires the GFCI outlet, Which most do these days in kitchens and bathrooms, then you cannot replace that with a Z wave outlet and be to code.

Now we get the really interesting question of light switches. Normally code will not require that a light switch in the kitchen or bathroom be GFCI because that’s not how that problem is solved for a light switch.

But, if the light switch is combined with a receptacle in a single gang switchbox the problem is that the light switch itself may allow moisture to get to the receptacle since they share the same switch box. Plus there’s some theoretically possible arcing issues. So, yes, it’s really common in a bathroom in particular that if there’s a single gang box that holds a combination light switch and outlet that then the whole thing is run GFCI. But if that’s true, you cannot convert that to a zwave switch.

On the other hand, there are some situations where people have installed a GFCI combo outlet where it wasn’t actually required by code (no water nearby) in order to create a three prong grounded effect on a really old style outlet that didn’t have grounding. Those are usually in houses that were built between about 1955 and 1965. If it’s one of those it is possible for an electrician to separate the receptacle from the switch again, or to remove the GFCI altogether if it was not required by code.

But in any case all of these situations are complicated in terms of maintaining safety and meeting code requirements.

So I would just bring in an electrician. But at least you’ll know what kinds of issues the electrician is having to deal with.

Good luck, let us know how it goes.

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You can connect non GFCI outlets, switches, etc downstream, in series from another GFCI outlet. If any are shorted then the GFCI will perform its function and trip the load. This is common practice in many installations. I this case I would tie the light switch in series with the GFCI feeding power. This way if anything gets shorted then the GFCI safety net is still in place. I’m just speculating but that was probably what that “jumper” wire was for. I agree, an electrician should be involved if you are not confident in your installation skills/knowledge.

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Outlets in a single room (e.g., kitchen) are often run in serial with one of them being GFCI that can cut the entire circuit. That is, to the best of my layman’s knowledge, code compliant in some places as that’s how my inspected kitchen was wired up (and is documented on the GFCI boxes!).

GFCI can even be implemented for particular circuits at the breaker box!

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Downstream, sure, but in the same switchbox you may run into code issues. And if you didn’t already understand that issue going in, I’d still bring in someone who did.

FWIW

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So, some good news! (but not all the way good news… like it’s completely fixed).

I went back in and cleaned up/correctly pigtailed everything as suggested above, and at first it didn’t work. But when I pulled it back out, it looked like a couple of wires became unhooked thanks to the tight space in the box…

When I reconnected everything, I didn’t put them back in the wall, instead testing them just as they were hooked up. When I did, everything worked like a champ!

When I put everything back in the wall (carefully), though… no dice.

It also turns out that one of my employees is a former industrial electrician, so while I still want to learn what I’m doing and conquer this one, he’s been talking and walking me through everything I need to check and pay attention to. Also, he’s already agreed to come over and help/teach/do when I decide to tackle my first 3-way connection. So rest assured, I have at least a little professional backup to keep me from burning everything down.

So tonight, I’m just going to get a ton of electrical tape and secure every pigtail I’ve got in there, while trying to position them in the best possible way to fit with the switch and outlet. That should be my last step to finally having a working dimmer & light…

And not a moment too soon, because I think my wife is getting sick of all of the tools laying around on the kitchen counter :stuck_out_tongue:

:frowning:Yikes… If you use the right size connector(s) and the bare wires ends that are inserted into the connector are not too long (no bare wires sticking outside of the connector), twist the connector tight onto the wire there is no need for tape. In fact, it will become a real hinderance if you need to make future modifications.

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10 gauge? Holy crap.

When your friend comes over. Ask him if your state allows you to use this as a wire connector (link below). I think all DIYers should be using this instead of twist connector since most twisted the wrong way. Loose connection is how fire get started. I wouldn’t take chance pushing that plug back in like that. No fire today but most likely in a year or two due to expand and contract.

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Wow, I’m definitely going to ask him about those - they look like a great solution, and way easier…

I agree completely, and that was part of my problem early on… I would try and fit it back in, and it would just be a little too tight, causing it to come loose and not function (what I figured out when I tried it without putting them back in the gang box).

It definitely took some more time, but the last install I unhooked a couple of the wires and reconnected them in better, more compact spots/setups so they wouldn’t be crossing or pushing as much when I put the box back in. After that, everything seemed much more secure and the outlet & switch were much easier to put back in place. I figured a little more time and sweat now could save me a ton of time & money down the road.

I finished up the box last night…with some more modifications - it turns out the switch behind it (that I’ve already replaced) was tied into that same box… the line/hot wire ran from that switch into the 2-gang switch and connected there, through the same hole as the load wire for the light I was connecting. I figured that out when I got it all working, but the other light wouldn’t get any brighter than the level on the one I was working on. SO much fun. All good now, though.

As I said above - the first time I start looking to replace a 3-way (probably soon, unfortunately…), I’m going to have my electrician friend there before I even take the faceplate off…

It may have taken a lot of time, sweat, and frustration (and some concern from you all here - which I do appreciate), but the sense of accomplishment for actually doing it feels great!! I can’t wait to get my new V2 hub in to finally get the fun part going!

One issue of wiring your lights in series with a GFCI receptacle is that when you have a ground fault you will loose you lights as well. If the GFCI trips in the middle of the night you are left fumbling around in the dark trying to fix it. In an ideal world it’s probably best to have separate lighting and receptacle circuits.

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With a light switch and GFCI outlet in the same box, you should never have the power coming from the outlet to the switch. Bring the power (hot) to the switch first, then pigtail it over to the outlet, with any other outlets in same area in a series from the GFCI outlet.

Then, your lights do not lose power if your GFCI is ever tripped.

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And next time, even though your friend is an experienced electrician, take pictures of everything before you disconnect anything. And everything includes the screw connections.

Three ways are indeed tricky and three ways with Zwave’s sometimes require modifying the existing hook ups. It’s just a good idea to document what was there. :sunglasses:

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I’m sorry to add another post about wiring switches, but…I have a two gang box with 1 GE dimmer (for light) and 1 GE on/off (for fan) switch installed. When i turn off the fan (on/off switch) the light that’s attached to the dimmer blinks on and then off. I daisy chained the neutral wire from one switch to another (instead of having two pig tails come out of the neutral bundle) because space was extremely tight with the two switches installed. Is this behavior normal? Thanks for any info. I just want to make sure the switches are safe.