Best option for adding a neutral line to a switch box


#1

My situation:

I am having some difficulty figuring out how to install a GE Smart Switch in a 3-way configuration with a set of recessed lights (a set of 6 or 7) in our kitchen.

This is what I can see pulling out the single-gang switch in our kitchen:

The beige/white on the Common screw always has power, and the two travelers get power switched between them. There is no neutral bundle in this box.

The corresponding switch is on the other side of the kitchen in a 3-gang box that does have a neutral bundle (and it works, I tested it with another GE smart switch in our hallway which works fine).

Because the lights are recessed, I don’t have very good access to see if the power comes into the light or into a junction box up there, but I’m open to ideas to help figure out what to do.

I’ve been reading/looking at wiring diagrams for the past day or so and I can’t seem to figure out what’s going on (i.e. why I don’t see a neutral bundle in the 1-gang box).

I’m assuming that because the Common screw in the single-gang box is always powered that that is where I’d have to put the Master switch and I’d have to put the Add-on Switch into the 3-gang box) Is that correct?

Is there a preferred way to add a neutral down into the single-gang box? Is that the correct solution?

Thank you in advance.


(Robin) #2

I can’t speak for GE install methods but in regards to adding a neutral:

Each case is unique but will normally involve some chasing out / damage to finishes. You may of course get lucky and find you have wires in a conduit or at least loosely run in the wall, so the old wires can be used to pull through the new?.

Whatever you do, make sure the neutral is pulled from a lighting circuit on the same electrical ring. This will avoid issues with circuit breakers tripping due to differential current going in/out of the fuse box.

If you’re not religiously glued to the GE switches, you could always go down the micro module route, some of which (i.e. Fibaro Dimmer 2) don’t require a neutral and play well with 3-way setups.


(Jimmy) #3

It sounds like you have #9 here, but the common is white instead of black. if this is the case, you have everything you need.


#4

Here is an FAQ for installing 3-way switches. It sounds like you have a neutral in one of your boxes; so you should be good to go.


#5

Sorry, can you clarify? How would I hook up the switch with the Line power (white in my case) without having a neutral in that box?


#6

Yeah, that’s one of the threads I was studying, heh. I was just having trouble understanding how I attach a neutral in the 2nd box.


#7

If your other switch box has the neutral, line, load and traveler like suggested above by @prjct92eh2, your wiring would look like line-switch-load-switch-1 in the FAQ. Your smart switch must go in that box and the add-on would go in the box pictured above.


#8

OK, I think I understand what you’re saying. In this situation, you would:

  1. Undo the Line connection bundle there and connect it to the Smart Switch
  2. Use one of the now-unused travelers and connect it to the Neutral bundle.
  3. Connect the other end of that traveler to the Add-on switch to use as the Neutral
  4. Use the other Traveler as the actual Traveler.

The only problem I have with this is that the Line is black at one end and white/beige at the other, which worries me that I don’t totally understand all that’s happening.


#9

Without seeing in the boxes (and even then I may not be sure) it is hard to say. If the line changes color then it likely is changing in the light box. If that is the case then your wiring is different than line-switch-load-switch-1. Where is the load? Is it in the first switch box?


#10

The load is in the 2nd switch box, I believe. I’m not even sure how I’d check the “Light box” with a set of recessed lights.

Is it typical to have a junction box accessible somewhere up there to connect one of the lights with the Load wire?


(Jimmy) #11

It may help to post pictures of the insides of your boxes.


#12

Good call, I’ll take some tonight.


(Ron Talley) #13

Be careful, that white bundle could actually be the line source!

First Box (load going back to light): Easy to check with multi-meter.
Sometimes the white (typically neutral) that’s hot in the switch box, typically means that the light has the line source. The white (wire nut bundle) could be your original hot (source) that just switched colors at the light, then connected by wire nut in the first box and then directed to the line on the second 3-way switch via 14-3 wire. White=Source; Black and Red Travelers.

Second Box (white connected to 3-way line): Easy to check with multi-meter.
Red and Black travelers going/coming to/from first box. From first switch box back to the light box via a 14-2 (Black).

Saying all of that, check your white bundle with ground to see if it’s actually your line source. If so, you have no neutral and you will have to run another pair.


#14

Yep, so this is pretty close to what’s in there.

I went ahead and did some additional testing and noticed that there was a bundle in the 3-gang box that tied together Line for 3 different lights, but they used the white/beige to carry the Line to two other lights (which was super confusing). Here’s what I ended up doing:

  1. Undoing the Line bundle
  2. Splice two more short Line wires into each of the Switches in the 3-gang box.
  3. Re-purposed the white/beige wire (previously Line) into a Neutral by connecting it to the Neutral bundle (this wire goes to the Single-gang box).
  4. Re-use the Red wire as my Traveler/communication wire.
  5. Connected Ground
  6. ???
  7. Profit!

The only issue now is that I can’t seem to stuff all those wires in far enough to make room for all 3 smart switches. It’s REALLY tight in there.


(Ron Talley) #15

The Line bundle saved the day!

You are just going to cap the original line coming from the light right? Only problem is that your neutral is not part of the original circuit. They all tie back in at the breaker box but still be careful.

Your can lights are LED right? Pretty sure your current cans were designed for high wattage bulbs so it doesn’t appear that you would overloading the circuit. Awesome!

Yeah, so many ways to run electric. I was so happy that ALL of my boxes had neutral bundles. Only one that really shook me was the fireplace…Heck, it didn’t have no power at all but the “switch” worked! :fearful:

Glad you got it worked out. What I typically do is line the box up, push the wires in as far as I can, then use the screws to pull the switch into the box making sure that no wires are touching especially the hot wires against the ground.


#16

Just to clarify, the Line actually came to the box where my 1st switch is (but not connected to the switch), which was then sent to my second switch, and then to the Light. By disconnecting that wire going to the 2nd switch location, I was able to re-use that wire as a new Neutral line by connecting it to the neutral bundle. So in essence, I’m really just sending the Neutral line and the Traveler line to the 2nd (add-on) switch. This leaves an Unused traveler wire that’s not connected to anything, which I just capped off.

So the way I wired it, I’m using the correct Neutral :slight_smile:


#17

Sorry, forgot to address these parts of your comment.

My lights are incandescent right now (we just bought the place in Sept) and I’ll be slowly switching the bulbs all over to LED as they burn out (which seems to be happening sort of on a monthly basis). So far though, there are no issues with the old bulbs.

Yeah, having neutrals is a life-saver with smart switches. My previous house was built in the 80’s and didn’t have them :sob:

How does that fireplace switch work with no Power? We have discussed installing a gas fireplace previously and I’ve wondered about making it controlled by voice :smiley:


#18

Hi Coolsaber57 is it possible for you to better explain what you did in terms of wire color or posting pics? I think I am in the same position you were and struggling to get this to work (with Leviton zwave switches). In one box I have the line, load, traveler and the neutral bundle in the back of the box. In the other box there is only a black, red, and white wire(carrying a load) . I was thinking since the black load or the red traveler are not used in the remote box I can pig tail one of them to the neutral bundle but it did not work.

Any help would be great


#19

Hi there,

I haven’t been on this site for a while it seems, but if you’re still having trouble, make sure that your traveler wire is connected to the Neutral bundle so that you are “sending” the neutral to the other switch. Then connect the traveler on the far switch.

The big issue for me was correctly identifying which wires were load and which were line. I kept screwing that up and it wouldn’t work until I correctly connected those.


(Shawn) #20

Can you help me with wiring as the second switch location on only have 3 wires red,black and white. The other switch box has the power and another another bundle of wires. I am trying to install 3 way smart dimmer. Thank you so much in advance.