Problems install GE 3 Way Dimmer Switch


(Seth) #1

Hi,

I spent a very frustrating day trying to replace a 3 way dimmer switch (main and aux) in my house with the GE 3 Way Dimmer Switch. It may be an issue with the directions or my wiring, so I’m hoping someone can tell me whether or not to give up and bring in an electrician (or that it won’t work my wiring) before I invest another day.

In the current setup, the main is at the top of a stair case and the aux is at the bottom.

In the main switch, there are 2 black wires (I assume hot and load), a bare copper (ground), and a red (I assume traveler). In the aux, there is a black wire (hot?, marked “common” on the current aux switch), a red (traveler), bare copper (ground), and white (neutral).

Wiring such that I ignore the black wire does not work (no LED lit in the main, no lights), similarly I’ve tried putting the black wire on the aux in line with the neutral and the traveller, but neither makes a difference.

My best guess is that the black wire is where the live in coming in.

I replaced the old switches and the lights work fine, so I didn’t break anything, at least.

Any help would be greatly appreciated, including pointers to a better product to use if this one isn’t going to be viable for this project.

Thanks
Seth


(Ajf) #2

It’s not you, the instructions that come with the switch are horrible!!! They act as though it’s a one to one replacement, but its not because the auxiliary switch only has 2 wire connections rather than the 3 on the old switch. Watch this video, I think it will help:


(Seth) #3

AJF,

Thanks. Unfortunately, that video doesn’t address my situation. In the video, it appears that the aux has both load and hot, whereas my aux only has one black wire (hot?). I don’t have a second black / blue set to tie together, as shown in the video.

Also, as I’m doing a dimmer switch, the main doesn’t have a neutral, just travel, load, hot, and neutral.

Thanks
Seth


(Gray) #4

I can’t tell if this means you have a neutral wire or not:

...the main doesn’t have a neutral, just travel, load, hot, and neutral.

But you appear to need a neutral for this one.

I’ve seen useful advice in the amazon reviews, like this one.


(Seth) #5

Gray,

To clarify, the main switch box does not have a neutral (and the main GE switch doesn’t have a post for neutral). The aux switch box does have a neutral. I’m wired as follows:

Main Switch:

Bare copper to Ground
Black Hot to Line
Black Load to Load
Red to Traveller

Aux Switch:

Bare copper to Ground
Red to Traveller
White to Neutral
Black (hot?) to ? (tried traveller, neutral, and nothing, leaving it unplugged)

The original wiring (what I’m trying to replace) has:

Main Switch:

Bare copper to Ground
Black Hot to Line? (unlabeled)
Black Load to Load (unlabeled)
Red to Traveller

Aux Switch

Bare copper to Ground
Red to Traveller
White to Neutral
Black (hot?) to Common

I’m not sure what the “Common” marking denoted, though.

Any thoughts?

Thanks
Seth


(Seth) #6

All,

Thanks for the responses so far. In a spate of hopefulness, I took my screw driver and iphone to the switches this morning to see if this were an easy fix. Unfortunately, I’m stuck again. There is only one black wire in the aux (marked “common”) on the current aux switch. You can see the aux box at http://seth.landspeople.net/IMG_0116.JPG (on the right, the left is another 4 way switch). Also photographed the main box at http://seth.landspeople.net/IMG_0119.jpg. To be honest, I’m not sure what the pair of black wires and neutral on the left connects to, they are tied together with a wire nut.

So, where do I go to from here? The youtube video assumes I have a load and hot in the aux, but I only see one wire, that I assume is hot. I’m not quite seeing how this system could work as it is now …

EDIT - I’d also be very willing to re-wire this switch as 2 way dimmer switch and eliminate the aux (replacing it with a scene controller). Any pointers on how to do that would be great as well …

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks
Seth


#7

Hi Seth,

I’ve installed 4 3-way switches so far, and although not dimmers, I think the wiring should be the same. I admit I haven’t installed 3 way dimmers yet, but I will be very soon. Let me try and help.

I’ll first make this assumption:

The pic of the main box looks like it has 4 bundles: 3 black/white/ground and 1 red/black/white/ground.

The pic of the aux box looks like it has 3 bundles: 1 black/white/ground and 2 red/black/white/ground.

Black is hot, white is neutral, copper is ground, red is traveler. This is how my house is wired up.

Not knowing exactly where your wires are going (zooming out will help), and using pictures from my set up (included in the link), have you tried this wiring configuration I’ve outlined in your pictures here:

https://picasaweb.google.com/107246847978904138751/Switches?authuser=0&feat=directlink

I numbered each wire in each box:

Please make sure power is off :wink:

MAIN
1 - Connect to the Ground screw
2 - Connect to the Traveler screw
3 - Connect to the Load Screw (if it’s coming from the bundle with the red wire, otherwise use wire 4 for Load and 3 fore Line)
4 - Connect to the Line Screw
5 - Connect ALL White wires together and a new a pigtail wire using a wire nut, connect the pigtail to the Neutral screw

AUX (not really clear on what wire goes where)
1 - Connect to the Ground screw
2 - Connect to the Traveler screw
3 - Connect ALL White wires together and a new a pigtail wire using a wire nut, connect the pigtail to the Neutral screw
4 - Connect these 2 Black wires together using a wire nut.
? - I assume this other set of black/white/red wires are going to another switch

Any way you can take another picture of the Aux box so I can see more detail of each switch?

When you kill power, do both the 3 way and 4 way switches go out? In other words, are they on the same breaker?


(Ajf) #8

Seth I’m no electrician but here’s a few basics that you need to know:
Switches are only connected to the hot wire.
White wires are sometimes used as hot wires. Electricians should mark them with a piece of black electrical tape but they seldom do.

In your first picture of the Aux switch, all 3 of those wires are considered hot wires because at some point they do conduct power.
It’s hard to tell from your pictures In your second picture, but it looks like the white wire which is connected to the black wires is picking up power.

Maybe these illustrations will help you figure out how yours is wired:


(Chrisb) #9

@slandsman,

3-way wiring can be really tricky because first, there isn’t a standard way to do three way. There is a typical way, but that isn’t always used. Furthermore, electricians don’t always do this the “right” way (ie, use the right colors, label everything, put a ground in everywhere, etc.) Partly this is due to changes in code, partly to laziness, partly cause they figure no one will come along later and change it. Now second, to confuse things more, z-wave switches are NOT wired the same way as standard 3-way switches.

Let’s start with this picture:

A typical three way setup has a hot line going in (usually black). Then TWO traveler wires (usually white and red) running from the first 3way switch to the second. At the second 3way the wiring it reversed: two traveler wires going to the switch, then one hot line leading out of the switch to the load (usually black).

In a z-wave 3way setup you’re going to replace one of the switches with the z-wave master. The master should have a hot line coming in and then a load line going out. This load line needs to go all the way to the light. What I’ve done in my setups is connected the white traveler wire to the load pole on the master switch. Then in the second box I connect that white traveler wire directly to the load line running to the light. I can now turn on or off the light with my master switch. I have a full connection of hot from the break box, to my switch, then from my switch passing through the second box, on to my light.

Now for the aux switch. Here I need one line going back to the master. We’ll use the red traveler line for this. Connect red to the traveler pole on both switches.

Finally, the AUX needs to be connected to a neutral line. These are usually white. Depending on what Master you have that might need a neutral as well.


(Chrisb) #10

@slandsman,

I’m looking at your pics here and they are a little confusion as wiring pictures often. Can you tell me exactly which wires were/are connected to your old switches?


(Seth) #11

All,

Thank you for your excellent responses. In a moment of inspiration / desperation, I tied together the hot and neutral in the aux box, capped the traveller, and installed a regular z-wave dimmer in the main box. I’m pleased to say it works perfectly, though I lose the switch at the bottom of the stairs (not a huge loss).

That said, I have 2 other 3 way and a 4 way switch left to tackle, so I’ll be revisiting this topic shortly.

BTW, now that I have, essentially, an empty switch box at the basement of my stairs, has anyone figured out anything useful to do with one? I’m not seeing much love for the scene controllers, but I’d like to make use of something like that, since that switch is in a good place.

Thanks
Seth


(Dbmet) #12

Heres How I wired mine and they worked… You need a neutral at Both switch locations…

So, the two key points I wish someone had told me and saved me countless hours:

  1. MASTER side wires/works pretty much exactly as you might expect for a basic 3-way:
  • Line
  • Load
  • Neutral
  • Traveler
  • Ground
  1. AUX side is totally wacky from perspective of a “normal 3-way” switch:
  • Line & Load get twisted together and capped off, unused by the “switch”
  • Traveler attaches as normal
  • Ground attaches as normal
  • Neutral – This may be a “gotcha” if you have to fish around, find, and tap into NEUTRAL to attach to AUX.

(Rusty) #13

Looks like I’m having some issues with my 3-way switch. The power comes into the light fixture, then it goes to the switches. Each switch has a black, red, and white, and the ground going to them.

What I’ve tried:
Master
Red to traveler
White to neutral
Black to load (also tried to Line)

Aux
Red to traveler
White to neutral
Black capped off

Nothing works, no LED on the master, nothing. Any thoughts? Maybe these won’t work with this configuration.


(Rusty) #14

I believe this is my existing set-up

http://www.homeimprovementweb.com/information/how-to/three-way-switch-option8.htm


(Hokie Steve) #15

@Rusty, power coming into the light is tricky.

I found a good reference in http://www.hometips.com/diy-how-to/install-three-way-light-switch.html to help me map out how my 3-way circuits were wired. A multimeter was also very helpful in some cases. Unfortunately while replacing my 3-way and 4-way circuit switches with Z-wave, I’ve spent a lot more time studying 3-way and 4-way configurations than I ever wanted to - I have lots of 3-ways with multiple lights and have had different electricians work on my house - they have apparently been pretty creative!

checkout the middle figure on the hometips page and see if it looks like how yours is wired with 2 cables going into one of the switch boxes, and one into the other. If so, you could then rewire at the Light box or perhaps at the switch box with 2 cables going into it to configure it properly for Z-wave, perhaps making that box form a simple single pole circuit and then get ‘creative’ with your existing wiring to operate the other as an Aux. I was able to do this in one of my 3-ways. Just to make sure, you are working with a Dimmer and not an On/Off? (as On/Off 3-way will need 5 wires at the Master - Line, Load, Neutral, Ground, Travleer (for the Aux).

I’d be happy to offer further help if you can determine your wiring setup - some people have shared that with photos.


(Hokie Steve) #16

@Rusty, looking at your diagram, I think you can make it work by re-wiring the Light boxes so that you create a simple single pole switch circuit with one of the Switch locations, which would be your Master, and removing the Aux switch box from the circuit altogether. Do this by running the Power Source wire (Line) from the Lights to the box that will be your Master switch and Load back up to power the lights and complete the circuit out of the Lights so it is operational.

If you do this properly and connect up the Z-wave Master, the blue light should come on and you should be able to turn the circuit on/off from the Master.

For the other switch location (Aux) you can use the red wires to provide the Traveler connection from the Aux to the Master. If you don’t have a neutral in the Aux box, which is required even for a Dimmer, you could tap into that at the Lights via one of the remaining (now unused) wires that runs from the Aux to the Light boxes. I have not done exactly this, but I have done similar, and based on that I think that this would work.


(Rusty) #17

I’ll see if I can get some pics tomorrow. The power is definitely coming into the fixture and the fixture is between the two switches. Each switch has just 3 wires plus the ground going to it, black, white, red. I can get into the fixture that has the power coming in fairly easily, so I’ll get a pic of that.

I was trying to use the on/off switch since I had newer wiring at this location, but I didn’t realize the wiring was such a cluster.


(Rusty) #18

I traced my wiring and made up a diagram below. I was hoping to just use a regular 3way, but it looks like I’ll need to return it and pick up a dimmer and do a little rewiring possibly. Any suggestions?
3way diagram


(Rusty) #19

Doesn’t look like the picture is showing up: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31387551@N00/12625627074/


(Hokie Steve) #20

The lack of a neutral at the switches will require a dimmer unless you can run a neutral wire to one of the switch boxes. With a dimmer, to make the Upstairs Switch the Master (could tweak to make Downstairs the Master) - cut the black wire between the lights & the Downstairs Switch. Cut the white wire from the Upstairs Switch and connect it to the black wire feeding the lights. Cap the black cut black wire from the Downstairs Switch (you won’t need it now). At the Master connect black to Line, white to Load, red to Traveler. With a dimmer switch that should work.

To set up the Auxiliary for the Downstairs Switch, connect the white wire from the Downstairs (Aux) Switch to the Neutral at the Lights. At the Aux switch, connect red to Traveler and white to Neutral. That should get that Auxiliary going as long there aren’t big lengths of wire between Master and Aux.