Trouble with 3-way switch

I am installing a GE-3 way switch.

I followed the paper instructions in the add-on switch and they match this video

But when I am done nothing works and testing the wires they “ALL” are hot. OK that’s not good.

Any clues on what might be happening here ?

Something is weird about this switch.

I returned to the original switches wired as they originally were.

The light works fine as a 3-way switch should.
Both up = Off
Both down = Off
Line switch Up Only = On
Load switch Up Only = On

Here is the strange part. I don’t have a multi meter I only have a hot wire tester. But when I test for hot wire I get the following

As in the video when off (both up or both down) The Line black terminal is hot, the load black terminal is not and as you would expect the traveler red/white are hot depending on one direction or the other.

Here is the part I don’t understand. When I test with the light OFF, ALL the terminals read as NOT hot. How is this possible ?

Testing other 3-way switches I don’t get this result.

This makes me think this switch is wire differently than standard.

I just replaced the light fixture before working on the switches so I know it’s a standard light fixture.

Anyone know what this setup might be ?

I am betting I have a different variation and wonder if the GE switch with the add on can work ?

@Ron You could very well have the same problem I ran into at my home. It is a messed up version of 3-Way Power Into Light. On mine the Line/Hot Black was fed into the Light first then down through to the switches.

In this configuration as soon as you remove the light you have ZERO power to any of the switches. Also how mine was wired if you removed both switches you would also only have Line/Hot if you used an incandescent bulb.

I had to pull the light fixture and rewire everything. Once I got it squared away my LED Bulbs actually were brighter because they were now wired properly.

With the GE 3-Way Smart Switches you have to be extremely careful not to touch the Traveler Contact to Line/Hot power as this can ruin the switch or make the Add-On switch not operate the Master switch.

Also in my configuration I only had a Black/Red/White with Ground wire and with the GE 3-Way switches that have a Neutral Connector require a Neutral in order to power the Smart Switches Wireless and Relay.

Because my home has a Bonded Main Breaker Box I was able to use the ground as the Master Switches Neutral. You do not want to do this with anything that has a larger load. My only other options were to buy a different brand of switch that doesn’t require a Neutral (which just mimics what I already did) or break open the wall and run a new wire 4 plus Ground.

You really should get a meter to test this. Otherwise you won’t know if you are actually getting 110/120V from these wires.

Disconnect your switches and Pull your Light Fixture(s) (Remove Just the Fixture(s) wiring) and Put your Meters Black Lead to Ground and use the Red Lead Probe to verify Line/Hot. If you find a Line/Hot and it is connected to another wire see if you can find where that wire goes to. In a correct 3-Way setup it should go to one of the switch boxes.

If this is above your head you may need to just call an electrician.

Did you have to run new wire to make this a standard setup. I would think that is what I would have to do.

Your guess at what is going on here is the conclusion I came to. I don’t know if it should be called a “messed up” version of 3-way. It seems it is a legit way to wire a 3-way, just now one the GE switches were made to work with.
See third option here is what I think I have. But could be a few of other configurations also, just not the standard one which is the only one that works with the GE switch. (they should mention that in the product description)

I plan on buying a multi-switch today so I can test a little better. Honestly I have always thought I should have one :slight_smile: The problem is I have not found good instructions on figuring out which of the many configurations I have with the switch. I am betting it will require exposing the wiring for the light fixture and using a continuity test to figure out which wires are connected to which. I don’t have the extra person this is likely to need because getting my Wife involved in this will just shut the project down likely, LOL.

The fact is I don’t care about one of the 3-way switches. I is for a back door entrance that I have never used at night since I lived in my home and have used about 4 times in the last 2 years. So I am strongly considering just installed the line switch on the load side of my 3-way and just keep the other switch in one position. I had wired it that way originally and it was working. Then one day I noticed the other switch, I never used it so I didn’t even realize this was a 3-way. Being a perfectionist I decided to install the “add on” switch. When I tested based on the video it appeared the line side was by the external door and the load side was by the hallway entrance so I moved the line switch to the other side and installed the add-on remote switch. That’s when things turned bad.

If I really decide I need switch near the outside door I could always just add a zwave button and toggle the on/off state of the switch. It would work the same as this silly remote switch, just wirelessly. Honestly I don’t know why they don’t just make this switch a zwave button which just closes the circuit and sends a zwave command as a momentary switch. I guess because it would require work on the zwave controller to make it work but it would work with any wiring version. Heck if they wanted to get fancy they could have just added a physical state switch on the device which would convert the device between their way of functioning and what I am suggesting. But that would likely be a more expensive switch.

This isn’t completely above my head, and honestly I think if I called an electrician where I live they would not have experience with this zwave switch and it would have them stumped also for a while. I found this thread where the guy having the issue felt the same way. I trust my ability to think hard about what I am doing more than anyone I could hire :slightly_smiling: I am not saying I don’t respect an electrician, I am just saying I doubt they will know right off what is happening here and my hourly rate will ramp up quickly.

BTW: Can anyone explain how the light could be on and have no hot terminals on either witch detected by the voltage alert ? I am guessing this is a big clue as to how my switches are wired.

This is the device I am using to check for the hot wire.

@Ron Here is how my Power To Light 3-Way wires are. Keep in mind the following diagram is the “proper way” to wire Power To Light where the switch wires are both coming from the Light Fixture Box. Mine was not wired properly however because all the connections were made at the Light Fixture Box it was easy to rewire.

If you get a Meter and either Buy or Make a Jumper Wire you won’t need your Wife’s help. Just use Alligator Clips that have an Insulator on them. See Picture:

The Add/On Trigger Switch is the simplest of all and requires less wires (literately two) to hook up. Just the TRIGGER that runs from the Master to the Add On and a Neutral that makes its way back to the Panel. This Add-On works with all GE Switches that have a NEUTRAL and TRIGGER connection.

If you do not have a NEUTRAL in your switch box you may have to run one. If the NEUTRAL is in there and just connected to other NEUTRAL wires then you can use a short jumper wire. If your box has no NEUTRAL at all then you should verify if your Panel is BONDED. This means that the Ground is BONDED to the NEUTRAL in the Panel. In which case the ground would make its way back to NEUTRAL and you could use this ground as the NEUTRAL for the Master Switch. Do not use the Ground for any other wire in the system as it will be too much load.

See Diagram:

Lights pick up energy. If your home wiring has a Feedback issue on the NEUTRAL you could get false readings. I have actually seen this happen. In the case of the GE Smart Switches in a 3-Way configuration this can cause issues with the Add-On/TRIGGER switch not operating the Master properly.

A meter is the best way to go to remove all doubt. Lights are just quick portable test devices that Electricians can carry on them at all times for safety reasons. They are not intended as a diagnosis/troubleshooting issues.

I mentioned BONDING so I wanted to share a diagram of what BONDING is:

@jgravert Thanks for all the details. I have the GE switch you listed and I have wiring with neutral wires in both boxes so I am fine there.

I think the issue is that unlike your photo my panel is connected to the light first and then the switches are inline. This is one of the options for wiring a 3-way but it doesn’t work with the GE switch. I don’t think this will be easy to re-wire.

anyway I think I will just install the one switch and keep the other in one position to make it work. This will be easy as I already had it set up that way. But I am still reading your details and trying to learn exactly what I have and how to test it. Mostly for my own education. I don’t like to walk away from a project without fully understanding it.

You mentioned above that the Third option looked like your setup. I edited that image and am posting it below. There is a BEFORE and AFTER. If you indeed have the Third option as your current wiring then you can easily change it to work with the GE Smart Switch. See Picture:


this is a great discussion of the GE 3way switch.

I think it may be typical for the GE 12729 Z-Wave Wireless Lighting Control Smart Dimmer Toggle Switch, with add-on switch GE 12728.

Does anyone have an issue with the traveller holes on the master switch (marked “NO 120V”) being stupidly loose?

These holes have no retaining screw and the one traveler wire can easily pull out when I remove the master switch. It seems wrong to be so loose but this 3way circuit does work correctly with its add-on switch GE 12728.

yeah, power-into-light 3-way means no smart switches, unless you run a wire. I’ve found the best way to determine what configuration i’m working with is to crack open both switch boxes and the light fixture and figure out what wires i have entering each one. then go to and find the diagram that matches.

No mine was tight just like others.

Not sure what you are describing here. All of the wires connect with screws to secure them. Only one of the two traveler wires is supposed to be connected to the switch.

How do you go about figuring it out ? What tests do you conduct ?

Mainly just comparing wiring colors connected to my switches to the ones in the diagrams and counting the number of romex bundles coming into the box.

Is there any way I can use the add on switch as a 2-way switch? It has 3 connections, Neutral, Line and Travel, May be Line to Travel may flip with the switch?? This add-on switch seems to be a available for $21.31 at Amazon.

The add on switch is just that, it only works as an add on. It has no zwave radio, it just connects to the other switch.

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[quote=“Ron, post:14, topic:38405, full:true”]

Now it make sense. Thanks.

Since the add-on switch doesn’t have a z-wave radio, will it work without a neutral line? I have a neutral in the other box, but not in the add-on box. I understand that the neutral is required to power the radio. Is it necessary for anything else?

There are only two wires other than the ground. Traveler and Neutral. Without the neutral how would the switch complete the circuit ? I don’t see how this would be possible.

Check out the manual for how this switch is wired.

I’m basing my statement on the fact that one switch box has the bundle of neutral (white) wires tied together in the back of the box as described in the instructions, and the other box has no such bundle (of any color). It just has a 4 connector cable (red, white, black, and ground) going to the 3-way switch.

My wiring is (no neutral in any of the switch box). I am assuming I cannot use the GE12727 and 12728 switches or is there a way? Are there any other options please.

GE switches won’t work but you can go with in wall relay modual such as Aeon, emerwave or monoprice.