Get advice on what to do when a three way switch is not wired properly. Learn how color coded wires can help you get the job done right; and if the job is beyond your capabilities, hire an electrician.
LESLIE: Jerry in Pennsylvania’s up next with a potentially hair-raising problem. What’s going on with the electricity?
JERRY: Hi. Well, I don’t know if maybe a couple of years ago I changed the switches and messed up the wires or what. (chuckling) But I’m wondering if there’s an easy way to troubleshoot a three-way switch.
TOM: What’s it doing, Jerry?
JERRY: Well, downstairs I can, you know, switch the lights off or on. But if I switch them off upstairs, I can’t turn them on again downstairs. I have to go upstairs, turn it on – as if it was a two-way switch – and then I can control it from the downstairs again.
TOM: Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about because I did the exact same thing in my office once. (laughing) It took me a couple of days to figure it out. But if you put the wires together improperly, that can happen; and especially with older wiring if it’s not … if it’s not marked so you don’t know which wires you’re holding.
I’m uncomfortable, on the radio, telling you how to diagnose this because without seeing it, without testing it and without having the instruments, we can’t give you the advice to get this correct. But the condition that you have explained basically means that the three-way circuit isn’t wired correctly and, at this point, I’d contact an electrician and get it straightened out that way. Alright, Jerry?
Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974.
Yeah, that’s a little embarrassing when that happens. Even to the best of us. (chuckling) But it’s easy to confuse them when the wires are old because they’re not color-coded anymore and you really can’t tell which ones you should be hooking up to the switch and which ones you should just be leaving alone.
LESLIE: Oh, my gosh. We recently … on Trading Spaces we’re changing out a ceiling fixture and we pulled down the original fixture. All of the wires had been painted. We’re like, “Oh, which one’s which?” So it happens to everybody and sometimes it happens intentionally.