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Ok we recently moved in. There is a problem with our kitchen three way switch. I have not opened the box yet, but feel comfortable doing so, and working with a volt meter and what not.

Here is the problem. The switch that turns off the light HAS to turn it back on. Once on, either switch can now become the switch that turns off the light. That results in both toggles being down when the light is on, and of course the side that turns the light off winds up with its toggle UP.

I've put in a three way switch in the past. So I am familiar with the common terminal and the traveler terminals.

Before I attacked this, I wanted to see what you folks think.

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I think I would test both 3-way switches by turning off the power, opening each switch, checking for voltage at each for safety, drawing or labeling all wires, disconnecting all wires, then tracing the hot. Once you identify the feed hot wire, connect it back, then proceed to find where it leads while comparing to a diagram of a properly wired 3-way switch. – getterdun Mar 7 '14 at 14:28
I read through a troubleshooting thread. You are telling me the same thing. I was just wondering if the position of the switches meant anything, perhaps one switch is bad. Per the last conversation, I will get a couple of switches in case the typical trouble shooting noted elsewhere and in a typical diagram does not solve the problem. Thanks – user20310 Mar 7 '14 at 14:34
It sounds like the switches are not 3-way switches and they are just wired in series. – longneck Mar 7 '14 at 15:51
so what does that mean for my attempt to fix this. – user20310 Mar 7 '14 at 21:45

You have a simple mis-wire somewhere. As previously stated, you need to open both switches and see how everything is wired. Get a few good diagrams of common 3-way wiring patterns and see if one is like the way yours are wired. A Google search will bring up many. The position of the switches does NOT matter at all. What matters is identifying the feed wire, the load wire and the travelers. In many cases even colors don't matter (or at least are not consistent).

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i understand thanks – user20310 Mar 7 '14 at 19:59
so is the assertion of this other fellow possible. Could the switches be wired in series? – user20310 Mar 7 '14 at 22:54
Whether they are wired in series or not is irrelevant. They are wired wrong and that is all that really matters. This is a very, very common scenario. – Speedy Petey Mar 7 '14 at 23:42

I had a similar problem on a circuit with two switches for one light. It turned out to be that one switch only completed the circuit in one position, as though it were a simple on/off switch. Replacing the defective switch solved the problem.

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As you probably know, standard three-way switches have two "traveler" wires running between them. The problem you describe can indicate that one of the travelers has become disconnected. The result is equivalent to two standard switches in series.

I expect that when you check the switches, you'll find a wire has come off its screw or out of the backstab.

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