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I am currently finishing my basement and my wife asked me to wire a reading light over an area we will have a recliner. He's my question - I have three way switches at the top of the stairs and the bottom that controls the entire bank of can lights. Is there a way I could "4 way" only that single can light by adding a switch right next to the recliner? I want the switch right next to the recliner to only switch that one light on and off but also have the three way switches at the top and bottom of the stairs control it's on and off. Hopefully this makes sense thank you!!

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    Do you want the switches at the stairs to override the switch at the recliner, or invert the switch at the recliner? – ThreePhaseEel Feb 18 '18 at 7:01
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You can branch off the 3-way switched circuit of the can lights to the a new single pole switch that then in turn switches the reading light can. However in this scenario the reading light can light will always be OFF when the rest of the can lights are OFF.

There will not be a straightforward way to mix the two 3-ways with a 1-way to control the added can light so that the the added one can be ON when all the other can lights are OFF. The simplest is probably going to be to tap into a live circuit power source and then just independently control the reading light with that one way switch.

There are some types of smart switch setups that can be configured to get the can lights to work somewhat together and still allow independent control of the reading light but you would have to carefully research the various technologies and find the one suitable for your application. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of cash as the typical smart switches cost upwards from 8 to 10 times what a common manual switch would cost.

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Rewrite: You have a 2-part problem here.

Map the 3-way switch complex that you do have

3-ways are notorious for not having the wire functions you need in the location you want them. You need to start by mapping all the locations in your 3-way circuit and see which functions are available where. If you do not do this, you will not be making any lights work.

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Of course, the wires in your junction boxes won't be these clearly defined colors. Unless you buy colored tape, in which case they will.

Figure out the timing you are after

It's very easy to want the lights to do what you want. Rendering it correctly in design is another thing entirely. So you need to figure out a gating logic that makes sense and is not internally contradictory. For instance the lights have four possible states:

  • All lights off
  • Can lights on, reading light off
  • Reading light on, can lights off
  • All lights on

If you will never want one of those states, you can cross it off the list, and this will simplify things more than you know.

Now, for each of those states, and for each switch: what do you want to happen if you press that switch?

See, it gets really complicated really fast.

Now, once you've settled on something, the trick is to render it in wire. You may have to compromise between the logic you want and what is possible to wire. Or alternately, you can go with smart switches, and make almost anything work with a tiny scrap of script language.

No matter what you do, make sure that your setup complies with laws designed to help first responders (help you): pushing a light switch at the top or bottom of a stairway must always turn a light on, and similarly with a room light. There can't be secret codes or tricks to making the lights come on, otherwise the ambulance crew will be administering CPR while holding a flashlight, and you do not want that.

  • The end goal is to be able to turn on the reading light from the top of the stairs with all the others, but when watching a movie be able to switch off all the lights but be able to turn on the reading light from a switch next to the recliner. – Jeff Campbell Feb 18 '18 at 17:21
  • @JeffCampbell Complicated... awrighty then, a major rewrite is called for. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 18 '18 at 21:52

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