I have two switches set up as a 3-way and I'd like to take out one and install a smart switch for the other. I know I need a neutral, and I thought things would be good when I looked inside, but it didn't work.

I want to take out box 1. Inside there are two whites, which are bundled together with a wire nut. There is one red. There are two blacks. One of them is live, the other depends on box 2 switch position.

I want to keep box 2 and go from a regular dimmer to a smart dimmer (requires neutral). Inside there is 1 bare copper, 1 red, 1 black and 1 white. The red is live (depending on the box 1 switch position).

I was excited that it seemed that I had the neutral that many people are missing, but when I hooked things up as I believe I should, the smart dimmer never got power.

What I did. 1) Remove box 1 by connecting the live to the red. Since this makes the red in the other box live, I believe the red is the traveler wire. I put a wire nut on the other black and left the white ones together like they were before. Also put on a blank cover. 2) Install the smart dimmer using the red as the line, white as neutral, black as load and bare as ground.

When I did this, the switch never got power, nor did the lights. One thing to note, I have a feeling that box 2 was not original and was added by the previous homeowner.

So do I not actually have neutral? Am I doing something wrong taking the 3-way out. Something else entirely? Thanks,

Here is a pic of box 1 before I messed with it. enter image description here

And here is box 2 before as well. enter image description here

Here is one of the boxes for the lights. To clarify, the left wire is black but it looks like it was painted at some point so some is white but peeling... not by me.enter image description here

  • 1
    You need to put everything back the way it was, if you have a precise record, and send up photos of all 3 locations for some help. Ideally, use a voltmeter to identify what goes where. The switch should come with some instructions, generally its best to use a smart with a dumb slave designed to work with the 3way, and then you have the best of all worlds. – noybman Jan 10 at 6:17
  • The only 3 way dimmer smart switches I have seen are the GE ones which require a hub. I am trying to avoid that and with google homes in both areas where the switches are, taking one out won't be that big of an impact. – Frank Jan 10 at 7:19
  • Can you post a photo of the inside of the box for the light fixture? – ThreePhaseEel Jan 10 at 12:39
  • Also, what sort of "smart switch" functionality are you after here? – ThreePhaseEel Jan 10 at 12:39
  • what do you plan to do with the old box location? Cover it with a blank cover plate for future use, or drywall over it? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 10 at 17:18

It looks like one cable goes to the far box. Since you are taking it out of commission, do so at both ends.

That means 3 wires in the first box will cease to be in play: a red and black on the switch, and a white in the back of the box. These three wires are all in the same cable. Cap them off (heck, just nut them to each other on both ends). The 2 wires that remain, the other white and the one currently on the switch, are now your 2 wires for a 1-way switch.

Install a real 1-way switch there (they cost a dollar) and make sure it all works.

Then, proceed forward from there as in a normal smartswitch install.

  • Sorry, I'm not sure I understand. Which wire is going from one switch to another? Either way, if I cap that at both ends, then I am down to just 3 wires in the box I want to keep: live, load and ground....so I don't have a neutral then and won't be able to do the smart switch? I need a neutral for that. Is the two white together in the first box neutral? If so, since I don't have one in the second box, could I connect that to the wire that goes to the other switch and then have a neutral that way? – Frank Jan 12 at 2:27
  • One problem at a time. The 3-wire interconnect cable is not helpful to you regardless. It never contained neutral in any case, and regardless, you can't steal neutral from random places, the neutral has to be in the same cable as the other wires in use. If you still have a bundle of all white wires after the /3cable is removed from the picture, that is most likely neutral. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 12 at 2:41
  • If you don't have a neutral once the /3 cable is out of play, then you'll need to replace the cable between switch and lamp with a /3. Or get a different smart switch. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 12 at 2:54
  • Would the two white ones in the other box that are wirenutted together be neutral? Could I just put the switch there instead and take out the other one? When you say I'd need to replace the cable between switch and lamp....there are 8 different lights connected to these switches, four in the ceiling and four in the walls....would I have to replace all this wiring? – Frank Jan 12 at 3:48
  • This is too complicated to express in comments. Take the /3 between switches and pretend it isn't there. What's left? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 12 at 16:21

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