Three stairway lights are controlled by two switches at the top and bottom of stairs. The outlet at the bottom of the stairs is dead. Both switches are wired with two blacks and a red, with commons tied off. The dead outlet does not seem to be at the end of the circuit; the box has a cable running elsewhere (two commons and two hots). No sign of power in or around the outlet box. I have checked all connections except those in the other outlets (high ceiling). What could be going on?

  • Wire colors mean absolutely nothing in a 3-way circuit. The color of the screws matters, brass are the travelers, black is commn. The travelers should be the same wires on both ends. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '19 at 5:34
  • The switch connections are not the problem. Switching is fine. I think I just need to put a ladder up from the stairs and look for a loose connection in the box adjacent to the dead one. Puzzled as to why there is an output cable set from that box when it looks to be at the end of the circuit. – Diego Jan 31 '19 at 7:59
  • look for a loose connection in the box adjacent to the dead one I agree. – mike65535 Jan 31 '19 at 13:31
  • Puzzled as to why there is an output cable set from that box If you draw out how the power needs to be run in a three-way system, the installer quite often runs all the wires necessary for the "other switch" through all the lamp fixtures. – mike65535 Jan 31 '19 at 13:33
  • Photos of what is inside all the junction boxes would be helpful. Do they use backstab connections? Have you tried converting them to side screws? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '19 at 17:26

There should be wires bertween the two outlets, check the connections to the working outlet are sound.

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  • Thanks, yes, that is probably the trouble. And of course it's in the outlet 12' above the stairway. I'm just puzzled why the dead outlet has wire sets running in and out and nothing else is dead. – Diego Jan 31 '19 at 8:02
  • it won't hurt to check if the wires to the dead outlet are live, the dead outlet could be damaged and not conducting where it should. – Jasen Feb 2 '19 at 21:57
  • It took me a while to get a ladder to work in stairway . After setting up to look at connections in the fixture upstream (I think) from the dead one, I tried the switch again and found that the "dead" Jbox/fixture was live. Now it will not switch off. This is a three fixture circuit with two switches. The switches now turn two lights of and on; the third, which had been "dead" is now alive and will not die! I'm flummoxed. – Diego Mar 12 '19 at 5:01
  • sounds like the wiring is mixed up. no progress is likely possible without identifying every wire. – Jasen Mar 12 '19 at 21:44
  • The wiring in my cerebrum was mixed up. Earlier comment by Chris Taylor was right - the lower light is on a separate circuit controlled by switch in garage that also operates an outlet I use for work lights. The bulb has been out so long we both forgot, and I only discovered it when I undid all of the wiring at the lower light and the work lights wouldn't come on. 😬 I appreciate the comments, which kept me thinking and not hiring an electrician to solve this embarrassment. – Diego Mar 12 '19 at 22:55

Perhaps the dead plug is on a seperate branch circuit from the lights and switches. Check for other dead lights and plugs on other floors. Are you sure this box is part of the light circuit? From your post I assume the lights work. And I dont know what method you used to check for voltage around the plug, but I would recommend a three-pronged plug-in circuit analyzer as well as a non-conductive voltage sensor that lights up when near voltage, if you haven't already have one.

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  • You might be right about it being a separate circuit, but I doubt it because the only switch nearby is the one operating the lights further up the stairs, which both work. And there is nothing else dead. I'm using a voltage sensor and a multi-meter. No plug-ins on this circuit. – Diego Jan 31 '19 at 8:09
  • I'm confused. You did mention a plug (outlet box) in your original post, but later on you said there is no 'plug-ins'. The circuit analyzer plugs in to sockets. Remove the cover plate on the switch box closest to the dead plug and check for terminated wires. Maybe someone thought they could power a plug off of a 3-way and realized their folly too late. I have done similar things in my earlier days. – Chris Taylor Jan 31 '19 at 8:35
  • I'm sorry. I used "outlet" improperly. The connections are in junction boxes, each for a light fixture. The dead fixture was at a junction box in the light circuit, with cables running both in and out of the box - but nothing else dead. You might be right about terminated wires somewhere. I think my culprit is a bad connection upstream in the circuit, at the junction box for the closest lit fixture. Hope I make sense now. – Diego Jan 31 '19 at 16:18

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