In an attempt to fix a wiring problem from five years ago, I made a huge error. Here's the scenario:

Box 1: Has switch #1 in a four-way set up (it's a 3-way switch) and is where the power comes in. It comes from the first thing on the circuit, a GFCI. Box 2: Has switch #2 in the four-way set up (it's a 4-way switch). Box 3: Has switch #3 in the four-way set up (it's a 3-way) and it goes to the lights in the four-way set up. The box also has a switch for yard lights. Here's where the problem occurred. Years ago, I had pig-tailed the power coming in for the yard lights with the wire going to the lights in the four-way set up. (I have no idea why.)

I didn't know anything was wrong at first. Everything worked until I flipped the switch to turn the lights off in box 3. The circuit breaker tripped and the GFCI at the beginning of the circuit also tripped.

I replaced the three-way switch in box 3, but the lights do not turn on. Everything else on the circuit works.

My question is did I ruin the switches? Should I replace all three switches in the four-way set up? Or is it possible that I ruined the light fixtures? Is it possible that I fried a wire in a wall?

I will check for soot on wires next, though I haven't found any yet, nor any melted sheathing.

  • Did you reset the GFCI? I have been called in on many DIY jobs where there was a short on a switch leg. Many times the switch was damaged a few times it blew at a splice (wire nut) , very few times has the wire been damaged and the few times it was it had been damaged prior to the short reducing the wire size (partly cut through) causing a hot spot (the insulation missing not burnt provided evidence) or a staple cutting the insulation but did not short until it got hot. I would check at the switch that was thrown as contact bounce could create more damage at that switch. Then start looking. – Ed Beal Jan 26 at 21:45
  • Can you post photos of the insides of the boxes involved please? – ThreePhaseEel Jan 26 at 21:56
  • Thanks for responding. I know to reset the GFCI. Turns out there was a reason I had pig-tailed the power source for the yard lights. It was my power source for the four-way set up after all. I was so sure it was at box 1. Everything works now. When there were no signs of soot or melted sheathing or even a burnt smell, I figured it was something simple. We have a log home (makes wiring tricky when there are few stick-framed walls), and it's really hard to remember where the wiring goes now that it's all covered in chinking. I should have diagrammed every circuit before I covered up the wires. – Ellen Jarvinen Jan 27 at 0:55
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    @EllenJarvinen -- expand that out into an answer and I'll give you a +1 for it :) – ThreePhaseEel Jan 27 at 4:28
  • You answered your question. Post it as an answer.+ – JACK Jan 27 at 19:21

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