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We just had our kitchen remodeled and the contractor moved one dimmer switch in a 3-way circuit. Today, when I went to take a look at the moved outlet, I saw a few things that set off some alarms:

  1. There was no ground wire inside the box and the ground wire had been removed off the switch
  2. One of the wires looks like it had been fully wrapped in electrical tape instead of having traditional insulation.

Here's the picture of inside the switch box: 3-way Switch Box

What I'm thinking happened here is that the contractors incorrectly used 14/2 wire instead of 14/3 wire for the traveler.

My questions are:

  1. Did I diagnose this issue correctly (14/2 wire used instead of 14/3)?
  2. How dangerous is this?
  3. Is it up to code or any sort of "common practice"?
  4. What are my options to fix it? Do I need to rewire the switch?

Some additional background:

  • We had a fully permitted whole-house rewire in 2015 so all the circuits should be up to code as of that time.
  • We are in CA and have not had our final inspection on the kitchen

Edit: Here's a picture of the other switch in the 3-way circuit: Other Switch

Edit 2: OK, I spent the morning crawling through the attic and trying to figure out exactly what the contractor did. I think they took the 14/3 wire from the non-dimmer switch and fed it into a junction box in our attic. From the junction box they "converted" a 14/2 wire to be a 14/3 and fed it down to the dimmer switch. I created this wiring diagram to summarize it: Wiring Diagram

Additionally, here is a more detailed picture of the non-dimmer switch: Detailed View

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    Is that a switch there, or a dimmer? Can you post photos of the inside of the other box for the 3-way? Apr 5 '20 at 5:13
  • It's dimmer switch. Sure! I'll add in a picture that I took of the other switch. I can also take another picture tomorrow.
    – R_G
    Apr 5 '20 at 6:15
  • FYI, if there is absolutely no alternative, then you could replace the switches with smart switches that only require 2 wires (switched hot/neutral) instead of 3 (2 travellers/neutral). But since you are paying someone else to do the job they should fix it at no charge. Apr 5 '20 at 14:04
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    @manassehkatz except if their sanitary practices are anything like their work, you don't want them in your house right now. Apr 5 '20 at 15:38
  • Can you post a photo looking into the back of the other box please? Apr 5 '20 at 16:42
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Did they extend the wires in the walls?

So they moved the switch to a new point that's farther away. The first question is whether these incompetents just spliced an extension on the wires in the walls, thus burying a splice in the walls. Buried splices are dangerous and illegal even if a competent electricians did one, which these guys sure aren't.

So a buried splice is a complete deal-killer that will require the entire cable run be permanently decommissioned.

To figure out what they did, do a very careful forensic inspection of the cable coming out of the new box. Compare this to the cable coming out of the other box. (mind you, there will be more than one cable in that box). If it's the same cable, then clearly, they would have done the same thing - wrapping the other ground wire with tape and misused it as a hot, etc.

If you are sure it's the same cable, then you can continue it in service. Otherwise It cannot be used at all; what follows in the quotebox is the end of this answer for you; your only recourse is to replace the cable.

You must decommission the cable altogether. You cannot use it. You'll need to fit a smart-switch at the former multi-cable location, and a battery powered remote at the other location. The smart switch and remote must be designed to work with each other.

Smart switch, if there are 3+ cables in the other box

Again, don't even consider this option unless you are sure there is not a splice buried in the wall.

The location you're worried about is a "spur" or "switch loop". I notice the gadget already there is some sort of "smart switch. Most likely the "smarter" switch will need to be at the other location from here on out.

The other location will have access to supply power+neutral and onward switched hot to the light. The smart switch there will do all the hard work of switching the light. It will then be controlled by your phone, or by the remote switch we'll install at the loop location.

The black and white wires in our bung cable must be re-tasked to be always-hot and neutral. Ground will be back to ground. So this cable will do nothing but provide always-present power to a remote smart switch, which will communicate via wireless or powerline signaling to the main smart switch.

If you have something very clever in the remote location like a dimmer or motion sensor, you'll have a product search on your hands, because you'll need to find a particular smart switch line that is compatible with that wiring and allows that functionality at the remote.

If there are only 2 cables in the other box

That's a real problem. It means this entire 3-way complex itself is a switch loop.

Now if it's a modern post-2011 switch loop, it'll have 3 wires coming down from the lamp, and that will let you implement the same as the "3+ cables" case above. So go up there.

Otherwise you will have a tougher hunt for suitable products. Both cables will need to be converted to black+white = always-hot+neutral, and both switch locations will need to be smart-switch "remotes". Where's the smart-switch master, then? That'll have to be a special module sitting up in the lamp. Which will require careful product selection.

With any such product hunt, avoid mail order. Especially avoid Amazon "Sold by XXX and Fulfilled by Amazon" - that is a superhighway of unsafe foreign junk, because it bypasses the safeguards that assure only UL-listed products are found in retail shops. (ETL is an acceptable substitute for UL, however CE aka "Chinese Export" is not. The "Chinese Export" mark was cleverly chosen to be identical to a European mark, which itself means "the manufacturer self-certifies this as safe").

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  • Good point, bad turn of phrase. Apr 5 '20 at 20:28
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica Thanks so much for all the info! I spent the morning looking around for the splice and sure enough, I found it. They installed a junction box in the attic that took the 14/3 from the other switch and "converted" it a 14/2 wire to be a 14/3 and fed it down to the dimmer switch. If I have them come back and just replace their "converted" 14/2 wire with a 14/3, is that sufficient? PS: I had no idea about the CE mark vs Chinese Export mark. Thanks for the heads up!!
    – R_G
    Apr 5 '20 at 21:35
  • Yeah, that should suffice as long as the junction box remains accessible, which it sounds like it is. I would be happier to have a real electrician do that work; it's illegal for them to do that work, they lack the necessary licensure. Yeah, the CE mark is a real swindle. Apr 5 '20 at 22:47
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The contractor ran 14/2 and re-purposed the ground as traveler, that's a big big no-no. Means your switches are ungrounded which in it self is a hazard. And the ground wire lacks proper insulation to be a used as a normal conductor.

Your only proper solution is to rewire with 14/3.

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