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My house has an old GE/Jasco Bluetooth switch setup in a 3-way configuration. That uses 2 different kinds of switches. One is referred to as the primary and one is called an add-on. They have different numbers of terminals. I'm trying to replace these with 2 TP-Link HS210 units purchased in a 2 switch kit. Since the GE installation was done by an electrician I don't know what the old dumb switch wiring looked like.

This is a photo of a TP-Link HS210.

TP-Link HS210

The first HS210 installed pretty easily as everything matched up with the old primary switch. I'm having a devil of a time getting the second one wired correctly, though. I was hoping that someone more knowledgeable than I could provide some insight. Even if I need to call in an electrician, though, I'm going to need some kind of instructions other than those provided by the TP-Link app for the guy to work from.

Here's where things stand.

Here a picture of the terminals on the GE primary switch from the installation guide. It's important to note that this same switch can be used as a single pole or a 3-way switch. What makes a difference is the presence of an add-on switch connected via a single traveler. No traveler and the switch behaves as a single pole.

GE primary switch drawing

The actual switch had a black wire connected to the Line terminal and purple wires connected to the Load and Traveler terminals.

GE primary switch photo

I transferred the wires to the appropriate terminals on one of the HS210s. That was pretty straightforward. It's the secondary switch that's giving me a problem.

That GE add-on switch only has 3 terminals. This picture is from the installation guide.

GE add-on switch drawing

This is a photo of the actual switch.

GE add-on switch photo

There's only 1 traveler. That doesn't give me enough wires for the HS210, but I connected the single purple to one of the HS210's traveler terminals and turned on the breaker.

The HS210 that replaced the GE primary switch turns the lights on and off just fine. When the lights go on, though, it appears that there's no power flowing to the HS210 that replaced the GE add-on as the status lights on the switch go out. When I turn the lights off using the same switch that turned them on, the status lights on the second switch come back on. The second switch can't turn on the lights if those are off and it can't turn off the lights that were turned on at the other switch.

There's one more thing that might be important. Digging into the box I see another purple wire that's connected via a wire nut to 2 orange wires (one is just orange and the other is orange with some black dashes). I didn't see any orange wires on the other end. Based on some research concerning the GE configuration, though, it seems that the orange wires may represent the load. Since this circuit controls carriage lights on my garage and can lights on my front porch that could explain 2 slightly different oranges.

I was able to find this about the wiring of a GE primary and an add-on in a 3-way configuration.

GE 3-way wiring

This at least suggests that the orange wires could represent the load. What I don't know is how they would have been connected to the original, pre-GE dumb switch. Maybe there was a jumper from the 2 wire bundle to the switch. I just don't know.

I'm obviously missing something here, but I don't know what. I'd appreciate any assistance that anyone may be able to offer.

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  • Can you post a photo that looks squarely into the back of the box where the add-on switch is going? Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 2:13

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The bad - and good - news is that you have conduit with individual wires, instead of standard black/white and black/red/white cables.

This is bad news because you might look at a dozen other questions on DIY SE and find answers that not only don't match your wire colors, but if you made them match you would be violating code! That's primarily because:

  • Green and bare are always ground
  • Black and red (and purple and orange and blue and yellow) are always some flavor of "hot" - line, load, switched hot, traveler
  • But white is not neutral. Neutral is always white (or possibly gray, rarely, in conduit) but white is mostly neutral, usually neutral, but not always neutral - it can be a traveler, it can hot/line (in an old-style switch loop), it can be hot (in a 240V only 2-wire configuration).

However, for you, white is neutral.

Which means that if you need neutral in a place where you don't already have it, you have to run a white wire - which was already done previously.

But conduit also means that you can actually change wire colors to suit your needs. That may not be worth the hassle (and expense - copper isn't cheap these days) but it is an option.

So ignore any similar sounding question/answer that talks about black/white and black/red/white - don't go there - it won't help.

Now on to the next problem: Documentation. The GE switches include some documentation - very helpful, though not perfect. The Kasa switches don't. I looked - the quick start page is "watch the video". Seriously. Absolutely nuts. Not sure how/why UL allowed that.

So we're left with the directions on the switches themselves. Which is a little odd because the typical setup is either like the GE:

  • Switch 1 has all the smarts.
  • Switch 2 has a little bit of smarts (maybe) and acts as a signal to switch 1

or:

  • Switch 1 has all the smarts.
  • Switch 2 is a dumb switch, wired so that switch 1 can monitor it.

or:

  • Switch 1 has all the smarts.
  • Switch 2 doesn't even connect to the wires and is a battery wireless remote.
  • Wires in box 2 are arranged to bypass the switch.

The TP-Link does something a bit different. It uses two identical switches - i.e., both have smarts, both need power and neutral. Presumably some part of the programming process (as presumably described in the available videos) tells switch 1 "you are 1, line/load is line" and switch 2 "you are 2, line/load is load". It has to do that because "line" is "always on, incoming power" and "load" is "only on when you want the light on, sending power to the light".

For many legitimate existing 3-way configurations with cables this would be a huge problem. Three common configurations for the 3-wire cable between the 2 switches are:

  • 2 travelers + hot
  • 2 travelers + switched hot
  • 2 travelers + neutral

As I understand the TP-Link switch labeling, you must have 2 travelers + neutral. As it turns out, it looks like you already have that. And if you don't, that can be fixed relatively easily (no tearing apart walls) because you have conduit.

  • Switch 1

    • Black = line (on line/load)
    • Green = ground
    • White = neutral
    • Purple (x2) = travelers
  • Switch 2

    • Orange (possibly x2 based on your description) = load (on line/load
    • Green = ground
    • White = neutral
    • Purple (x2) = travelers

So really it should be simple - and much simpler than the typical cable configuration because you already have meaningful colors - no Harper color tape required!

One more interesting twist: Many switches use only screws (and flaky but equivalent backstab connections), like the GE, most dumb switches and some smart switches. Some smart switches come with wires attached for all connections. TP-Link actually did something smart here (though not as usual for you since you have conduit with lots of nice handy wires available):

  • Line/load, travelers - these would have been attached previously on a dumb switch, so provide screws to match the old configuration
  • Ground - most dumb switches don't require a separate ground connection, so therefore you may not have an accessible ground wire to simply "move to the new screw" so they included a wire, which can be attached to a wire (your situation) with a wire nut or with a ground screw to a metal box.
  • Neutral - most dumb switches don't require a neutral connection, so therefore don't have a neutral wire to simply "move to the new screw". The usual solution is to add a pigtail to connect from a screw on the switch to an existing wire nut bundle of neutral wires. But that means getting a little piece of white wire, and the typical consumer replacing a dumb switch with a smart switch as their first ever electrical project may not have any extra, suitable, wire around. So they included a wire for the neutral too. You don't need it because you already have neutral - just use a wire nut to connect the old and new neutral wires.
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    Thank you so much for your response. I was able to work through what you said and what I saw to get things squared away. It helped that there were other dumb switches for things like hall lights to review. Before the electrician installed the GE add-on the 2 travelers were likely connected to the dumb switch along with a jumper for the lights and a ground. By removing the purple traveler from the orange bundle and attaching it to the empty TP-Link traveler terminal then adding a jumper from the orange bundle to the TP-Link Live/Load terminal everything works just fine.
    – JohnZ
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 17:53
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    BTW, I agree with you about TP-Link's lack of written documentation.
    – JohnZ
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 17:56

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