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I've got a three-pole light switch that I would like to get wired up in my house, and after opening the panels it appears that the wiring is nontraditional:

  • The Fixture: Ceiling Fan with light attached
  • Porch Gang
    • Switch 1 can turn our fixture on and off, but only if the toggle 1 is set to on (So something is obviously wired incorrectly here).
    • Switch 2 is unimportant to us, but I would guess it's single pole and controls the porch light
  • Fridge Gang
    • Toggle 1 correctly turns on and off the fixture
    • Toggle 2 controls the overhead light in the kitchen, again I think it's single pole.
  • Replacement switch is a Meross Smart Wi-Fi 3-Way Switch MSS550 US
    Let me know if you need any additional information, thanks!

Images:

Fridge Gang

Fridge Gang, brightened

Replacement Switch

Porch Gang

Porch Gang, brightened

Porch Gang 2

Porch Gang 2, brightened

Porch Gang 3, brightened

Updated photos:

Album

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    In the first picture "fridge gang" toggle #1 is that a black wire on the green screw? If so that can be a problem. Should only have bare or green wire on the ground screw.
    – crip659
    Jul 16, 2023 at 17:39
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    Wow yeah. The "fridge gang" toggle #1, they obviously changed the switch for aesthetic reasons (wanted Decora) and didn't know the difference between a 1-way and 3-way switch. So they attached one of the travelers to the safety ground terminal. Since it's a plastic box, this doesn't trip the breaker, and the yoke and cover plate screws are energized half the time. You need to suspect every switch and outlet in the building! Either you need to skill up a lot to handle this, or get a pro. But a pro could be here all day. I'd recommend the "skill up" thing if you're game. Jul 16, 2023 at 18:13
  • Yes, that is indeed a black wire on the ground screw. I presume that the red is considered live or "common" while the black and white are travelers? Another frustrating thing is that across the board people seem to say "White is neutral" which is needed for smart devices, but then I start learning about three-way switches and suddenly white can be a traveler as well. I am willing to learn about this stuff for my future homes, do you have recommendations for resources? Especially related to this specific issues? I've got four of these three-pole switches.
    – MrSaiclops
    Jul 16, 2023 at 18:21
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    Breakers DO NOT switch back on by themselves. You either had the wrong breaker off and were playing with live power, or your breaker panel might be one of the few that is known to be bad. Take a picture of your panel with labels showing and ask a different question. Just to be sure you do not have major problems.
    – crip659
    Jul 16, 2023 at 22:40
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    That they are suppose to do when we goof up.
    – crip659
    Jul 16, 2023 at 23:23

1 Answer 1

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This is a big job that needs big prep

You're wasting time by chasing all the wrong things. What you actually need is cubic knowledge. What you're doing is random unproductive stuff - googling madly... experimenting with random hookups which is always a no-no since there are many combinations that will work and then KILL YOU... writing long threads of Q&A... and whatever on earth you did "posing" all the wires spread out, which benefits us not at all, and destroys essential clues.

What you need to do is look at a few books on home electrical and pick the one that feels most accessible to you, and read it cover to cover. Really. Google doesn't work: it only answers questions, it doesn't tell you which questions to ask. You need a well-rounded primer on the subject. You need basic domain knowledge so you know what to do with grounds, are comfortable with white not being neutral sometimes, can recognize the travelers on a 3-way, etc. etc.

I'm sorry, I know there's a Be Nice Policy, but you're driving me crazy with how you're plinking knowledge, as if one single info-nugget will be your silver bullet to a problematic house wired by others who clearly were also "plinking", a lot. That person left you a significant technical debt.

The issues at hand, though

I'm really reluctant to go through this thing point by point, because if you follow the above advice, you'll catch all that. Let me hit on what won't be in the books.

First, that insulated green wire is weird. The concern is it might not be proper in-wall wiring, but the wire looks "solid" not stranded, and that's a good sign it's intended for in-wall wiring. I wouldn't worry about it, treat it same as bare (except strip the insulation, obviously, anywhere you want it to make contact!)

The grounds are wrong but you'll figure that out as you skill up.

At the fridge switch, they wired a 1-way switch where a 3-way switch need to be, heinously attaching black to the safety ground of the switch. But at the porch switches, they used a 3-way switch for the right side switch that is not a 3-way. So these are the kinds of mistakes they are making - see where "skill up" matters?

Probably because the person who went to the home store got the wrong kind "Normal vs Decora" (the wide opening) and so the person used the wrong switch so they would have Decora. The lesson there is to own a variety of cover plates so you aren't sweating that. Cover plates are like 20 cents.

Note the most important rule of smart switches on 3-ways: You don't get to decide where the smart switch goes. That is dictated to you (forced down your throat) by the topology of the existing wiring. If you have your heart set on full 3-way UX/functionality at a place where the "smart switch" cannot go, then you need to get a brand of smart switch master/servant pair, which allows full functionality at the servant unit. That may not be your first choice of brand, but you have to live with that.

The "fridge gang" contain two switch loops and smart switches can't go there, as no neutral exists in the box. Not only that, they appear to be on two different circuits, and even if neutral could come there, you can't cross circuits with a neutral.

A "cable" is multiple "wires" which run inside a sheath.

On the left 3-way, see where the white and black go into the same cable sheath, but the other wire on the switch goes into a different cable? 3-ways have 2 travelers, and they always run in the same cable. So as wired, black and white are travelers. However, on 3-way switches, travelers always go on the brass screws, and black is on a black screw.

enter image description here

As you can see, 3-ways are not that complicated logically once you are clear on the 2 travelers.

I also advise getting clear on what a MWBC is (Multi-Wire Branch Circuit aka Shared Neutral) and for that it helps to understand US split-phase, so you can be on the lookout for those.

Get it working as it is, before trying to innovate.

The problems I see in the wiring look fixable, but you need to get to a baseline of "working" before you can attempt to modify it. I get the desire to try to "do it in one", but that requires everything to go perfectly and that's not happening.

So I would correct the 3-way switch mess first. Once that is working tip-top, you can think about smart switches.

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  • Much appreciated. My understanding of electrical work clearly has a long way to come but I am quite willing to read whatever is necessary to get me there. I've picked up this book from the local library and will be going cover to cover each night after work. Thanks for the more detailed aid on my specific situation.
    – MrSaiclops
    Jul 18, 2023 at 21:08

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