I have 3 way switches at the top and bottom of the stairs operating two cans in the ceiling. For 20 years, they've never worked right. Either switch would turn the lights on or off, like a single pole switch, but neither would turn the lights off if the other switch had turned them on. In other words, flipping either switch up would turn the lights on, but both had to be down to turn them off. That's the history. Now I find the bottom switch does nothing at all, while the upper switch will turn the lights on and off. I disconnected both switches and tested the wires in each box for voltage. Both switch boxes have one romex bundle going into the box, BWRGnd, and nothing else. In both boxes I found 120 volts on the white wire when testing it to ground. No voltage on the other colors. I went ahead and replaced the lower switch, thinking it may have gone bad. I wired the white to the common terminal in both boxes, and the black and red to the travelers. Still, the upper switch works, the lower one does nothing. I've spent many hours scouring the internet for this problem and found nothing quite like it. Can someone advise me?

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    When you're measuring voltage to ground, are the wires attached to the switches? – Tester101 Oct 9 '15 at 1:22
  • The original setup sounds like an open traveler problem -- the new symptoms are unusual though, and may be a sign that the bottom switch has been shorted/bypassed...I would seriously distrust the existing wiring in this case. Do you know if the incoming power is at the fixture or one of the switches? – ThreePhaseEel Oct 9 '15 at 1:37
  • No, when measuring voltage, the switches were detached. I expected to find voltage on one wire in one box. Was surprised to find it in both boxes. Wiring is above sheetrock in vaulted ceiling, no attic, so the only way to look at it would be to remove the cans. I'm assuming power is at one of the cans, but don't know that for certain. I've moved wires around on the lower switch and got it to work, but then the upper switch would not turn lights off. Don't remember now what combination that was, but it had to have the white with 120 volts on it on one of the travelers. – Bruce Oct 9 '15 at 13:21
  • It sounds like you are describing the same condition you started with. Both switches have to be OFF for the light to be OFF, otherwise the lights are always ON. Yes? – user39367 Oct 9 '15 at 16:14
  • Chris, at the moment the upper switch toggles the lights on and off. The bottom switch does nothing. I have the white wire on the common terminal on both switches and the red and black on the traveler terminals. The white has 120 volts in both boxes when checked to ground, with no switch attached. – Bruce Oct 9 '15 at 18:03

Here is an educated guess.....

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  • I have not drawn a Carter 3-way. The hot in this schematic is never connected to the lamp unless the lamp is illuminated (unlike in a Carter). The top is an atypical schematic for the usual traveler system. The bottom two are an incorrect attempt at making the top one. – user39367 Oct 9 '15 at 16:07
  • you are correct -- that is a very odd drawing indeed, which tripped me up. – ThreePhaseEel Oct 9 '15 at 22:13

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