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I've spent the last couple hours trying to install a smart switch in my new-construction home (finished last month in Chicago) and I'm a bit confused. Pictures here, going to focus on the top picture.

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The yellows/purple are loads and travelers. The dark grey seems to be line and carries current, though for some reason it both enters and leaves the box and, if cut, all switches fail to work. It's the unconnected reds and whites that really confuse me. When I turn off the circuit breaker for "basement lights", the grey line loses power but the red remains hot.

I tried hooking up the smart switch grabbing a random white for neutral from that twistie, but the switch doesn't work. I'm kinda thinking that those twisted whites either are not neutral or that they're not all the same and one of the other white ones is the actual neutral.

Hopefully someone recognizes this setup and knows how I should be wiring the smart switch (use red instead of grey for line? use a different white as neutral?

Thanks for any help!

Optional additional info (may confuse more than help): The reason I'm thinking maybe the whites aren't all the same is that is that there's a similar switch box on the other side of the basement which has a combo switch and outlet and the outlet uses the red/white while the switch uses dark grey and yellow. Again, the switch doesn't work there and I'm not sure if it's because I'm using the wrong white line (some are labeled south-wire, some north-wire) as neutral. Also on that side the whites seem to spark when I mess with them though my indicator says there's no current. And when I mess with them I can hear a small beep from elsewhere in the basement, maybe near the circuit breaker... there's a couple things plugged in under the circuit breaker that run straight into the wall. When my wife asked the builder what those do, he said "don't worry about it, it won't come up".

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    First thing you have to do is document what each of these switches do currently. Because you'll lose your mind if you don't. If they are one of a set of multi-way switches, you want to know that. Fortunately, your installation seems to be in metal conduit (hence no grounds) with single-wires, and the installer availed himself of a variety of wire colors, which means switched-hots, messengers etc. will be colors, and whites will actually be neutral (note they are not taped). Very likely blacks are always-hot as that is a common convention. – Harper Jul 14 '16 at 6:52
  • Which switch are you trying to replace? – ThreePhaseEel Jul 15 '16 at 0:47
  • You're right on all counts Harper. As an FYI, I got it all to work with help from Tyson's comment below. The solution was just connecting the smart switch to the neutral bundle, rather than trying to grab a random white wire from the bundle. I put in five switches today and it works great. – Arjun Sharma Jul 15 '16 at 6:12
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I tried hooking up the smart switch grabbing a random white for neutral from that twistie, but the switch doesn't work. I'm kinda thinking that those twisted whites either are not neutral or that they're not all the same and one of the other white ones is the actual neutral.

That is exactly your problem. Collectively the bundle is neutral. You can't however "grab a random white for neutral" out of the bundle and just hook it up one on one.

The reason is that one of those white wires is the neutral that goes back to the panel, the rest of the bundle is going to the lights plugs etc that these switches are controlling.

To hook up your new switch you need to get all the whites together and capped with the same wire nut.

  • You were right on, Tyson! The solution was just connecting the smart switch to the neutral bundle, rather than trying to grab a random white wire from the bundle. I put in five switches today and it works great. Thanks! – Arjun Sharma Jul 15 '16 at 6:12

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