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Question DetailsAsked on 4/2/2018

No power at light switch or half side of house. How do get it back on.

Replacing a single pole switch in which I installed a 3-way instead with just red\black wire that is all there was.The box in bathroom has 2 white wires clipped & capped off, and 2 black wires clipped and capped off. Only black & red wire that actually goes to the switch receptacle. Checked the outlets and switch boxes on this side of house that has no power. So far did not see any obvious burned-up markings and no loose wires from the terminals. Have no GCI. Installed new breaker that turns on that side that has been affected. Disconnected the black wire and pulled out old breaker re-installed black wire to new breaker & pushed it back in. Turned it on but did not turn on area it is suppose to. Back to ground zero. Lot of troubleshooting and trial & error. Was told by a electrician there was power at breaker panel but no power was coming to the light switch in bathroom. No ground interrupter.

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OK - BTW, for future reference - to keep all back and forth or additional info and responses in the same Question of "thread", use the yellow Answer This Question button, located right below your question, to respond back or provide additional info to answerers on your questions. For future questions, you can also include JPG, TIFF, or PNG images in the Your Answer box (using the leftmost yellow icon in the gray box header bar).


Again, assuming since you are DIY'ing this, that you are competent and safe using a volt-ohm meter on live circuits, and competent in wiring and following wiring diagrams.


BTW - before I forget - since you say some wires are clipped and capped off, sounds like to wire it right will require using at least some pigtails to wire in the 3-way switches correctly at the wire nutted clipped wires, which may also mean you need a larger box ff you have the smallest size - otherwise while maybe legal space-wise, can get REAL crampled and a major chance of having wires pop loose during the cramming the box phase, especially if the 3-way switch model you have are the larger type - some are pretty fat.


You still say "or half side of house" - unless you have a TINY house with only a couple of general utility outlet and light breakers total (not including any major appliance breakers), if about half your outlets and lights are out of power drop back to the first response I posted. Starting with checking both sides of the breaker/distribution panel with a volt-ohm meter to see if you have only one bus bar live - in which case a main feed between the meter panel and the breaker panel would presumably be damaged (rarer), or only one side of the main breaker tripped or failed, as previously discussed. I think I may have failed to mention that sometimes main breakers can trip or fail internally without tripping the lever - so if no power to one side of the panel check the output lug at the main breaker for power after resetting the breaker (assuming you are sure no lighting wiring shorts exist). Could be the main breaker needs replacement (not generally a DIY job because you cannot turn off the power on the incoming wires unless you have the power company come out (for typically couple to several hundred $), and they have no breaker protecting them, so risky working in the box to change the breaker yourself.


If you DO have power at both bus bars in the breaker panel, then the only way one whole side of the house would be out would be if other breakers tripped out during a shorting event (can happen in rare cases) or you have half the house on that one breaker - which for anything other than a very tiny house would be a major electrical risk because that breaker would presumably be far higher capacity than a lighting or utility outlet circuit should have. In relatively modern houses - say 80's plus - lighting circuits commonly have 15 or 20A breakers (so #14 or #12 wire respectively, 15A circuit inolder houses sometimes #16 wire), utility outlet circuits usually 20A with #12 wire, rarely 30A circuit (with #12 or #10 wire depending on age and wire type). Less amperage common in older houses.


OK - if electrician says you have power at the panel, does he mean at the bus bar, or at the output connection lug where the black wire connects to it ? (And I presume you remembered to turn the breaker on ?). I am surprised the electrician did not test or trace the power wires to find out where the problem was while he was there.


If you have power at the black wire where it comes out of the new breaker, then the place to go is the first switch box in the circuit (closest in line to the breaker) which controls that light.


If you have power at the breaker connection lug but not in the wire at the panel, turn main breaker off and pop that circuit breaker out and check first for a stray piece of insulation in the connection opening. I have seen cases where the stripped insulation for connection was not pulled offf the wire and it was inserted into the breaker, so the insulation piece prevents contact with the breaker lug. Next, if that is not the problem, use volt-ohm meter on breaker while it is out to confirm continuity between the bus bar connection (prongs or hooks or bolts or whatever breaker connection yours has) and the "hot" wire connection lug, when the breaker is switched to on. Remotely possible (but more common these days with cheap imports) that you got a bad new breaker in the first place - but that would mean old one went bad and new one was bad too - would quite a coincidence. I would also check for insulation piece and test the old breaker if you still have it - might give an idea whether your problem was initially breaker-related or likely in the wiring. Since it ran 5 days before failing could be either, but breaker failure is less likely.

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OK - now for tracing the fault.


First off, since it worked for 5 days then failed, while it is possible something failed, I would bet (especially since you only have two wires at the switch) either a wire connection came loose somewhere, or quite possibly you have a half-functional 3-way switch situation. I don't want to get a headache figuring out all the possibilities not seeing the wiring, but I bet with only two wires at that 3-way switch, you have a half-functional system - will probably (off the cuff guess), given a possible on and off position at each of two switches so 4 total position options, that there is probably one combination of on-and-off at the two switches which powers the light, and three options which do not turn it on, so it may be just trying each switch on and off with the other on and then off will show someone threw the OTHER switch, causing the failure after it has worked for awhile. Ask family members if maybe someone turn the OTHER switch on or off about that time.


Now - more detail on the wiring issue:


Remember first that the white (neutral or return) wires generally connect to the switches EXCEPT in wireless transmitter type or in switches with built-in night lights in the switch lever) connect to the switches. Usually, with normal klight switches, the white wire coming in is just wire nutted to the outgoing white heading to the next box or light. With the exception noted above, the white is only "connected" to the light fixture itself - the switches use only the black and red wires to interrupt or connect power through the "live" wires to the light - they do not switch the white wire.


You generally have 3-wire (black, white, ground) cable coming into the "first" box, then 4-wire (above plus red) running between the switches, then 3-wire again from second switch to the light fixture. Though if the light is physically located "between" the two switches and the wiring between the switches passes through the light fixture (does not have to), you do have a red passing through there too. If the light is not "on the line" between the two switches, it will have just 3-wire cable to it and connected at it. (See link to diagrams below).


Also, while the bare or green insulated ground should normally be connected to each metal box and each switch for safety, it plays no part in the electrical operation - just protection in the event of a short. [Previous assumes no GFCI involved - they do have white and sometimes ground connections to work right].


Next, check inside each switch box (remembering circuit is live) from closest to the breaker on down the line, checking which wires are "live" when the breaker is on and the switch is on, and which are dead with the light switch off. Note that the red wire is a jumper or "transfer" or "traveler" wire to provide power to the other switch when the other one is off. Therefore, each switch will have a black, a second black or blue or such, and a red wire connected to it. At the two switches, one one side of the switch there will be an incoming live (black) or an outgoing live (black) wire. The incoming will be live whenever the breaker is on, the outgoing from the second switch will be live only when one of the two switches is "on". Off the other side of each switch there are two connection screws - a black and a red commonly - only one of these will be live at a given time, depending on the position of the first switch. These two wires ensure that both switches have power available to them at all times regardless of the other switch position.


This appears to be your problem - you say you have only a black and a red - so what they did when they rewired to a simple single switch installation is they eliminated one of the wires - presumably a black. This presumably means, assuming the black is the incoming live feed from the breaker (easy to confirm if you turn breaker off and undo and separate the black wires which are now nutted ogether or connected to the switch, then turn breaker back on to see which is live) either in the other box there is a black from the light fixture connected to he red from that switch, or somewhere they are connected in the box.


At any rate, with only a black and a red you cannot hook up a three-way switch to act as a three-way - without the traveler to the other switch either both switches will have to be on to turn the light on, or only one switch will activate it. So you need to undo wires, first find the cable from the breaker, then turn of power and using an electronic circuit tracer or using a long jumper wire and alligator clips, trace and label each individual wire as to where it is coming from and to, then connect them per the correct wiring diagram for your physical configuration. And after twisting wires but before wire nutting them and BEFORE powering up, check each "live" wire to be sure it does not have continuity with neutral or ground before you power up.


I provide below another link to a different article, somewhat more detailed than what I provided yesterday, on wiring 3-way switches, FYI - it also specifically shows the wiring for three different physical configurations relative to the location of the switches and light relative to the incoming cable from the breaker box - for switch, switch, then light; light, switch, switch; and switch, light, switch configurations. Note the author uses white wire with black tape on it (to indicate a live lead wire) to show the white wire being used as a live feed between the two switches - if you do this is real life don't just black tape the ends - lso felt tip mark them with a permanent marker in case the tape gets pulled off. Some 4-wire cables use a second black wire (confusing in keeping track of which is which and why a lot of electrician "get a charge" wiriung 3-way switches live), some have a black wire with a color stripe on the side to distinguish it, some have a blue wire for the other live lead. But note, that in the usual case where the switch itself does not consume power to energize a wireless device or night light, there is no "neutral" actually connecting to the switches even if a neutral is passing through the box.


If this does not solve it, since not real convenient to pack up your house and ship it maybe a couple thousand miles to me so I can figure it out, I guess an Electrician would be in the cards. If the first one did/could not figure it out, sounds like time for another well-rated Electrical contractor from Search the List.

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Answered 7 months ago by LCD




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