4-Way Issue (Line/Load Separate Boxes)

Hey @JohnRob and @Bry do I have quite the pickle that I’m hoping you guys can help me out with. Wanted to post it to the community in case anyone else runs into this issue (and to show that I’m human too and run into issues with my own smart home lol).

So, here’s the scenario and I’m starting to think it’s something with my actual wiring, which I’m afraid of.

I had a GE switch (smart switch) installed in a 4-Way setup using aux switches (99% sure it’s Line/Load in separate boxes) such as this:

About 10 months ago, I replaced it with our new Gen 2 On/Off switch and it worked perfectly up until maybe a month or so ago when I thought it just died (almost wrote a ticket into Inovelli support lol jk).

I replaced it with a different Inovelli switch and the new switch would not power up at all. Great, I’m thinking… Then I tried it with a confirmed switch and same thing, nothing lit up at all. I even tested the original switch and the 2nd one in a different area and they worked.

Ok, so flash forward to tonight. I take another switch, test it in a 4-Way at work and it works perfectly. I take it to my house and again, nothing powers on.

So, I rip out all the switches and replaced the fixture (just in case) wired all the blacks to blacks, neutrals to neutrals, and capped off the travelers to have always power to see if the light would light up. The light does not light up at all… what does this mean? I used a dry contact meter and it lit up.

Switch #1:

I’ve verified this is where the line is by detaching all the wires across all three switches and dry contacting the black wires and this was the only one that was hot.

Switch #2:

Switch #3:

Next step is to get the multi-meter from work, but I also put the dry contact meter up to the fixture and it lit up. I’m just honestly not sure what it could be as it seems there is some sort of power at the switch as the meter lights up every time, but the smart switch does not turn on, nor does the light/load turn on.

I’m stumped :frowning:

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@Eric_Inovelli - Make sure your neutral at the light is still good. I had a neutral fall off at the light and stopped all circuits from working.

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Silly question… how do I check if it’s good or not? Slumps shoulders and tucks tail between his legs

Well my issue (not in this house) was the ceramic base for the bulb just had an issue. Whether due to age or was dropped a few times, the neutral was just not connected in the base itself. I replaced with a new ceramic base from Menards for $3 and fixed my light.

IF you have a multimeter, I would check the threaded part of the base (where bulb screws in) and go to the closet neutral in your path (obv cut power to circuit first). Make sure you can ohm it out and test for continuity.

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Gotcha – ok, I’ll give that a shot tomorrow. House was built in 1966, so it’s definitely not out of the question that the wiring is going bad. Seems like every time I twist a wire-nut, the wires break due to being so old and brittle!

Looking at you photos, it would appear you have this situation:

HOWEVER, the box you show with the two travelers doesn’t follow the wiring of a 4-Way layout. The blacks would not be tied together.
AND the last box only has one wire (red) not already connected.

But before we go off on a tangent, given the failure mode you described (was working then NOT) I would first check all the connections. Try physically tightening the wire nuts and be sure all the switches you re-install are connected well. Did you check the bulb?

Testing the connection from the 3rd box to the lamp might be tough. If you have an ohmmeter you could replace the bulb with an incandescent (not an LED as their resistance is not measurable as it is an active ckt) disconnect the load wires and measure them. They should be 5 to 10 ohms.

Do you have a meter or voltage tester? If not I suggest a Home Depot simple Neon voltage tester Like:
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

I don’t trust non contact testers as they can give mis-positive indications. Meters are OK but you need 3 hands.

Let us know.

I thought he was tieing line to load to get the bulb to power on without any switching.

I’m pretty sure it follows this one, right? Maybe I need better pics to show it.

To preface, the pics I shared were after the fact – I ripped everything out of the wall and wanted to try to wire the blacks together so that there would be constant power to the load (to see if the light would at least light up) and then the neutrals together to complete the circuit.

In the schematic showed above, Pic #1 would be the 14-2 (Line - Left wire) and 14-3 Romex (Travelers - Right wire) and then Pic #2 is the middle schematic of the before photo (I combined the black wires again to keep the line/load powered and the neutrals together). Pic #3 is me again trying to keep the black wires together to provide constant power to the load to see if the light powers on.

Idk, maybe I’m doing it wrong.

I’m pretty confident that the wires match up to the line/load in separate boxes.

Yes, exactly – sorry for the confusion @JohnRob – I was just trying to see if I could get the load to power on at all.

Yeah, definitely checked all connections and tested the bulb prior. Great suggestion though, I appreciate the thoroughness :slight_smile:

Yeah, the non-contact tester was actually starting to make me a bit angry as it was just going off on everything when I had the switch wired up. Like I was within maybe 2" of the screw and it would go off. I even put it on my belly for giggles and luckily it didn’t go off, but I swore it would lol. I will use an actual multi-meter tomorrow.

Sorry, I was distracted while reading your first post. Now I’m up to date.

I wouldn’t worry about the copper wiring, the only way then get brittle is bending them over and over changing switches or receptacles.

Bulb OK?

Then you say dry contact test do you mean resistance with an ohm meter?

Since you have a meter try measuring the load with an incandescent bulb. I just tested an LED bulb with my meter and it measured open, yet is is a functional LED bulb.

You’ll have to use the diode setting to test through LED I believe.

No the input to the LED is an active circuit of some sort. The couple of volts from a typical ohmmeter is not enough to make any of the internal circuits conduct, even in the diode checking mode.
I’m using a Fluke hand held.

Also you need some resistance at the load to be sure you are not measuring leakage from pickup. Not sure how this might effect different meters but its often enough to light an LED very slightly.

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Confirm that again but using a real meter as @JohnRob suggests. Unbundle the two black wires and the two whites in Box 1 and test between the black and white on the 2-wire. Sort of starting at the beginning, I know, but an option if the other don’t pan out. If you have a hot there we can trace one hop at a time toward the light, without the switches.

@JohnRob & @Bry – thanks for the pro-tip around actually using a multi-meter, that saved me in the end.

So, long story short, there ended up being a loose wire in the adjacent switch (down the hall) that was using the same line and neutral. The contact must’ve come loose over time and was barely touching, causing a very slight amount of voltage to be sent to the 4-Way setup.

When I was using the contact sensor, it was picking up the minimal voltage, but it was so minimal that it wouldn’t power the smart switch (or load) effectively.

Even using the multi-meter, it barely picked up anything, but at least I knew the true voltage instead of it just picking up something.

Once the wires downstream were properly tightened, the 4-Way circuit lit up and all was well.

The real mystery, however, was, how in the world did the smart switch work properly at the load (ie: no line was coming in) for 4+ years? I discovered that the line was, in fact, at the opposite end.

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That switch wasn’t made on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon.

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I’d have to go back through the wiring details again, but my initial thought is that without a neutral, line and load are interchangeable.

BTW Wires don’t just come loose, you might consider checking a few more locations for similar poor workmanship. Although they are legal, I’m not a fan of the push in wiring on most switches and receptacles. This is quit different from the wiring on your dimmers. I’ve had a number fail.

Yep, agreed. You’re referring to the “push-in” style backstab where tensioned metal holds the conductor in place. On these, the screw does nothing to hold the conductor in place.