12 volt Home electrical system?

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I'm very confused by the electrical setup of my 1965-built home. Around a year ago, a home inspector told me that electrical projects would be more costly/confusing as the house was built with a "12-volt electrical system".
The switches are odd as I've looked at the back of a few switches and they have 3 contacts each. one black/one red and one white. The wire is stranded 18 or 20 gauge. When you turn any of the switches off or on, you hear an audible "buzz" which is louder in a few rooms in the house.
Otherwise, all of my outlets are 120 volt normal outlets, the ceiling fans and lights are the usual solid 16 gauge romex, it's just the switches that are odd.
I would like to replace these switches over time with modern two position 120 volt switches so I can use dimmers, etc. Any advise on what I should be searching for as to information about this '12 volt system"?
-Jason
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

16 gauge is not the usual. 14 gauge Romex is the standard minimum.

Most likely you will have to replace the wiring as well as the fixtures and switches. Only a local electrician will be able to inspect the situation and tell you exactly what needs to be done.
R
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

If that home inspector really knew what he was talking about, you might just have some 12 volt AC relays switching the power to those lights. The relays could be controlled by those switches.
The buzzing you hear could be from the relays which may have parts which have gotten worn and a little loose over the years.
Rather unorthodox, but not unheard of.
If you're ignorant in basic electrical apparatus then seek help from someone who can determine if you do have some relays located somewhere, find 'em and see what can be done.
Please don't get PO'd at my use of the word ignorant. If you think about it, no one can be a renaissance man nowadays, and we're mostly all ignorant about more subjects than we're experts in.
I think I'm a hotshot about things electrical and electronic, but I'm at a total loss about many other subjects like music and the bible and I was born without a sports gene. I even have trouble remembering which two teams played in the World Series this year.
I have no problem with other people's ignorances, it's stupidity I can't take. <G>
Good luck,
Jeff
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Jeffry Wisnia
(W1BSV + Brass Rat \'57 EE)
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On Mon, 06 Nov 2006 12:14:56 -0500, Jeff Wisnia

I can remember my parents saying "ignorant" a lot when I was I child. I didn't know what it meant then and thought it was a dirty word. I still remember the feeling.

Is seems that I first got interested in electricity (and math) because it's simple. There's none of that complicated (and weird) stuff often found in human behavior.
In something like 2+2=4 you don't have to consider things like how that first 2 feels about the particular shade of pink the + likes, or the ='s headache and nasty attitude toward addition today. Electrons don't get lazy and block the wires on Sunday, reciting bible verses when asked to move.
Most sports are very boring to watch. It would take some sort of personal involvement to enjoy such.

And stupidity is extremely common.

--
49 days until the winter solstice celebration

Mark Lloyd
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Mark Lloyd wrote: ...

No, nothing at all weird or complicated other than quantum tunneling, wave/particle duality and relativity effects, the possibility of 20-odd "miniature/hidden" dimensions, etc., etc., etc., ... :)
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On Mon, 06 Nov 2006 17:43:41 -0600, Mark Lloyd

Words are funny. In the academic world, "myth" retains its original meaning, but in the rest of the country, the word firmly means some story that is untrue.

I got started because my brother had a Lionel train.
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snipped-for-privacy@bigfoot.com says...

How about "theory"? That's a word with very different meanings inside academia and out.

My father was an EE prof and had electrical junk around the house to play with.
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Keith

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My grandmother, who I often stayed with, had a lot of lamp and electrical parts around. Anyway, I've always had a rational idea of the world, and a preference for things that make sense.
BTW, I'll probably never understand the [deleted] that most people seem to be obsessed with. It seems to have no connection with the world around us.
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wrote:

I wished I had one of those. Also, model rockets.
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47 days until the winter solstice celebration

Mark Lloyd
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Try "unfamiliar with"... has a better ring. :)
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Mr. P.V.\'d (formerly Droll Troll), Yonkers, NY
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Do a GOOGLE search for GE RR7 or GE RR9.
This was a very, very popular remote control system in the 60's in upscale homes. A large percentage are still in use today and the owners like them.
The system allowed multiple control of room lighting, that is, switches in many locations could control a single light. Can control outdoor lighting as well. And individual room receptacles too.
All the switch/pushbutton wiring is low voltage, which gave the builder flexibility at low installed cost.
The GE relays are still available from distributors and this company makes replacement models: http://www.reliantrelay.com/page2.html
There was a forum discussion here: http://www.bobvila.com/wwwboard/archive/2000/02/13 /
No, you can't directly replace the switches with 120V ones or install dimmers. This would entail some re-wiring.
Jim
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Likely three way switches.
If it is 18 or 20 gauge wire you have some big problems if you are in NA. What country are you located in?

Interesting, I have no guess. Well maybe one. Maybe that 12V idea means he determined that you have a low voltage switching circuit using relays. That would explain the small wires and buzz. That could also be explained by low voltage halogen lamps.

I hope not 16 gauge in NA that should be at least 14. In 1965 it would almost certainly be 14 not 12.

That depends on what that 12V system really is.

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Joseph Meehan

Dia \'s Muire duit
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As Speedy Jim said these are 12 volt AC switches that operate the relay contacts for the normal 120 volts AC. There is nothing wrong with this type of system. It is safer and more flexible. A certain amount of hum is normal because the solenoid coil that operates the relay contacts gets magnetized by a 12 volt 60 cycle source coming off of a transformer. If the solenoid buzzes to much then it's time to replace the relay.
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snipped-for-privacy@mucks.net wrote:

This is a new system on me and I have a couple of questions for you.
What's the typical size wire running from the low voltage switches to the AC contacts? Could you demagnetize the relay or would that mess up the coil somehow?
R
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RicodJour wrote:

The system has a 24V transformer (and a diode rectifier). #18 gage low voltage wire (think bell wire) connects the switches to the relays and to the 24V power supply.
The "Load" side of the relay (relay contacts) has 120V with either #14 or #12 "house" wire connecting the relay to the lights or whatever it is controlling.
"Could you demagnetize the relay" Does not compute...
Jim
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Speedy Jim wrote:

Also, because the relay usually latches mechanically, it recovers from a power failure gracefully, i.e.it stays latched if it was on prior to the outage.
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Speedy Jim wrote:

And one more thing, I wish my house had these. It makes for real easy automation.
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These relays are cylindrical and fit into a 1900 box with the bulk of the cylinder sticking out of the box(the low voltage side). They are a pain in the ass in that you can't just replace switches with dimmers, but the damn things seem to last forever. The "buzz" sound only occurs while a switch is being pressed, then the relay latches into the open or closed position
wrote:

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I have never heard of this but it sounds cool. I am guessing that the switches are momentary SPDT and the relays latch either way? That would be incredibly easy to add additional controls to, no need for annoying three way switches etc... if it works as I imagine, why wouldn't it have caught on? Too much cost? wouldn't meet current code? just curious
nate
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Nate Nagel wrote:

Correct. Momentary switches. The 24V is rectified, so a DC pulse is applied to one winding or the other of the relay. The relay then latches magnetically and needs no more input power. A switch anywhere else in the house can then cause the relay to change state.
A nice application is a large property where outside lights can be switched on/off from dozens of indoor locations. Or, a bank of switches can control *any* light in the house from one location!
The system *did* catch on and was quite popular. But this was 40 years ago!!
I suppose X10 has supplanted it, but the system is still being promoted in commercial applications where a minicomputer controls the relays. Endless possibilities!
Jim

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