help with 4 light fixtures, 3-way and 4-way light switch problem

Let me explain the situation.
There are 4 floors - base, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Each floor has a light fixture. The previous owners used a timer to control all the lights. To save energy my friend decided to install two 3-way light switches at each end (base and 3rd floor) and two 4-way light switches on the middle floors (1st and 2nd). This is an old building so all wires are colored black and each floor also has pre-existing wiring for the light switches but was sealed with a wall plate. We opened the wall plate and tried to identify the wires on each floor using a non- contact volt meter and wired the light switches but here's the problem.
The light switches work on each floor meaning it will either turn some lights on and some off but when you switch any switch, lights for the base, 1st and 3rd floors will turn on and the 2nd floor light is off. When you flip any switch again only 2nd floor light will turn on and the others lights are off. So the lights keep working in opposite directions. We shut the circuit breaker off and on and tried to turn on the lights from 2nd floor and all lights turned on and off fine for one time. But when tried to turn on the light on another floor, only the base, 1st, and 3rd floors work and 2nd floor is off. When you flip the switch again, 2nd floor light is turn on and the others off.
Does anybody know how to fix this wiring issue? Thanks
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Unless the original wiring was set up to turn all lights on and off from every location, you won't have the necessary wiring to do it now. You really have to ring out and identify all the wires to each switch and light location first, and do it using a continuity tester not a proximity voltage tester, which are very unreliable
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*I agree with RBM. You need to identify each wire using a meter or a simple continuity tester. Get yourself some rolls of colored electrical tape such as white, red, and blue and label everything as you go along.
There was a type of switch set up used many, many, many years ago in buildings with stairs and multiple floors. It allowed a person to flip a switch at each floor so that the lower floor light would go off and the next floor light would go on. I don't know if this set up used the same amount of wires that is required for the 3-way/4-way switch combination that you want.
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Yes, it's not clear if you have enough wire to do 3/4 way switches. You need three wires from each switch location to the next. There are lots of diagrams of 3/4 way switch wiring on the net. The first step is definately to identify each wire from location to location. Then you will know if it's even possible to put in 3 way switches.
It might have been a lot less pain to just replacethe bulbs with compact florescents and leave the wiring alone. A whole bunch of cfl uses the power of one regular bulb. Probably cost about 10c a night to run 4 or 5 cfls.
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wrote:

Yes, it's not clear if you have enough wire to do 3/4 way switches. You need three wires from each switch location to the next. There are lots of diagrams of 3/4 way switch wiring on the net. The first step is definately to identify each wire from location to location. Then you will know if it's even possible to put in 3 way switches.
It might have been a lot less pain to just replacethe bulbs with compact florescents and leave the wiring alone. A whole bunch of cfl uses the power of one regular bulb. Probably cost about 10c a night to run 4 or 5 cfls.
It probably also cuts down on the liability. First time someone falls down his dark stairway, they'll own the building
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+1...
If the lights in this stairwell were originally wired so that each switch controlled only its light and none of the others than you won't have enough wires to properly control all of the fixtures from each of the four locations...
Three-way switches require two traveler leads between each side of the switch loop... When you put four-way switches in between three-way switches in a switch loop, each four-way switch needs two sets of travelers, a pair coming from the three-way at the end of the loop and a pair continuing to the next four-way or the other end of the loop...
Now adding into the consideration that you have to provide switched power from one end of the loop to all four locations and a neutral to complete the power circuit and you now require those two additional conductors to properly operate your switch loop and the desired loads...
So unless each switch has four conductors plus a grounding conductor running between each location, you can not do what you are attempting... Without knowing more about how many wires there are in each switch box and how the lights are being fed, realistic advice on how to fix this issue once and for all can not be given...
Others have stated that you need to trace and identify each conductor to determine what it is connected to...
Also, deciding to change from a timer to switches to "save some money" is a foolhardy endeavor at best and a huge personal injury liability lawsuit or insurance claim at worst...
Use "cheaper" fixtures with a lower wattage lamp... Someone will leave the lights on when you have four locations from which to control them, possibly leaving them on all day if someone forgets to shut them off in the morning...
What type of occupancy this building is being used for and the number of units within it should guide your choice of solution here... What are your requirements for egress path lighting from your AHJ... Some AHJ's require 24 hour lighting on egress paths from buildings with a certain number of units in them...
You just haven't provided enough useful information on how to correct this problem nor adequately defined the specific situation of your building which depending on the number of units it contains additional rules and considerations might apply...
~~ Evan
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Thanks everyone for your responses.
Each floor does have enough wires for the 3-way and 4-way light switches. I tried to trace the wires again using a multimeter. After numerous tries, I'm getting a little closer to getting all the light switches working. Right now all four lights turn on and off on the base, 1st and 2nd floors. I'm still trying to figure out the last 3- way switch on the 3rd floor. I did search online for the various 3- way and 4-way lighting patterns but the wiring gets confusing because of the 4-ways.
It's difficult to explain the wiring setup I have but basically the main power is going in on the base floor and flowing to 1st then I assume it flows to 2nd or through light fixtures then to 3rd and return back down to the base.
For the 3rd floor light wires, one set of wires were taped already, I'm guessing this might be the neutral. Then there are three wires left, I tried to wire them in different combinations to the 3-way light switch but still can't get the 3rd floor light switch to turn on or off all the lights. So for now, I'm leaving the 3rd floor light switch alone since the other three floors are working.
Also the light fixtures have CFL bulbs installed.
Thanks again!
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