Low-voltage house wiring from hell

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040811 1412 - RSMEINER posted:

I installed a low voltage switching system in a large house that I had a few years back and used a ratchet type relay. Pulse it once and it ratchets on, and pulse it again and it ratchets off. It used just two control wires, and was rated for 20 amps; 24 volt control. I made a pulse control circuit board that produced a DC pulse of around 36 volts and then quickly decayed. This would eliminate double pulsing in case a push button happened to make double contact on one push. I used the round,white doorbell push buttons in single gang stainless steel plates around the house. One of the plates, which controlled some outside lights, and kitchen, entry, and basement lights, was a single gang with six buttons in it. The kids had a time trying to remember which button worked which light. The higher buttons worked the high outside lights, and lower buttons worked the basement lights. The central buttons worked the kitchen and landing lights. Easy. In the master bedroom and kitchen I had a one gang plate with one button and a selector switch to select the relay and the button to engage it, mostly for outside lights for security purposes. I had a panel made at a local tin shop and used aluminum angle and punched holes in it and placed rubber grommets to set the relays into. This separated the high voltage from the low voltage in the panel. I used 22 guage paired wiring -- brown/tan -- and had no problem with voltage drop. One run was around two hundred feet of wire out to the garage to work an outside light. The 36 volt DC pulse wasn't on the wire long enough to create a problem, and the relay, which was in the garage in a separate box pulsed on and off as demanded.
I thought it was a neat system. It worked really well. It was safe, and there was no maintenance to it.
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indago wrote:

I hope you left thorough documentation behind for the next owners! One of the problems with our low-voltage house was that there were NO circuit layouts or any other sort of documentation beyond a few mislabeled switches.
FurPaw
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Wow, I'm impressed.
However, you must realize that if anyone sees that, they will call the utilities company and have them shut off your utilities.
Just be careful.
On 10 Aug 2004 23:41:25 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comcrap (RSMEINER) wrote:

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I'm careful enough to know that I'm over my head and won't touch a thing in that mess again. I tried. It wasn't pretty.
As the house is sitting empty, I might just flip the breakers on that mess. I actually found the breakers for it. Nice clean normal wiring at the breaker box.
Would that mess of wiring be normal for a house built around 1960 ? Thats just the wiring for the light switches.
Randy http://members.aol.com/rsmeiner
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It wouldn't be common or typical, but that is about the time low-voltage switching for residences made it's debut.
Fortunately, it never caught on. If the problem is that lights do not respond to the switches, check the switches first. Remove them and use a jumper to "fool" the relay to open or close. If that doesn't work, you know the problem is with that light's relay. Those relays are readily available and they do wear out.
As complicated as that mess looks, it's all really very simple, it's just that there's a LOT of simple things going on in one place that makes it difficult to understand.
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Been thru all the above trouble shooting. Got nothing. I think it's either a couple of loose wires yet to be found or a couple of bad relays. Got a bunch of extra relays and switches.
Randy http://members.aol.com/rsmeiner
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On 11 Aug 2004 01:28:25 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comcrap (RSMEINER) wrote:

..me too!

..maybe relay failure followed closely by onset of arc ignited Fire is your main worry??

..smart move.

normal, if you bought it off the likes of nicksanspamATece.villanova.edu I can see the humidity has been a problem as well,, not that Nick would concur :-/
I see U R looking for a Sparky, second smart move :- ). Knowledge would not be the problem (I would hope),, the fortitude and patience, not to mention the acceptance of any protracted Risk, would be - for a Sparky of substance.
Did the last man in come out alive? <G>
Thanks for sharing that,, I can use some of the info in my work,,anon of course.
cheers
BTZ
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On 11 Aug 2004 01:28:25 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comcrap (RSMEINER) wrote:

..me too!

..maybe relay failure followed closely by onset of arc ignited Fire is your main worry??

..smart move.

normal, if you bought it off the likes of nicksanspamATece.villanova.edu I can see the humidity has been a problem as well,, not that Nick would concur :-/
I see U R looking for a Sparky, second smart move :- ). Knowledge would not be the problem (I would hope),, the fortitude and patience, not to mention the acceptance of any protracted Risk, would be - for a Sparky of substance.
Did the last man in come out alive? <G>
Thanks for sharing that,, I can use some of the info in my work,,anon of course.
cheers
BTZ
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so
wouldn't
Looks pretty common to me. At least you have a panel. I have a friend that they just put the relays in the attic willy nilly and it IS an bear to understand.
Low voltage starts out at the transformer and then goes to the switches. As you close the switch you close the coil and then the 120v power is turned on.
Get an VOM meter and start out at panel. Do you have voltage on both sides of the transformer. Then try with a jumper wire to from the transformer to the relay that is not functioning. If it changes state then your problem is out at the switch. You do not need both a hot and a negative at the switches. I usually wire up the coils to the positive side of the transformer and switch the negative side. I have gotten over 1000 feet doing this.
To bad you so far away. I would like a challenge like this.
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It's about time you took a vacation !! It will be a challange. I think at least 1 bundle of the wires in that mess goes to the whole house intercom system. I don't think that works either and don't even care. If I can figure out what wires those are and get them bundled up and out of the way, things might not look so bad.
What does SQLlit stand for ?
Randy http://members.aol.com/rsmeiner
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so
wouldn't
Hope it's a one-story house with open ceilings in the basement. If I was touring the open house and saw that mess, I'd run away screaming. You won't like this, but my recommendation is to NOT pound money down a rathole trying to fix that rat's nest. From the more recent-looking wirenuts, several others have already tried. Bite the bullet, and pay an electrician to rip out all that low voltage mess, and either replace it with a modern low-voltage system, or (probably cheaper) snake new wires to all the switch locations, and replace with conventional wiring.
aem sends...
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3 stories plus finished basement. We are going to sell the house but not with the wiring like that. I wouldn't do that to anyone.
Randy http://members.aol.com/rsmeiner
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Randy,
My parents used to own a house with that system and I ended up being the person to keep it running.
First: I am not a licensed electrician. I would like to think that any electrician worth his salt could help you. It really is a simple system.
Second: My advice is worth what you are paying and describes the system I had which could be different then your system. If you are uncomfortable with any of this call a pro!
I don't know how much you understand about low voltage systems so bear with me. The system uses a relay to control the ac power. So the device you see in the box is a relay. Out of one end is probably three small gauge wires(common, off, on) which are connected to the wall switchs. When you press the switch in the on position, the switch causes two of the wires (on, common) to form a circuit which energizes the circuit and causes the relay to close thus turning the power on to the light. Pressing the switch in the off position cause two of the wires (common, off) to form a circuit causing the relay to open shutting the power off. The circuit is only active when you press it. The relay stays in a latched state until the switched is press again.
If the light does not turn off:
1) Look for a stuck switch (consider labeling all the switches in the house (yes a hell of a job) until you know what they all do). If a switch is stuck then the on (or off) circuit is always energizes. Bear in mind that with this system a switch could be anywhere.
2) Push the switch into the off position and hold it there. Does the light go off then come back on when you let go? If yes could be a bad relay or switch.
3) Locate the controlling relay (If the relay is working you will probally hear a click when the swich is pressed to turn the light on or off. Again consider labeling all relays). Count the number of low voltage cables attached. This will tell you the number of switches that control the light. Did you find them all and check them. Disconnect all the low voltages wires at the relay in question. Do not touch the line voltage wires. With all the low voltage wire removed, you should have three unattached small (22, 24 awg) wires left unconnected coming out the round cylinder (which protrudes out the main electrical box. By try and error, identify the common wire (which supples the low voltage). By touching and releasing either of the other wires to the common wire the light should turn off or on. If the light does not still on or off after breaking contact (ie all three wires not touching) then you need a new relay. They are not cheap. If everything works then a switch is stuck or bad or the low voltage wiring has a short (unlikely).
4) The old non solid-state relay had a tendency to fail. I have been told that the new ones are solid state and should last longer.
5) I wonder: should the hot side (the ac side) of the box have a cover? I hope so.
With a little bit of effort, you can trouble shoot this system. I will leave up to you to decide if you are comfortable replacing the relay.
If you have questions let me know, Free free to email me.
Philip
snipped-for-privacy@aol.comcrap (RSMEINER) wrote in message

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In addition to what Philip said, it is a good idea to have someone stand near the relays while the buttons are being pushed. That way you can identify which relay activates a particular circuit. You should put tags on each relay as you identify them.
I know from experience that troubleshooting Touchplate systems is very time consuming because you must check two systems; the low voltage and the high voltage in order to correctly identify the problem.
The relay boxes should have covers on them.
John Grabowski http://www.mrelectrician.tv

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wouldn't
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Thanks Philip. Will probably be emailing you.
Randy http://members.aol.com/rsmeiner
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