GE Low Voltage Switches knowledge needed!

Bob_Sacamano

Member
Location
Traverse City, MI
Occupation
electrician
I got called to do a whole house re-wire after another electrician started and never came back. It's the first of 3 whole house remodels on the property and a future wedding reception area so I would like to make an impression. 3 bedroom, 2 baths, disaster. It sat abandoned for 1 year. Every single device needs to be replaced.

All the lighting is wired in Low voltage wiring, which my research tells me might be GE from the late 50s. Every switch looks to be wired with what appears to be 18/3 gauge thermostat wire (?) (original wiring). Some of the switches work just fine while others make a little clicking noise up in the fixture. I opened up a fixture and saw the relay in the 8b box. I can't find a low voltage panel anywhere! Does there have to be one? there are a couple of small transformers near the existing panel but the wires disappear into the ceiling. When I stuck my tic tester into the 8b box, nothing was live despite the relay making a ticking when I pressed the switch. The breaker could have been off if the relay was being fed from somewhere else... None of these switches have trim plates on them.

In my Chicago days, doing office buildouts, the low voltage switches were to control 277 lighting. sometimes there were panels, other times just a transformer and relay in the ceiling. This house is 120 Volts. 4.5 Volts is measured at the switch

Questions:
1) does there have to be a low voltage panel that I'm just not finding?
2) Is there a constant 120 V hot and neutral in the light fixture box, in this low voltage configuration, so I can just drop a 120V switch to a new location and cap off the old crap?
3) If it makes sense to stick with the low voltage set up, where can I locate hardware? I found a site called kyle switch plates. This customer isn't going to go for a $2978 low voltage panel replacement. There are 20 switches over 15 locations.
 

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ActionDave

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Durango, CO, 10 h 20 min without traffic from wing
Occupation
wire pulling grunt
That's an old GE RR relay lighting system. Don't throw it out, there is no reason to. They are a rock solid lighting control system with 24V latching relays that can control any light in the house from any switch. Replacement parts are still available.

Somewhere in the house, maybe the attic or a closet there is a central box that will have gobs of relays and likely a rats nest of 18 gauge wire going to it ties to the relays that control the lights. Don't be intimidated, they just go to the switches in your first picture. Figure out which relay needs replaced and you will be good to go.
 

Russs57

Senior Member
It is a solid system. I have never seen one in a house. Usually the relays are in a central box. In your case it sounds like they are in junction boxes above the light fixtures.

We used to buy parts from Kele, a building automation wholesaler.

BTW, careful with those 12" by 12" acoustic tiles. They may contain asbestos. It might actually be in the mastic if they are glued on.
 

junkhound

Senior Member
Location
Renton, WA
Gar wired his house with low voltage relays. Nice about the system is near unlimited control options. Hopefully yours is a simple system, mine has a lot of the switches wired with simple diode logic, so don't panic if you see any diodes.

Wired my own house in 1972 with low voltage relays. In residential, rare to have a central box.
Mine has a relay at each controlled fixture. GE RR3 (GE RR7 for replacement) in mine. Relay in your fixture box willpull out trialing 3 18 AWG wires, that way you can replace there relay.

The 4.5V , as Dave said, should be 24Vac. Check the transformer, it may be bad. Have had 1 transformers go bad in the 48 years I've lived in the house.
Have over 50 relays and a few hundred switches and diodes. Only one relay in a damp location ever went bad.

The switches however are bare copper contacts that oxidize over time. I have had to clean the contacts on a few of my switches that do not get activated very often. My cleaning method, is to dip the entire switch into ferric chloride (circuit board etchant) for 15 seconds or so and then swish around in a pot of clean soft or distilled water to purge the FeCl. If yours sat abandoned, nearly all the switches may need cleaning or replacement. Any SPDT momentary contact switch will work.

PS edit - from the switch photo (Bryant switch in photo, not a GE switch), you look to have the Bryant version of the GE system, all interchangeable and very similar.
 
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brantmacga

Senior Member
Location
Georgia
Occupation
Electrical contractor
There are maybe a dozen of these in my town I’m aware of..... I’ve worked on one.

Here’s a link to a source for new parts.




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hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
A lot of the houses that were wired with those, had each relay in a knockout in the side of the fixture box. That is probably the clicking you heard in the ceiling. Those are still manufactured, and are quite common in energy management panels.
 

Bob_Sacamano

Member
Location
Traverse City, MI
Occupation
electrician
A lot of the houses that were wired with those, had each relay in a knockout in the side of the fixture box. That is probably the clicking you heard in the ceiling. Those are still manufactured, and are quite common in energy management panels.
In your experience, was there also a low voltage panel somewhere within the house? There is a relay in a knockout in each fixture box, but I have yet to find a separate panel.
 

brantmacga

Senior Member
Location
Georgia
Occupation
Electrical contractor
In your experience, was there also a low voltage panel somewhere within the house? There is a relay in a knockout in each fixture box, but I have yet to find a separate panel.
My bet then is that one of those transformers next to the panel I see in your pics carries 24v looped to each relay with a 24v switch leg dropping to each switch box.


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hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
Not usually, a bell transformer that powered everything, just looped through all the switches, then a three wire up to each relay, common, close and open. In commercial they would have a cabinet though. Sometimes they would have a master switch in the bedroom that had a dial, and you could turn off and on other locations.
 

Bob_Sacamano

Member
Location
Traverse City, MI
Occupation
electrician
Not usually, a bell transformer that powered everything, just looped through all the switches, then a three wire up to each relay, common, close and open. In commercial they would have a cabinet though. Sometimes they would have a master switch in the bedroom that had a dial, and you could turn off and on other locations.
Yes. Such a dial is at the door to the garage. as seen in pic one. It has the ability to control 9 lights. Thanks for all the help guys!
 

hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
With the relay in the fixture box....wouldn't the low voltage wiring need to be rated for 300 volts....since it is in a common enclosure with line voltage.
The only thing of the relay inside the box is the contact terminals, the coil and low voltage end is outside the box. It fits through a 1/2" ko.
 

Russs57

Senior Member
Okay, got you Bob. Seems like you will have enough fun with the rest of the house.

One of these days I need to re-wire my house. I'm used to EMT. Would love to see the tricks you guys use with Romex. I really don't want to have to trench my plaster walls.
 

Bob_Sacamano

Member
Location
Traverse City, MI
Occupation
electrician
Okay, got you Bob. Seems like you will have enough fun with the rest of the house.

One of these days I need to re-wire my house. I'm used to EMT. Would love to see the tricks you guys use with Romex. I really don't want to have to trench my plaster walls.
I hate romex.. no room in the boxes for more than a couple romex coming in. If you have a GFCI or a couple of dimmers, it can be a pain. I use stranded for all my pigtails. Though, getting around corners is much easier without pipe.
 

Bob_Sacamano

Member
Location
Traverse City, MI
Occupation
electrician
Don't know the replacement cost or availability of those switches, but a single pole double throw momentary switch will work. You may have to use a mp1 or mp2 to mount it in.
I should still be able to use LED light fixtures as long as they're not dimming with the Low voltage system right? I don't see why it would have any bearing other than being a more complicated on/off mechanism.
 

LarryFine

Master Electrician Electric Contractor Richmond VA
Location
Henrico County, VA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
LEDs are not an issue, and each lights is controlled by a single relay, each of which can be controlled from any number of locations.
 
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