Add Phone Line

Kendall Holmes

phone"I'd like to add a second phone line to my home office for my computer, but I don't want phone cable running along my floor and walls. How tough is it going to be to "fish" new phone wire through the wall cavities in my old (1895) house?"

I love it when I can offer an easy solution to a seemingly difficult job!

As you already fear, snaking wires down a wall--old or new--is a fairly tedious and frustrating task. It is, however, a job that can be handled by nearly any homeowner who's tired of missing phone calls because the computer is hooked to the Web.

So here's the good news: In most cases, you can install a second phone line without running any new wire through your walls. How so? Because telephones, answering machines, fax machines and modems only use two wires. But most residential phone cable (including nearly all older phone cable) contains at least four wires.

What are the other wires used for? In modern phone systems, they're spares. And with a bit of luck, they'll be in decent shape, ready to service your new phone line.

To start this job, remove an existing phone outlet from the wall, exposing the wires leading into its base. You should see four wires--often red, green, yellow, and black. Usually the red and green wires do the work. To test this, disconnect the yellow and black wires and then see if you still get a dial tone. (If not, you'll have to experiment until you find which two wires are carrying the phone signal in your home's phone system.)

Now go to junction box outside where the telephone company's wires meets yours. You should see the same two wires that give you a dial tone connected to the telephone company's two wires. Now you can test whether your two spare wires are sound. To test, temporarily hook the spares to the telephone company's wires and--back at the outlet you've already torn apart--see if you can get a dial tone using the two spare wires.

Now, when the phone company arrives to install the second line, be sure to instruct workers to put the new junction box as close as possible to the old one.

To complete the job, you'll need to add a second phone jack at the phone nearest your computer. Luckily, hardware stores sell wall plates that have two connection points on a single outlet. When you look at the back of one of these dual outlets, you'll see two sets of green and red wires--one for each line. Simply connect your two sets of lines.

Before you put everything back together at the wall, you also may want to experiment with both sets of lines--to see if you get any better Internet connection using one of the other. As you've probably already discovered, modems can be fussy and funky pieces of technology. And unless you've got a better memory than I do, you'll want to label the two connection points--so you know which one goes with which of your two phone numbers.

There! Now you can surf and talk at the same time--and with much less work than you feared.

Ken Holmes is an award-winning print and web journalist and editor, as well as a former contractor.

About the Author
By Kendall Holmes, The Old House Web

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