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DO-IT-YOURSELF : Some Lines on Care of Telephone Wiring


It wasn't that long ago when working on the phone lines inside your home or apartment was taboo. The phone company controlled the lines and, even if you wanted to do something as simple as installing an extension, an appointment had to be made with a service representative.

But today, phone lines inside your home are your responsibility, which means that if you're not up on trouble-shooting phone problems and maintaining your lines, you'll have to call a repairman.

To do the basic telephone work, all you usually need is a screwdriver. The new modular lines and connections, which have been installed since 1974, have made working on your telephone system easier and safer. A low-voltage current runs through the lines, which makes telephone work safer than maintenance on other electrical systems. However, it's usually recommended that those who wear pacemakers not work on their phone lines.

If you're still living with a rotary phone and want to switch to a push-button unit, you'll probably have to convert the phone jack to a modular outlet, which is available at nearly any hardware or home supply store. Remove the cover to the jack, and you'll find four wires, usually black, green, yellow and red, connected to terminals at each corner.

Your phone actually only uses two of the wires to operate. The new outlet has wires that correspond in color, and you can either connect them all or connect two at a time until you find the ones that operate your phone. To make the connection, loosen the terminal screws, insert the spade connectors and tighten. The modular box can then be screwed in.

From this point, you can use the common clip-in, clip-out terminals used in phone equipment, or a multi-head jack for an extension. However, if you're planning on installing a sophisticated multi-line phone system, you may need to rethink how you'll be doing the job. Many electronic phones are too sensitive to run off of a simple extension line.

"You can use a common T-adapter to add on an everyday phone," said Dave Stouffer of Just Phones in Costa Mesa. "But with an electronic phone, you may end up killing both phones after it's plugged in."

If you're planning on installing a sophisticated phone/fax system for a home office, you may want to use what's known as twisted cable.

"Using the usual .22-gauge non-twisted cable will give you cross-talk, or ticking on the line when you're using an electronic phone," Stouffer said. "You can tell if you have twisted cable because the wires inside use the international color code, which is white striped with colors like blue and orange."

One key to success in your telephone wiring is working with the lines. Here are some of the more common mistakes people make with new wiring:

* If you're putting in an extension, don't buy 100 yards of flat telephone cable.

"Since it's so easy to use, people often run this kind of cable all through their house, then wonder why the sound quality on their phones isn't great," said George Schureman of Mar Vac Electronics in Costa Mesa. "It's not really designed to go great distances; after about 25 feet, sound quality diminishes. You really should use round .22-gauge cable, which is little more costly but will give you better performance."

* Keep electrical wiring at least a foot from telephone wiring on parallel runs. This prevents electrical interference--noise on the line.

"I've seen many people push phone cables through a conduit with electrical wiring," said telephone repairman Chuck Gray of Fullerton. "Not only can it affect sound quality, it's also dangerous."

When running a phone line through a wall, don't let it exit through an electrical outlet.

* Remember that dampness means damage. Water and any kind of electrical circuitry, including low-voltage telephone wiring, don't mix. Avoid routing phone cables around water pipes and through areas where moisture is a problem. If you're planning on installing a bathroom phone, mount it on the wall. A desk phone could accidentally be dropped into a bathtub or sink.

* Keep the lines far from heating ducts. During winter, when the furnace is running frequently, heat can build up behind the walls.

"I've seen lines almost melt from being wound around a heating duct," Gray said. "Keep as much space as possible between them."

* Make sure the wiring isn't blocking a door. When running it around a jamb, secure it with staples so it doesn't creep into an area where it can be pinched and damaged by the door.

* Don't run your wiring under carpeting where it will be stepped on. It's always better to route it around a jamb rather than across a doorway. Along the wall, you can gently pull the carpeting up, insert the cable and push the carpeting down.

* Always install the extension jack with the opening facing to the side. This helps keep dust and dirt from getting into the outlet, which could affect the electrical contacts.

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