How To Install a Phone Jack
Modern wireless telephone systems have largely eliminated the need to outfit your home with many phone jacks since a central phone jack can now serve as a single transmitter/message unit that sends signals to several wireless remote handsets that can be used anywhere in the house. And there are now many homes that have no landline phones at all, relying instead on cell phones only. At one time, it was common for homes to have a phone jack in every room; today's homes may have none at all. There are a few instances where you may need a phone jack installation:
- If your home still has a landline, it's sometimes necessary to establish additional phone jacks that are hard-wired to the main telephone system.
- In very large homes, wireless receivers may have trouble receiving signals from a single transmitter. In these instances, the solution is often to run phone cables to remote locations and install jacks in other rooms that can serve as their own transmitters.
- It's also possible you may need to replace the main phone jack that serves the central cordless transmitter, should it wear out.
Fortunately, you can install a phone jack yourself since this increasingly rare DIY project is still quite an easy one to complete.
Before You Begin
In older telephone installations, the phone cable typically has four small-gauge wires inside the outer jacket: red, green, black, and yellow. If you're extending a line to another room or other part of the house, you can continue to use this type of cable, or you can use newer Category 3 or 5 (Cat-3 or Cat-5) data cable, which also has multiple wires but with a different color scheme. Cat-3 or Cat-5 cable works just as well as the old cable for phone service, and it works much better for data (such as for a DSL internet connection). With either type of cable, once the cable is run to the jack location, the wiring of the jack is a simple matter of matching up the correct wire colors.
Our project assumes the phone cable to the new jack location has already been installed. Running phone cable is generally an easy process, in which the wires at one end of the cable are first attached to the matching screw terminals on the main phone terminal block. After the cable is run through the walls or under the floor to the new location, finishing the job is usually just a matter of hooking up the wires to a new jack using the same color coding. Running phone cable through finished walls uses many of the same techniques that are used for running electrical circuit cable, but the job is considerably easier since phone cable is quite small and flexible.
Telephone wires inside your home carry a very low-voltage electrical current and are generally quite safe to work on without shutting off the power. In fact, only the phone company can shut off the power to the phone system. But just to be safe, don't work on phone wiring with wet hands or while standing in water.
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What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Wire strippers
- Needle-nose pliers
- Telephone jack
- Wood screws or drywall screws
How To Install a Phone Jack
Strip the Outer Sheathing
Strip 2 to 3 inches of the outer sheathing from the phone cable, using wire strippers. An old-style four-wire cable can be stripped using the 10-gauge slot on the wire strippers. Rotate the strippers as needed to cut all the way around the sheathing, being careful not to cut into the insulated wires inside the cable. Pull the cut piece of sheathing off of the end of the cable to expose the inner wires.
Alternatively, some phone cables have a pull cord inside that strips the sheathing as you pull back on it. In this case, start by stripping only a small amount of the sheathing using wire strippers, then use the pull cord to cut back the sheathing 2 to 3 inches. Trim off the portion of cut sheathing, using the cutters on the strippers or using cutting pliers.
Untwist and Strip the Individual Wires
Untwist the individual wires inside the cable from one another. Strip 1/2 to 3/4 inch of insulation from each wire that you need, using the 20- or 22-gauge slot on the wire strippers. In many cases, you'll need to strip only two of the wires if you are installing a standard one-line residential phone line. A second pair of wires is used if you are installing a second line, such as a second voice-phone line. Often the phone wire or Cat 3-5 wire can be stripped by squeezing the individual wire's insulation with needle nose pliers and moving the pliers toward the end of the wire and the insulation comes right off.
Then, identify the individual wires you'll be using:
Old four-wire cable:
- Line 1 (primary phone line): red and green
- Line 2 (secondary line): black and yellow
Cat-3 or Cat-5 cable:
- Line 1 (primary phone line): blue and white-with-blue-stripe
- Line 2 (secondary line): orange and white-with-orange-stripe
Install the Mounting Plate
Remove the cover from the front of the phone jack, exposing the mounting plate and mounting screw holes. If the phone cable has been run inside the wall, thread it through the opening in the plate as you position the plate against the wall over the access hole. If the phone cable is surface-mounted, such as onto the front of a baseboard, the cable typically is inserted through a notch in the side of the phone jack.
Mount the plate to the wall, molding, or other structure, using a screwdriver and small wood screws or drywall screws. Some phone jacks may have self-adhesive strips for securing the plate to the wall, but if this type of jack also has screw openings, it is a good idea to reinforce the installation with screws.
Connect the Wires
Connect the stripped wires from the phone cable to the corresponding screw terminals on the jack. Use the following color combinations of wires that go together for a phone jack (each jack terminal is identified by the color of the wire that is preattached to it):
Old four-wire cable:
- Line 1 (primary phone line): red wire to red terminal; green wire to green terminal
- Line 2 (secondary line): black wire to black terminal; yellow wire to yellow terminal
Cat-3 or Cat-5 cable:
- Line 1 (primary phone line): blue wire to red terminal; white-with-blue-stripe wire to green terminal
- Line 2 (secondary line): orange wire to yellow terminal; white-with-orange-stripe wire to black terminal
To make the wire connections, loosen each terminal screw with a screwdriver. Wrap the bare copper end of the wire around the screw in a clockwise direction, using needle-nose pliers. Tighten the screw to secure the wire. The wire insulation should just touch the screw terminal and there should be no excess bare wire extending out from the screw.
Reinstall the Cover
Reinstall the cover onto the jack's mounting plate. Some covers are secured with a screw; others simply snap into place. Plug a phone into the jack to make sure the line is working properly.
What if my house does not have a phone jack?
Some new construction houses or smart homes may not have phone jacks installed unless you request them. If your house does not have a phone jack and you do not want to install it yourself, contact your local phone company and they can assist you with phone jack installation service. Phone wire is low-voltage so you can also use an electrician for this type of service. Depending on where you live, this service can cost approximately $100 to $250 or higher for complex installations.
What are the different types of phone jacks?
The two common types of phone jacks are called RJ-11 and RJ-45 (RJ means registered jack, a designation of the FCC). RJ-11 is a basic jack and is used for a single phone line and for dial-up internet service. RJ-45 is slightly different in that it has larger bandwidth and is used for ethernet cables. Other types of phone jacks and plugs are available in different sizes and used as connectors for audio systems (such as amplifiers and speakers).
Where should I install my phone jack?
You have the option of either a baseboard surface-mounted (for non-metal baseboards) or a wall-mounted jack in the room where you'll need the jack.
Should I install a phone jack for the internet?
You do not need a phone jack for cable, fiber, or satellite internet service. The only time you may need a phone jack to access the internet is if you have dial-up or combined phone and DSL (digital subscriber line) service. It isn't uncommon to still have these services available in rural areas. However, if you want to convert existing phone jacks to accept ethernet cables for a speedier internet connection, you may need the services of an electrician to have that done.