Troubleshooting Phone Problems

Technical Tips

Senior woman sitting in bed, using telephone
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Land lines are nothing if not reliable, but things can still go wrong with your old-school communication system. In most cases, it's a faulty wire connection or something equally simple to fix. This guide will walk you through ways to troubleshoot your telephone system for problems before you call the telephone company for help from a technician. It can be a costly call to make, and worse, you might have to make it from someone else's phone!

Phone System Basics

The phone company owns and maintains the telephone lines (wires) that bring phone service to your house. Usually, a gray plastic box is mounted to the outside of the house. Inside the box the connections may split into two parts, the customer and the utility connections. Although you can access the customer side of the box, the phone company side has a special screw that's designed to be difficult to remove; it's best to leave this side alone. The next box down the line, usually inside the house (often in the basement or other utility area), is the demarcation jack. To this point, it is the phone company's responsibility to provide service at no charge, if there is a problem. However, if the problem lies after the demarcation jack, you'll be responsible for technical services if you want their technician to fix a problem within your home.

After the demarcation jack, the phone wiring may lead to a junction box that serves as a switchboard for multiple lines running throughout the house.

Each line may lead to one or more phone jacks. If there is a problem on one phone and not the others, examine this phone's jack and line back to the junction box. Older phone systems may have a single line that connects to all of the jacks in the house. If this one line is damaged at any point, all of the phones may be affected.

With either setups, any of the lines can be split en route to any jack, so you may find splitters or mini junction boxes between a jack and the junction box or demarcation box. 

Locate the Trouble

First you need to know where the problem lies. Some telephone problems are easy enough for anyone to fix, while others may require a professional to come in and find the problem. You may want to add a phone jack, replace a broken cover or phone jack, or just fix a broken wire connection, but where do you start your search for the trouble spot? Well in most cases, you want to start at the demarcation jack or the customer side of the exterior telephone junction box. Try plugging your telephone into one of the phone jacks in the junction box. If there is service (a dial tone) that sounds normal, the problem lies somewhere inside the home. If you have noise on the line, dead air, or a buzzing sound, it's the phone company's problem to fix. At that point, simply call the phone company for repairs. If not, read on.

Be Safe

Telephone lines run on low-voltage, but you still need to be careful of electrical shock when working in damp or wet locations. Warning! People with heart problems and especially those with pacemakers should not attempt electrical work, not even low-voltage repairs! Remember, it only takes a small amount of current to injure or kill someone, so beware.

Possible Solutions

OK, so you've determined the problem is inside your home, now what? Well, the answer may lie in the chart below.

Telephone Troubleshooting Problems And Solutions

Technical Tips
ProblemsCausesFixes
Buzzing on the lineIncorrect wiring or wires touching metalCheck for proper wire colors and connections
Static on the linePhone line wires wet or have loose connectionsCheck the wires and inside the phone jack covers for signs of moisture
No sound on the line; "dead air"Wire off, wire crossed, or wire is shorted to anotherCheck phone jacks to see if wires are touching each other; it is often bare wires touching