Telephone wires

Many Seattle folks have older homes. The housing stock inside city limits was built quite a long time ago when we experienced the greatest economic boom and developed large patterns of density. Slowly, neighborhoods were defined and remain visible today. If you are like us, your home could be approaching 100 years old – which is quite a marvel! I will say I am continually awe-inspired by the amount of history in the bones of the house – a topic I spend time dreaming about by wondering what the previous owners did and imagining their lives inside the house. The best part is seeing clues around the house, like where things were added on and changed. The physical changes locking in aspects of history in the construction.



This post is about old telephone lines because I did much research on them as of late. I am currently insulating our crawl space and noticed some tiny wires that look like string and couldn’t possibly carry a load with their fragility. They were beautifully candy stripped – swirls of red and cream or green and cream were dangling all about. They are fairly intrusive in the basement, like dense cobwebs lining walls and hanging from beams. Once I started really diving in, I developed a sensitivity to their appearance, noticing there were quite a large amount of these wires around and wondered how to remove them. This is what I want to share with you today.

I traced their origin to a wonderful antique gem:

telephone box


This is known as the ‘Network Interface Device’ and is where the service lines from the utility outside enter your home. This is where the responsibility transfers from the telephone company to you as homeowner. Ours happens to be a very old version of the service box with numerous branch wires from decades of use. Most homes are similar to ours, many lines have been pulled over the years to service each room, left in place even after years of inactivity. Now that many people do not use landlines, these lines have become obsolete. I have seen the argument for keeping these lines with the logic that we may not know how they would be of use again, but I think this is not very practical. The fact is, you can pull all the lines out of your house very easily and still keep the Network Interface installed. There is no harm in leaving this box in your wall with the utility lines remaining connected, but the internal wiring removed on the inside and if a future need arises, you can re-wire any of the lines you had previously.


Most houses are wired with the ability to have 2 landlines, with 4 wires (2 per line). This means that you could have 2 different numbers from the telephone company or one telephone line and one fax line. To distinguish between lines, a color coded system is used. Most primary lines should have a red and green wire followed by typically a black and yellow wire for the second line.  You can see from the photo above this was the primary line showing the green and red candy cane striped wire. A pair of wires per line is needed to complete the circuit. They are referred to as the ‘ring’ and the ‘tip’, harking back to the days when the operator physically pulled the tip of the wire out and put it in place to connect the incoming call. Red is typically the ring and green is the tip if the installer did it correctly. Same with the ‘bumblebee’ or halloween pair, the yellow is the ring and the black is the tip.

The way they are wired after connecting to the network interface (NID or just simply, the box) is either by a star configuration or a daisy-chaining method. The daisy chaining method allows you to hook up to the primary wire and branch other wires off of it, while the star configuration uses one pair of wires per jack. Every time you want a different room to have a telephone jack, you create a new route to it by installing a pair of wires from the box to the jack, each having its own designated, uninterrupted route.

This is just a small bundle of wires I gathered from the basement after we clipped some lines in the basement:


IMG_2330 IMG_2347

The jacks were first taken out of the wall and the wire pulled from the basement and unscrewed at their wiring post (the connection in the box). I plan on keeping these things and doing a small art installation with them to pay homage to the old ways of construction and as physical memories of the previous owner. If we ever do need a landline again, we still have utility lines running to our box and can easily install a new pair of wires and run it back through all the same holes that will be there from the originally wire routes.

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