Troubleshooting Your Landline Phone
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Troubleshooting Your Landline Phone

Last night your phone worked fine, but today there is static or no tone at all. Before throwing it out the window, there are a few things you can try on your own in the hopes of not having to call your service carrier for an expensive visit. The easiest thing to do is to make sure all phones in the house have been hung up and are in their cradles. If they are, and there is still no dial tone, try these troubleshooting tips:

First, go outside and look for the box about 6 feet up on the side of your home. There should be either a beige or white box in plain sight that has wires running from it into your home. Some boxes simply slide off; others will require a screwdriver to remove them.

Once you have the cover open, take a corded phone that does not need a power pack and look for a phone outlet inside the box. Some boxes only have one outlet, while others may have up to four – especially if you have FIOS. The one with four will have one outlet labeled 1 and a test plug. The one labeled 1 is for POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service, and is the one you want to try first.

Plug your “old-timey” corded, non-electric phone into the outlet and press the on/off or Talk key. If you get a dial tone, the problem is inside your house, because the signal is making it from the phone company through the pole wire to your home.

Your next step is to go back into the house and unplug every single phone. Try plugging the phone you took outside into each jack to see if you get a dial tone. If you get all but one of the jacks to work, you can figure out which one does not. That phone jack will need to be repaired. If you feel comfortable checking the wiring at the jack yourself, see this diagram. If not, you can still try a few more things.

It is possible that you had a power surge and simply unplugging the power source on each phone for 10 seconds will reboot your power on each phone. Try the phones again. You may have to switch out phone cords as well. If the one jack that didn’t work before still doesn’t work, you can either check the wiring and replace it yourself, or call your service carrier or an electrician.

If none of these tips work, you probably have a short and have two options at this point: you can plug in the “old-timey” phone outside again, and call your service carrier, tell them all you have tried, and see if they can check your lines from their center or just request an expensive service call which is usually $90-100 bucks for the first 30 minutes of labor. If you have FIOS, you will need to plug into the outlet labeled “test”.

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Comments (11)

A very good article. The advice that you offered on troubleshooting a landline telephone problem was right on the money but the DIY approach to troubleshooting a POTS could be taken a great deal further. What reading your Factoid has really done for me is to inspire me to write my own factoid on installing and troubleshooting telephone wiring systems. The one thing that I want to mention here is that most telephone service cxarriers offer a repair service policy which only adds a couple of dollars a month to your phone bill. With the service policy the telephone service provider will send a tech to your house to repair any problem no matter which side of the demarcation point or network block it is on at no charge to the customer. In my area the phone company charges customers $100 to repair problems on the customer's side of the demarcation block but for those with a service policy there is no charge. For $26 a year that pretty good peace of mind for someone who isn't comfortable working with electricity. I've given you a thumbs up on this one.

Thanks for the comment and the thumbs up, Mr. Wizard. It means a lot coming from you, your articles are informative and interesting...and you're right, there is a plan for most carriers to take care of your inside wiring.

Margaret Prepost

I did everything you suggested including replacing the wall jack and I still get stactic on any phone I connect to that jack. No static on any other jack in the house with any phone. Is there something else you can suggest?

gale brown

My landline phone quit ringing. I get a dial tone and the phone calls out. Of course my answer machine will not work either. No static. Checked everything out. Now what??????????

Jim Mc Nulty

I have the same problem as Gale Brown. Anybody got a solution for this?




Having weird phone issues here on landline. We just had a severe windstorm Dec 1st, 2011 southern California, San Gabriel Valley. Power was going off & on from 8pm -10pm & DSL modem & adapter powered landline phones were trying to switch on/off so shut breaker box off. Suspect surge might of messed up either outside lines, phones & or dsl modem & the inside lines. So far though can call out only & the dial tone on phone was spotty going on or off & w/ only static sometimes. The strange thing is the DSL that goes over phone line is working just fine. Disconnected power adapters to phone 2 phones & waited 10 min & recconected but using my cell phone to call in, still landline phone not ringing, just static or only one ring & cell says busy, call suspended by network ######, on the landline sometimes. Will disconnect the dsl & filters to see if that is the issue, then connect phones direct.

ATT guy came & said it was the outside lines are ok but inside something is short circuited & wanted $100 per hour. Just can't afford & wouldn't you know it just cancelled my wire pro this year to save more monies,lol. Crazy wind storm has everything messed up but hope to figure out whats up w/ incoming calls & static.

Cheers, David

There could be a number of different causes for your problem. I think that we can safely eliminate the wiring between the demarcation block, the point where the outside writing ends and the interior wiring begins. the phone company's responsibility for free service ends at the demarcation block. The demarcation block or interface network is indise that gray colored box on the outside of your house. The first thing that I would do is double check to see if there really isn't a problem with the telephone company's wiring. to do that,open up your side of that gray box. Once you ope up the box, you should be able to unplug the house side of the wiring and plug a known good phone directly into the telephone company's wiring.. If you can then receive call normally, make call normally, have a good strong dial tone, and the connection is static free, the problem is indeed on your side if the interface. If, on the other hand the problem still exists when you have connected directly to the outgoing wiring and the house side has been disconnected, the problem is on the outside wiring. If the the phones worked normally before the storm, I feel safe in saying that there is no short in your interior wiring.Shorts on phone wiring don't happen that way. Granted if there had been a lot of lightening strikes, it is possible that a strike could have punctured the insulation and shorted the wiring, but that kind of strike would probably have set your house on fire. I am more inclined to think that you have a bad telephone or a bad DSL filter. I have had this problem and it turned out to be a phone with an internal short. Here's what you need to do: 1. Disconnect all the telephones and disconnect all the in-line DSL filters. 2. Using a telephone that you know to be good (buy an inexpensive one at the home center. It is always a good idea to have a spare on hand anyway.) and a new DSL filter, plug it into the jack furthest from the point where the wiring enters your home. If this phone works normally, your wiring is OK and the problem lies with one or more of the original phones and/or DSL filters. 3. Plug in the remaining telephones and DSL filters one at a time until the problem returns. When the problem returns, junk that phone and filter because it probably was damaged by a power surge,. Hope that this helps.

Jerry, thanks for the extra info on your latest comment...were you a phone repair man in an earlier life,? just kidding. ***One more thing that might be worth looking at is the MHz of the phones themselves. If you have several models in your home, this might cause static. The MHz or GHz number is on the front or back. Sometimes, clicking the "channel" button on some models can also help align the signals and clear up static as well.


Hi Jerry,

After I posted I turned off computer & dsl & removed cordless from the 2nd & secondary jack & removed the dsl filter, I reconnected the phone line cable from dsl unit to jack & turned on dsl router. Used cell to call & voila, the main phone rang w/ no static. I must have been the cordless phone that fried as it was the only electrical unit I hooked directly to house outlet & everything else was on 6 strip w/ breaker.

This rare but intense wind storm had us w/o power 3 days 19hours & had gone off/on/off 7times that night before I just turned off all power on the wall breaker. Was woken by bright flash later that early morn 2am went outside cautiously to see transformer on pole flashing & high voltage distribution wire blowing about in wind & arcing at breakage point. Luckily even though it was blowing under car & near, it left only 10 burn marks on pavement. Earlier during this had seen from safe vantage point, where wire passed through chinese elm, it was pointedly lighting up like X-mas tree. It didn't ignite & thankfully power blacked out. Take electricity for granted but now respect it even more. Thanks Jerry again for your documenting & support here.

Cheers, David

Southern Calif, San Gabriel Valley

@Sharla--No, I wasn't a phone technician in an earlier life, I just have a degree in electrical engineering. What you say about telephone base station that operate on different frequency band interfering with one another is true but if that had been David's problem, he would have had the problem before the intense storm he experienced. He reported the problem starting after the storm. For that reason I saw no need to mention the possibility of harmonic distortion as the cause of the static.