Examine your phone equipment for damage

If you're having problems with your service, examine your phone handsets, cords and jacks. Next, verify other equipment in your home isn't interfering with your phone service. Ultimately, you're trying to figure out the extent of the problem. For instance, are ALL your phones affected? Is signal getting to your home? As you inspect your phone equipment, you may be able to isolate and solve the problem without having to submit a repair request.

Step 1: Check your phone handsets

If you're experiencing service problems, troubleshoot the easiest thing first . your phone.

  • Look closely at the buttons on your phones' keypads. Are any of numbers stuck, or do you have reason to believe the handset could be malfunctioning? If so, try a different telephone.
  • Confirm all your phones are hung up firmly. Yes, this sounds obvious, but sometimes a receiver can be oh-so-slightly ajar. It only takes a few moments to go around the house and re-hang up each receiver. Wait a moment, and see if the problem is corrected.
  • Double check your phone's ringer. Were you looking for peace and quiet, turned OFF the ringer and then forgot about it? Is it possible a child's been playing with the phone and accidentally turned the ringer OFF?
  • Determine if your cordless phone is causing drama. Read Improve your cordless phone's performance for recommendations.

Tip: Do you have more than 4 phones -- as well as maybe some other random equipment -- plugged into jacks around your house? It's possible that you've exceeded your line's load capacity (REN). Unplug all the phones and devices from their jacks. One by one plug each back in. When you notice the problem again, you'll know that you've reached your phone line's maximum load capacity. 

Step 2: Examine your phone cords

Verify your phone cords are in good condition, and remember damage isn't always super obvious. You may need to move things to find the problem. Check behind furniture and in hard-to-reach places. 

You're looking for:

  • Cuts, cracks and/or chew marks
  • Loose wiring or connectors

Phone cords can be damaged in a variety of ways:

  • Furniture rearranging
  • Construction, repair and/or remodeling 
  • Pets - cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, hamsters
  • Rodents - mice, squirrels, bats

Even small nicks and cuts can cause intermittent dial tone and calls to falter. Running your fingers along the phone cord will help you feel damage that might be hard to see. Replace any damaged phone cords/wiring that you can get to.

Depending on the location of the problem, trouble with your inside wiring can affect 1 or all your phones.  If you stumble upon bigger wiring issues, read How to get phone wiring and jacks repaired.

Step 3: Inspect your phone jacks

Visually inspect each jack -- looking for obvious, physical damage. Next, try to isolate which -- if any -- jacks are malfunctioning by figuring out if they're in service. 

Hardware inspection

  1. Grab a flashlight and carefully inspect each jack in your home. You should be able to clearly see each one's gold pins. If you don't -- say, they're blue, green, black or smoky -- you've likely found a problem.
  2. There could be more than one jack that's not working. If you find one, continue to check for others -- moving furniture if necessary to get to them all. 

Tip: Pay particular attention to jacks that could be exposed to moisture. Condensation from water (and/or exposure to the ammonia in pet urine) can cause copper contacts to corrode. 

Next, check that each jack is operating properly -- starting with any jacks that look suspect.

Service inspection

  1. Unplug all your phones from their jacks. (If you're using a cordless phone, unplug the base(s) from the electrical outlet as well.)

    If you have any other equipment that uses a jack -- satellite receivers, computer modems, caller id boxes, fax machines, answering machines and alarm/security systems --unplug it too. 
  2. After you've unplugged all your equipment, wait 1 minute and then plug a simple, corded phone into each outlet. Testing 1 jack at a time, you should hear a clear, strong dial tone when you test each outlet. If you don't, make a note of which outlets don't seem to be working and what you heard when you tested them with the corded phone.

If all your jacks have clear, strong dial tone, the problem is probably with your phone. Try replacing it.  

If your dial tone is faint or intermittent, make a note of which outlets don't seem to be working and what you heard when you tested them with your corded phone. Next, read How to get phone wiring and jacks repaired.

IMPORTANT: If you don't have dial tone on any of your phones/jacks, figure out whether the problem is happening inside or outside your home. This will tell you if signal is reaching your home or not.

Step 4: Expand your search to other equipment

Sometimes your phone equipment isn't the source of your phone problems. Occasionally, other seemingly random home equipment interferes with your service.

Other equipment:

  • Satellite TV receivers
  • Computer modems
  • Caller id boxes
  • Fax machines
  • Alarm/security systems

Basically, any piece of equipment plugged into your phone jacks can act as an antenna and pick up CB or AM/FM broadcasting station frequencies.

Typical symptoms:

  • Noise on the line
  • Cross talk/other conversations
  • Busy tone while talking
  • Intermittent dial tone

To test your equipment:

  1. Unplug your phones from both their jacks and electrical outlets. 
  2. Unplug any other equipment that uses a jack. 
  3. After you've unplugged all your equipment, wait 1 minute and then plug a corded phone into each outlet -- testing one jack at a time. 

You should hear a clear, strong dial tone when you test each outlet. If you don't, make a note of which piece of equipment is plugged in and what you heard when you tested the outlet.

If you're finding interference but don't want to unplug the offending piece of equipment, try installing a radio suppresser or radio/noise filter on your line. This equipment is easy to install and can be purchased at most electronic stores.

Tip: If you don't have a fax machine but callers tell you they hear fax tones, the problem could be your satellite receiver. Try unplugging the receiver from the phone line and retesting. If the problem goes away, the issue is the receiver, and you need to contact your satellite TV provider to get it fixed.