Tuesday, July 15, 1986

Telephone wiring

July 1986

The first change I made to the house was to install a patch panel or switch box in the garage for the telephone lines. We had two lines coming in -- the assumption was that we would probably need one for a phone line and another for a computer modem. We had 5 phone outlets in various rooms in the house -- one in the kitchen, another in the living room, the office, the master bath, and the "computer room". Since we didn't know what lines would be needed or used for what, I wanted both lines to come to one place and then be able to redirect them to any of the 5 phone jacks in the house.

At the time, there really wasn't much available to do this. Now, you can get complete systems at Home Depot (among other places) which provide a complete wiring panel. But even now, these units are expensive and rather limited in what they can do.

What I did was to get just a metal box -- like the box that the circuit breakers are in -- and attach it to the garage wall. I ran the two incoming lines down and attached them to two of the standard phone jacks. These are small square units with an RJ-11 jack in the middle of the face. This allowed me to run a patch cord from the incoming line to an outgoing line. It is fairly easy to get a small bar with one incoming line and 5 outgoing jacks, which makes it easy then to run one incoming line to up to 5 outgoing lines.

This worked for 10 years or so, but after the divorce, Leanne moved in, and wanted a phone in her bedroom. Jeanne had insisted that there would be no phones in the children's bedrooms, so no lines had been run to the bedrooms (except for the master bedroom). I could run the lines to the bedrooms, and install the outlets in the rooms, but there was no room in the patch panel box for the extra lines. So, temporarily, to get things working, I just tapped into the line in the attic and let it go with that.

Later, after Leanne moved out, my daughter Kathryn moved into the back bedroom and wanted her own phone line. That was not difficult, since we had provisions for two lines to come into the house, but Kat really wanted to be able to answer both her own line and the line for the rest of the family. She bought a two line phone, but I needed to run additional wire for the second line.

And we needed extra lines for a new computer in the dining room, and by the TV and to the kitchen counters. And it was difficult to label the plugs so we knew which was which. With 4 bedrooms, we could label the plugs "Bedroom 2" and "Bedroom 3", but which was which?

So clearly, I needed a better patch panel. We lived with this until I replaced it with a better design in 2007.

The solution I currently have is to paste a copy of the floor plan of the house -- clearly showing which room is which, -- on to a piece of plywood. The floor plan is about 2 feet by 3 feet in size. I marked on the floor plan the position of each telephone outlet. Then I drilled a hole at each of these points. I mounted the floor plan in the attic, and ran the actual wires to each of the corresponding holes, thru the hole and to an RJ-11 jack. Doing the same for each of the two incoming lines, and then running them to a 1-to-5 distribution bar.

Now it is easy to make up little patch cables and run a patch cable from the incoming distribution bar to the plug for any of the lines in the house. And I can easily tell exactly what line is where -- no need for knowing which is "Bedroom 2" and which is "Bedroom 3", or if the phone on the counter between the kitchen and the living room is a kitchen phone ("Kitchen 1" or "Kitchen 2"?) or is a Living room phone.

The cost of this was fairly minor. Fourteen RJ-11 jacks. These are somewhat hard to find now, but I believe I got them at Radio Shack. The plywood backing. The copy of the floor plan. The tool for making patch cables. The real cost, of course, over time, was the wire to run from the attic to all the rooms in the house and the boxes and outlets for the phones.

$98.37 in 1986.

Initial purchase

The house at 10601 Barker Ridge Cove was built to order. At the time Jeanne and Jim were married, with two children. Their previous house (706 Harris Avenue) was only a two bedroom house, and the children were to the point where they needed their own rooms. So Jeanne started looking for a bigger house.

She found a house she liked -- a newly built house -- but it was on a busy street, so we arranged to have it built on a different lot, on a cul-de-sac. The lot was bought on 5 Nov 1985 ($50,000) and we contracted to have the house built on 20 Nov 1985. The contract for the house was basically to build the same house layout, but with some changes:

1. All hardwood floors (no carpet). This was to try to help with seasonal allergies.

2. 2x6 exterior walls (not 2x4 construction). This to increase the amount of insulation that could be put in the exterior walls.

There were a number of change orders during the construction -- at least 4 -- that were meant to improve the bathroom and kitchen fixtures and such. These cost about 10,000 above the contract price, and were paid directly to the builder during construction.

We closed on the house on 15 July 1986. At closing, we had borrowed $200,000 at 8.5% interest. The total cost of the house, including the lot, was $280,057.08.

I have a complete file folder covering the building itself, but, at least for now, that is another story altogether. The construction was mostly adequate, but not outstanding. Although the builder was a "custom builder", he really did not understand how to build a really quality house -- he just repeated the same old things he had always done. His ability to communicate with his customer was marginal. All in all, he was, at best, a mediocre builder.

The result is a pretty good house, but with some serious drawbacks. The house is too low -- it's built on the side of a hill, with the asphalt of the cove above the house, so you look down on the house from the street. This makes it difficult to bring in better dirt for the front lawn, since there is not sufficient clearance between the top of the yard and the top of the slab. If the ground level were to be higher, dirt would be against the stone wall of the house, which would increase the risk of termites and other bugs in the walls. The slab should have been an extra foot thick, which would make the house a foot taller. This would improve the view from the street and allow more, better soil in the front.

It would also have allowed the hot water pipes -- which go thru the slab -- to be insulated. I asked for them to be insulated before the slab was poured, but the builder argued that the lost space would make the slab too thin where the hot water pipes would be, and increase the risk of the slab cracking (at some point).

A thicker slab would also have helped limit the small amount of settling that we have experienced.

There are other design improvements that could be made. Two of the bathrooms are against the exterior walls. Simply flipping the layout left-to-right in these bathrooms would have put the plumbing (water supply lines) inside the house, rather than on the exterior wall, and would have eliminated the yearly concern over the pipes freezing in the winter.

The house is nearly 3000 square feet. While that has been fine with two children, we chose a one-story design, in part, to allow us to grow old in the house. But without the children, the house is probably too big for just the two of us, and it is not easy to shut off the unused wing of the house.

But, all in all, the house has worked quite well over the years. I would like to think that the changes I have made over those years have improved it.