My wife and I are preparing to sell our home and are discovering some weird things. Our home was built in 1958, so it is older. We found this in a corner that had some furniture in front of it.

We are wondering

  1. What kind of wiring is this?
  2. Is it safe to handle or remove?

mystery cord

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    "Our home was built in 1958, so it is older." Bless :) My parents' house dates to the 17th century. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 21 '16 at 12:54
  • Wow, that's incredible! And here I've thought we've been living in an old house. – Josh Anderson Slate Oct 21 '16 at 13:10
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    @Jo​​​​​​​​​​​​shua: By usual standards over here, 1958 is not "old" in the slightest. :) In fact, to quote the government's housing survey 2008: "One in five (21%) dwellings were built before 1919 although three quarters of these older dwellings have been subject to at least some major alterations since they were built and 43% have had extensions or loft conversions added. Dwellings built after 1990 accounted for just 12% of the stock." Cool, huh! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 21 '16 at 13:44
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    All you need is a rotary dial phone to complete the setup. :-) – Stonetip Oct 21 '16 at 15:47
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit That'd be me. 1889 and the bathroom was clearly an afterthought as the end room of the house with basement under it is the kitchen, and then beyond that is the bathroom latching on over a hastily built crawl space. – coburne Oct 21 '16 at 19:34

That is a wired telephone junction block. The wire coming through the wall may very well be where the original land line entered the house from outside. The other wire is probably going off to some phone jack in another part of the house.

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  • If it were me, I'd probably shorten the cord and move the box up over the hole (or get a new box) for a cleaner look. There are no safety concerns here but if you reconnect things make sure you know where each wire goes as they may not be color coded or not in the same way. – JimmyJames Oct 21 '16 at 14:19
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    If the line is live there is a low voltage, so I think that the comment to get a new box is a good one. Maybe not wire it but put electrical tape over the ends. The shock you will get is very minor, unless you put it on your tongue, which I tried once when I was 12 or 13 :) – Joe Oct 21 '16 at 14:59
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    Another reason for a box: Our phones stopped working. It turned out some uncovered wires in a spare room had been shorted while moving stuff around. – Keith McClary Oct 21 '16 at 15:41

A few things to add to the other answer

  1. It was probably an older 4-pin jack that went there. This was the forerunner for the modern (and considerably more compact) RJ-11 jack you would recognize. Interestingly enough, the wiring hasn't changed, just the jack. You can actually get adapters for them since some houses still have them
  2. Even though these are low voltage, be aware that if you have copper landline service, these wires are energized with just enough voltage that it can give you a bit of a jolt. It's not anything serious, but I would just be aware that can happen (especially since it has no cover). Pets and kids are the only worry there (it can scare them).
  3. If you want to neaten this up just buy a low voltage gang (orange box without a back that looks like this). Remove the old plate on the baseboard, cut a hole around the wires, add the gang, and install a modern RJ-11 plate over the top. Shouldn't cost more than $10 tops and it will help with the presentation of the room.
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    While by code telephone is "low voltage", the voltage are actually pretty high, 48 V DC while idle, with an additional 90 V AC when ringing. Can deliver a painful/harmful poke, depending on how you're (inadvertently) wiring yourself into the circuit. Because the wires in the block are separated, the worst-case of someone grabbing either side of the pair with opposite hands is more likely. Definitely cover up loose terminals if you have kids/pets. – Nick T Oct 21 '16 at 20:59

This is the remains of a landline telephone junction box. It is missing the front cover, and would have looked similar to the picture in Machavity's answer.

There is a small chance that this is still live. You can test this by checking the voltage by using a multimeter. Take the 2 leads of the volt meter and connect them to the 2 wires coming out of the wall. In telecommunications jargon, these wires are known as the ring and tip. The green wire is the tip, and the red is the ring. The tip and ring corresponds to the old style phone jacks that telephone operators used in manual switchboards. They are similar to modern headphone jacks, but were mono.

It is fairly safe to leave this as is, but since you are remodeling, it would be a good idea to either replace it with new wiring even if you don't plan on using it. The wire you should use is known as Category (Cat) 3 wire. It is fairly inexpensive, and can be bought in bulk from home improvement stores. You will also need a telephone jack. Disconnect the wire from the old jack, and securely tie a piece of string to it. Then see if you can pull the wire from the other side. It may not be attached to the framing inside of the wall, so it should just pull out. You can use the string to pull the new wire through the original hole, so you don't have to do any drilling. Cat 3 wire has 4 wires, but you only will need to connect the red and green wires to the jack. This should be clearly marked on the jack. The rest of the wires won't be used. You can simply fold them back inside of the jack.

If the other end of the wire is not connected, you can just coil up the end of the wire and wrap it with electrical tape to keep it out of the way. That way, it would be easy to hook it up in the future. If it is connected at the other end, hook up the new wire exactly the same way as the old.

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    Cat 3 has 4 wires -- newer telecom/datacom cables like Cat 5 and up add the other 4 – ThreePhaseEel Oct 21 '16 at 22:26

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