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We moved into a new house and I see these cables in our garage. They come from the ceiling and are right near our water heater and breaker panel. There are 2 cables. One cable is labeled “System to House” and the other is labeled “Back to Main”. One of the cable jackets says that it’s CAT-5e cable, but this doesn’t look like any Ethernet cable that I’ve ever seen, especially with those weird things on the end (LEDs, sensors?)

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Any idea what these are?

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    Cat-5e isn't necessarily Ethernet, it's just a specific type of cable and Ethernet is the most well known use for it.
    – user253751
    Dec 24, 2018 at 3:22
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    Thermostat wiring? You'll have to trace the cables to get the correct answer.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 24, 2018 at 14:17
  • Since only 2 wires are spliced its not Ethernet, could be voice or alarm, when I have built homes I dropped lines in every room including garrage several I even left multiple drops in the attic for cameras
    – Ed Beal
    Dec 24, 2018 at 18:02
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    The connectors in the photo are most commonly used by phone company personnel, and are not readily available in your neighborhood hardware store or home center. So my first guess would be that this is plain vanilla phone wiring.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 25, 2018 at 4:09
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    They are most used by phone company personnel but the most definitely are available at home centers homedepot.com/p/… Dec 25, 2018 at 6:43

6 Answers 6

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I can't quite be sure from the picture, but the red things are each joined to a wire from one of the two cables, right? If so, they're just splices, like wire nuts but for this kind of wiring.

So, this part doesn't tell us much about the purpose of the wiring. It could be any kind of signaling cable, though having the wires untwisted like that (and having only two connected, even) would not work for high-speed Ethernet.

It could be a telephone line (likely, except the labels seem a bit odd for that), part of a security system, or some kind of home automation. You will need to find the other ends of the cables to learn what they're used for.

If there are cables elsewhere that might be these but you aren't sure, you can get a "tone and probe" kit to send a signal on one of the unused wire pairs of one of the cables and wave the probe around other ends (or even through a wall) to detect where it runs.

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Those red things are a 3M Skotchlok or equivalent, which is a water-resistant (gel filled) way of joining small wires. Very common in the telecoms industry, though they don't work particularly well at high frequencies.

Especially as only one pair (two wires) is joined, this is almost certainly a joint in your telephone line.

Cat5e and similar is often used for telephone line - it is almost the same price as older Cat3 cable, can easily be converted to Ethernet usage in future, and can provide better performance when used for things like VDSL.

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As other answers have pointed out the things on the end are "jelly crimps" typically used to join phone wiring. The fact that exactly one pair is connected also suggests this is phone related, network or alarm systems will usually have more than two wires in use.

My guess would be that the previous owner had some kind of telephone related equipment* installed at that location between the incoming line from the telco ("back to main") and the wiring to the phones in the house ("system to house") and that when he removed his equipment he spliced the wires together so the phones would work.

* Maybe a filter for a DSL modem, maybe a fax machine, maybe a VOIP gateway, maybe a full-on PBX.

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These could also be for HVAC. I installed a cat5e net for a client once only to have another contractor use it for his HVAC cabling. Populated my punch downs and everything. We were all furious but we learned that twisted-pair telephone wire is used in a lot of applications we don’t realize.

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    That HVAC guy needs to be fired. They're meant to use 18ga for a reason - relays draw current and voltage drop over CAT5e can be significant.
    – J...
    Dec 24, 2018 at 13:08
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Those red things are simply splices. If you look they are connecting or "splicing" the two wires there.

Now what do those wires do?
Probably a phone line. Do you have wired phone jacks in your house? If you do, then I'd be 90% sure that is a phone line.

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  • A phone line in the garage seems odd, doesn't it?
    – Joe
    Dec 24, 2018 at 16:00
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    @Joe, not if you have a workshop in the garage. They're not common, but I've seen houses with phones in the garage before. Of course, hard-wiring phones is becoming more and more odd in the first place. Darn cell phones! Dec 24, 2018 at 17:38
  • @JBH I guess... i'm just not old enough :) I do think ethernet might make sense nowadays, but that's obviously not ethernet given the rest of whatnot up there.
    – Joe
    Dec 24, 2018 at 18:17
  • @Joe, I understand. Frankly, I just finished remodeling my house. No hard telephone line but I did include network connections. Looking back on it, I wish I'd ignored those, too. Wireless has become so ubiquitous.... Dec 24, 2018 at 18:18
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Might as well pop in to give my 2¢ on this, since I'm actually doing home renovation right now, and have asked these same questions.

As others have said, yes, it's definitely Cat-5E cable, for real. You just don't recognize it because it's most likely plenum-riser in-wall rated cabling meant for long runs with solid-core wiring. Most of what consumers touch is stranded UTP—stranded, unshielded twisted-pair, rather than solid. Meant for patch cabling, not punchdowns or wall terminations.

I'm sure OP has either figured it out by now or given up, but as to the purpose of the cable? Well, only 2 lines were used, running directly to the water heater, and connected to mysterious "other" cables using waterproof Lok-Tite fasteners. I'd wager this was either a hookup to the home environmental controls to read the state of the water heater (i.e. a basic built-in binary switch) or part of an integrated home automation, monitoring, or security system. Possibly some combo depending on the contractor.

As to why this type of cable? Like others have pointed out…it's easy. Why save $5 when you then have to deal with 7 different types of cabling? Home networking? Cat-5E. Phone lines? Cat-5E. Security system? I kid you not, my house uses Cat-5E. For the reed sensors in the door frames. If they could've used it for power and COAX, I bet they would've.

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  • STP is often used for shielded twisted pair, which is a bit of a different beast Nov 12, 2021 at 1:35
  • @ThreePhaseEel You are absolutely correct. That's what I get for answering late at night, without editing, and on my phone to boot! Unfortunately I don't know what acronym "stranded" would use, as none of the online guides even mention it for cable printing. I guess it's just assumed that "wiggly = stranded" 😂. Nov 15, 2021 at 22:36

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