A 1920’s Doorbell Is Upgraded With 2010’s Technology


When you move into an old house, you are bound to have some home repairs in your future. [Ben] discovered this after moving into his home, built in 1929. The house had a mail slot that was in pretty bad shape. The slot was rusted and stuck open, it was covered in old nasty caulk, and it had a built-in doorbell that was no longer functional. [Ben] took it upon himself to fix it up.

The first thing on the agenda was to fix the doorbell. After removing the old one, [Ben] was able to expose the original cloth-insulated wiring. He managed to trace the wires back to his basement and, to his surprise, they seemed to be functional. He replaced the old doorbell button with a new momentary button and then hooked up a DIY doorbell using an XBee radio. [Ben] already had an XBee base station for his Raspberry Pi, so he was wrote a script that could send a notification to his phone whenever the doorbell was pushed.

Unfortunately, the old wiring just didn’t hold up. The push button only worked sporadically. [Ben] ended up purchasing an off the shelf wireless doorbell. He didn’t want to have to stick the included ugly plastic button onto the front of his house though, so [Ben] had to figure out how to trigger the new doorbell using the nice metallic button. He used the macro lens on his iPhone to follow the traces on the PCB until he was able to locate the correct points to trigger the doorbell. Then it was just a matter of a quick soldering job and he had a functional doorbell.

Once the electronics upgrades were complete, he moved on to fixing up the look of the mail slot. He had to remove the rust using a wire brush and sandpaper. Then he gave it a few coats of paint. He replaced the original natural insulation with some spray foam, and removed all the old nasty caulk. The final product looks as good as new and now includes a functional wireless doorbell.

We’re big fans of salvaging old-school home hardware. Another example that comes to mind is this set of door chimes with modernized driver.

12 thoughts on “A 1920’s Doorbell Is Upgraded With 2010’s Technology

  1. My parent house had some cloth covered wires surrounded by now semi-liquid rubber. When the foundation stones in an old shed show 18xx as their build date, you come to expect weirdness like lead plumbing pipes!

  2. There is a reason some of those old houses held up. I’m not saying that those are energy efficient standards, but that foam insulation will hold more moisture and not last as long as that old natural insulation. The gases that created the foam and the chemicals released as it cured aren’t something you’d want hanging around either. Something we don’t have yet are good techniques and practices for environmentally sound and energy efficient restoration techniques. The white stuff on the mailbox may have been lead oxide.

  3. I had a house with a mail slot. The postal carrier would put my mail in my house. It was really cool. Though I guess having a slot in the wall was a little weird at first.

    Nowdays, they’re trying to remove indivial street mailboxes for groups of boxes down the road. Even disabled people have trouble getting permission to move their mailboxes up close to their homes.

    1. In the UK nearly everyone has a letter box like this – they’re usually in the middle of the front door since its easier to have a hole in the door than the wall!

      Doesn’t the US mailbox (the type I see in movies with the little flag) make it easy to steal someone’s letters?

      Punishing the person receiving the letter to save costs seems a little backwards, just make them more expensive to send. If someone wanted to pick up their mail they’d get a PO box!

      1. It is easier for someone to steal your letters and that’s why it’s a federal offense to mess with the US Mail system and why the curb side mailbox is considered post office property once you put it in place.

        My house is in the USA and it still has a mail slot in the door.

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