Should you reuse old coaxial cable?

You know that somewhere, probably in your garage, you have a pile of old cables. And if you’ve been in the home theater hobby long enough, that probably includes 15-20 coaxial cables of different types. Possibly more. You know it’s expensive and you don’t want to just toss it, so you keep it because you’re sure you’ll use it sooner or later. But is that really the best idea?

It really depends on the use. Over-the-air antennas are actually really tolerant of old or low-quality cable. If you’re cutting the cord those old cables will save you some money and they’ll probably work just fine.

Satellite TV use is quite a different thing, though. While antenna TV sits down below 700MHz, satellite is just getting started at 950MHz and some satellite signals are up around 2150MHz. The higher the frequency that’s being transmitted through the cable, the better the cable needs to be in order to make it work. An older cable could have signs of corrosion, it could have been bent in the past, or it the connectors could be loose. If it’s been outside there could be water damage, even if you don’t see it.

If you’re using a cellular signal booster, it’s not as picky as a satellite system even though it uses similar frequencies. That’s because there just isn’t as much data going down the cable. Still, old cable can create signal loss which is going to make your antenna less effective. After all the point of a cell booster is to improve the signal, not cut it down!

Personally when I do a satellite project I always use brand new cable for the long runs. Short runs from a splitter might get some “recycled” cable if I think it’s in good shape, but I always put on new connectors. I know connectors are made out of metal and they don’t “wear out” but they do get corroded or tarnished, and the foam dielectric does degrade if exposed to air. At the very least if you are reusing cable in a satellite system you should take off 3-5″ from the ends and put on brand new cables.

If you have really old cable that doesn’t conform to the RG-6 standard, it’s ok for antenna connections but really you have no business even having it at this point. RG-59 cable was very popular in the 1980s but it has higher loss and lower shielding than RG-6 cable and at this point you have to wonder why you’re still holding onto it.

If the cable doesn’t have a standard “F” connector it might not be usable at all. Check the outside of the cable to see if it is RG-6 cable. It might be RG-8 or some other cable which simply won’t work for satellite, antenna, or home cell booster. Just putting a new connector on won’t help the fact that this cable isn’t designed for the systems you’re connecting it to. (Hint: If you’re not sure what kind of cable you have, simply type every word and number you have into Google and chances are you’ll be able to find out.)

So, look. I’m into recycling as much as anyone and it’s a shame to let good copper go into the landfill when it’s so expensive. But at the same time, you want to make sure you have good connections and that means you need cables that are up to the task. Using new cables, or at the very least using new connectors on old cables, is one way to make sure you don’t get stuck with problems later on.