My house and my Wifi hate each other.
September 4, 2008 4:28 PM   Subscribe

What evil in my house is making my WiFi coverage so crappy?

So, I recently installed a wireless network in my girlfriend's house. It's a small house, maybe, like, 1100 square feet? No problem, I thought.

The only real issue is that the cable modem + router + media center PC + home server + EVERYTHING ELSE is on one end of the house, and my girlfriend's office, with her sad, solitary desktop PC, is on the other end of the house.

I really wanted to just run an ethernet cable over to it, but I'm not extremely handy and there's no basement - just a very scary crawl space - and there's no attic, really, to speak of, and there are too many doors and other hurdles to just have it run along the floor.

The first version of a solution that I came up with was awful. I put a Linksys WRT54G running custom dd-wrt firmware in the office, set it up as a WiFi repeater, and she plugged into that, and it worked, mostly, but was slow, and known to be unreliable. The signal strength on the link was always awful.

So today I got annoyed with it and ran up to Best Buy and bought the biggest, fanciest, bad-assiest router I could find - a D-Link Gaming Router XL Super Pro Awesome Mega Supreme. I also bought a PCI WiFi card for the girlfriend's PC (Also a D-Link).

Well, God Dammit, this does not work. Even though the house is TINY, - even though, with my girlfriend's tiny feet, it takes 26 steps to walk from the router to the computer, signal strength is absolutely in the tank. It's like 1 bar. Maybe. Almost. Sometimes.

This really frustrates me. It's a small house. I've setup WiFi networks before and while the range is never super, it's not THIS bad. Additionally, I had the impression that with these new Draft-N behemoths with 39 internal antennas and three gigantic external antennas, reception was much improved. It's like there's something in the walls which is deadening it or something.

Are there any common household pitfalls to WiFi connectivity that could provide a simple solution to this?

I'm going insane.
posted by kbanas to Technology (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is the D-Link PCI card N too?
What the cordless phone situation?
Have you tried switching the wireless channel on the router to avoid possible interference?
posted by sharkfu at 4:34 PM on September 4, 2008

Is it an old house with super thick walls? I have cement/brick with plaster over them and my signal is a little risky.
posted by banannafish at 4:34 PM on September 4, 2008

It's a D-Link PCI N card, too. And, I have to tell you, the card looks like a beast. It has three gigantic antenna that shoot out the back of it.

We have a 5.8 Ghz Uniden cordless phone, so I don't think that's the deal.

It is an old, old house. Maybe that's it. I honestly have no idea what's in the walls, or how to find out what's in the walls.
posted by trinkatot at 4:43 PM on September 4, 2008

You could get some aluminum foil and make parabolic reflectors to increase the signal gain between the two antennas.
posted by Phssthpok at 4:45 PM on September 4, 2008

Best answer: I had the same problem, and here's what I found out:
The house I live in has lath-and-plaster walls, and at some point some of the walls were re-done using metal lath (think expansion grating) which basically turned those rooms into Faraday cages, so unless there was line-of-sight from the transmitter to the receiver there was no love. I tried boosters, I tried a hot-rodded cantenna cranked up high enough to cook bacon and got minimal improvement.

So I ran cable. Clunky, a bit of a PITA since I live in an apartment building and had to drill through walls (hooray for 24" drill bits!) and at one point hang off the fire escape drilling through an external wall with one hand (hooray for beer!).

My advice: run cable through the crawlspace. Drill the hole through the floor in the room where the computer is (close to a wall and between the joists; look for the rows of nails in the flooring to see where the joists are) and set up a bright light over the hole.

Put on some old clothes and a hat, maybe knee-pads and gloves too, and drag the CAT5(6) through the crawlspace toward the light from the hole, shove it up through the hole, and you should be set.
posted by dolface at 4:57 PM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

As Phssthpok said you could try a reflector added to your aerials.

In terms of 'common household pitfalls' - try to ensure the signal path avoids the bathroom and kitchen. Pipes full of water will kill your signal.
posted by pompomtom at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2008

Any cordless phones? I used to have some 2.4ghz phones that wreaked havoc on my Wifi.

As an alternative, you can buy flat ethernet cable and run that under the carpet over to where your equipment is. That was my route to hookup my HTPC/360/PS3 to the rest of my network.
posted by wongcorgi at 5:04 PM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: dolface, I both hate your answer (I hate spiders, and would rather cut off my own toes than go into the crawlspace) and love your answer (because, honestly, it's what I have to do - let's be honest with ourselves).


And, pompomtom, as I see it, the signal path goes right through the bathroom. I hate this house. I really hate it.
posted by kbanas at 5:05 PM on September 4, 2008

kbanas, it might be worth making a run by your local sporting goods store to pick up a head-net and mosquito-net jacket. They're cheap and will at least keep the spiders away from your skin and out of your clothes, and you won't have to feel any webs on your face.

Depending on how sealed-up you want to get, you can also duct-tape all the places where items of clothing meet for extra security (cuffs, waist, etc.).

Good luck!
posted by dolface at 5:17 PM on September 4, 2008

You might want to compare the distance you'd need to run the cable with the range of fishtape available at popular bigbox retailers (Home Depot, for example).
posted by gimonca at 6:15 PM on September 4, 2008

Just as another data point, I suspect that the house I live in is exactly the same way. I share wifi with my landlady downstairs. The router was probably 50 feet from my laptop and yet I had up and down signals and no signal at all from my iMac which was maybe 60 feet total from the router. I suspected the chimney and/or the garage door and/or something else which was probably the Faraday cage thing that dolface mentions. I went to their house and repositioned the router, literally moved it like 15 feet and now all is well because I think it only goes through the floor/celing, not the walls. I also moved it away from the 2.4ghz phone which I think was a problem. Depending where you live, you could probably get someone to string cable for you. If I lived near you, I'd do it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on September 4, 2008

Router <> TCP/IP over electrical mains <> Wifi in the distant office.
posted by orthogonality at 8:13 PM on September 4, 2008

I've run cable under crawlspace-only houses without needing to put my body into the crawlspace. Which has been very good in a couple of cases, given the relative sizes of these two things.

The magic tools are a bright torch, fishing line, stiff wires to make hooks, duct tape, and one of those extensible steel tape measures. You need one that's long enough to reach all the way across the house when extended.

First thing is to get access to the side of the house close to where you want one end of your cable to go through the floor, and shine your big torch across in there to find a reasonably straight-line path to the spot where the other end will come down.

Then, drill the holes (big ones - an inch is good) in the floor. Tie a wire hook to the end of a long bit of fishing line and drop it down the far-side hole. Drop a brightly-colored bit of wool down the hole as well to make it easier to spot from the far side of the house.

Next, tape another wire hook to the end of your tape measure. Using the torch, push the end of the tape measure all the way under the house, and fartarse about with it until you catch the string coming down through the floor with your tape measure's hook.

I'm sure you can figure the rest out for yourself.

It's fiddly and frustrating and slow, but it beats the hell out of getting in the crawl space.
posted by flabdablet at 8:17 PM on September 4, 2008

I recently had this same problem with my laptop--it was very difficult to pick up wireless signals in my basement. I tried plug-in usb antennae, moving my laptop around the room to get a better signal, but I still was only getting a very weak and oft-dropped connection.

Finally, after poking around the internet, I found some site saying that I should merely update (manually) the firmware of my laptop's wireless. Sure enough, I found the model of the laptop's built-in wireless adapter (in the device manager), googled new firmware and I'm a much happier internet user these days. It sounds like you're limited by the construction and layout of the house, but hey, it worked for me!
posted by pantagrool at 8:21 PM on September 4, 2008

I had a wireless system in my much larger house that worked on all three floors, around corners, no line of sight, etc. Then my mother bought me a microwave for Christmas, and although I despise the things, I put it on my kitchen counter, nowhere near my wireless router, and plugged it in. It completely slowed down my wireless network, and led to drops on a regular basis. It also caused complete and total wireless failure 100% of the time if someone was on the cordless phone. I unplugged it, reset my routers, and voila! Back online, happy as a clam. That damn microwave was recently sold with the house.

In my new house, the microwave is built-in, and doesn't interfere with the wireless. (It's also never turned on.)

So before you go through that spider-infested, mouse-poop confettied crawl space, try unplugging the microwave, resetting the router, and going online again. I sure hope it's that simple for you.
posted by Capri at 10:24 PM on September 4, 2008

The parabolic antennae work; by adding two to my router I increased the average speed from 11/22 to ~34MBit; after adding another one to the antenna of a PCI WiFi card (and directing them to the router) the connection maxed at 54Mbit. They are ugly.

Plants contain a lot of water. Anything you could warm in your microwave absorbs 2.4 GHz radiation. This includes you.

Have you tried increasing the signal strength of your router? this is an option with a WRT54G with modded firmware.
posted by Akeem at 1:48 AM on September 5, 2008

I had dolface's problem in an old house (also plaster-and-lath, hm) and indeed ended up running an ethernet cable so that I had one wifi access point at each end of the house.
posted by rokusan at 2:33 AM on September 5, 2008

In an old apartment with spotty reception - the wireless router was on a different floor from my computer - I had great luck with a wireless adapter with a directional antenna built into it.

If you decide to go the crawlspace wiring route, perhaps you could attach some fishing line to a cheap remote control car, pilot that to the other end, tie the line to your ethernet cable and pull it through. Then no crawling or spider-contact is necessary.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:55 AM on September 5, 2008

I don't believe the crawl space is THAT bad. (I've been in a couple, old houses, and they were surprisingly spider free). Can you recruit a braver friend with a case of beer? Seriously, all the wifi magik hijinks will not get you as good a connection as one simple ethernet cable.
posted by defcom1 at 5:57 AM on September 5, 2008

One word: Bacon.

1. Wrap tasty bacon strips in tough cloth, and saturate the cloth with bacon grease.

2. Firmly tie this "bacon torpedo" to a lengthy piece of twine, and dangle it from the hole in the bedroom floor. Anchor the other end of the twine securely in the bedroom.

3. Attach a long rope lead to the handiest neighborhood dog, and allow him to do your crawl space dirty work for you.

Repeat for the other hole, tie one end of the ethernet cable to each piece of twine, and run your line.
posted by dinger at 11:54 AM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just find a kid who will crawl under the house for you, given a sufficient bribe.

Another option: the tiny attic. There's no lath and plaster up there! The signal will have an easy path across the house -- maybe even line-of-sight! Place both pieces of wifi gear up there (or place wifi antennas up there and wire them down to the gear).
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:36 PM on September 6, 2008

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