How to Install a TV Antenna in Your Attic

How to Install a TV Antenna in Your Attic

You might have heard about people installing antennas in their attics and thought, “that sounds easy — why don’t I try that?”

Well, yes antennas are installed in attics all the time. And in most cases they function well enough to receive most if not all TV signals at a location.

But be aware there are some downsides to attic installations too (as with all indoor installations, in fact).

On the one hand, you’ll definitely avoid the prospect of an unsightly receptor on your roof.

On the other, the structure of your house and roof might impact your indoor TV reception by weakening signals.

Nevertheless, many consumers opt to take their chances with an attic installation, making it a weekend DIY project.

Below is a guide featuring tips and pointers for planning attic antenna installations, including some basic steps for getting started.

Why Mount an Antenna in Your Attic?

Why do so many people mount their antennas in the attic? I believe you can boil down the various explanations into four succinct points.

You Can’t Bothered With Your HOA

If you live in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners’ association (HOA), you might have noticed a stipulation in the covenants forbidding the installation of an outdoor TV antenna.

As you probably know, HOAs are motivated to restrict the ways in which homeowners can alter the appearance of their homes.

If you find that your HOA is overly zealous about antennas, you should know that the FCC guarantees everyone’s rights (within a certain scope) to set up a TV antenna on the exterior of their home.

However, your HOA might not know about such a ruling, and you (on the other hand) might not want to spend the time convincing them of your case.

Add to that any possible legal costs you may incur through dealing with ham-handed HOA board members, and the prospect of a long-running dispute may seem even more unappealing.

Video: Facts About Installing a TV Antenna in the Attic

Antennas and Aesthetics

In recent years, designs of outdoor antennas for the consumer market have made strides in terms of aesthetic appeal. In fact, there are a number of small, outdoor antennas that pack surprisingly good reception for their size and compactness.

Many of the larger and more powerful antennas, however, wouldn’t win fifth prize in a beauty contest, and you may not feel their presence atop your chimney adds to your home’s curb appeal.

Outdoor Wear & Tear

Prolonged exposure to the elements is enough to wear down even the sturdiest of metal frames. If you live in an area of high winds or excessive moisture, sheltering your antenna in the attic may prolong its lifespan and save you from climbing on the roof to investigate reception problems after heavy storms.

Safety

All rooftop work, including the installation of TV antennas, is a safety issue. For one reason or another, you may choose to avoid such work and any risks by setting up your antenna in the attic.

Benefits of Installing an Antenna in Your Attic

Now that we’ve covered the reasons why most people decide to mount their TV antenna in the attic, let’s look closely at the main benefits:

  • Attic installations will give you some measure of privacy, especially from nosy neighbors with a penchant for reporting antenna installations to the HOA. What's out of sight is out of mind.
  • Mounting an antenna in your attic is easier to accomplish than putting it outdoors, mainly due to not having to drill holes in your roof, as well as a shorter cable run to the TV.
  • An attic antenna is more economical than a rooftop installation to maintain, and doesn’t entail as many potential repair costs as its outdoor counterpart.

Downsides of Installing an Antenna in Your Attic

It’s certainly nice to reap the benefits of attic installations, but keep in mind some downsides as well.

These stem from sources of interference stemming from within your home, many of which can be mitigated by amplifying your antenna’s coaxial cable.

  • Wall structure and building materials. The materials within the walls and roof of your home might hinder your reception by as much as 40-50%. Some buildings may have particularly thick walls, which can significantly decrease an antenna's functionality. For example, a brick wall can cause a signal loss of up to 8 decibels. (While that's not a huge amount, it can be significant when combined with other signal loss factors.)
  • Insulation and metallic surfaces. The very material that shields you from outside temperatures can hinder signal reception. An example is the use of radiant barrier in your attic or roof, which reflects heat by means of a layer of shiny, aluminium foil. Unfortunately, this can also block your TV reception, forcing your hand in setting up the antenna on the roof.
  • Spatial limitations. Attics aren’t made to house anything other than objects you don’t need on a daily basis, which means they often have low ceilings and lack space. You'll have to abide by the room's possibly cramped dimensions when positioning and aiming the antenna.

What Types of Antennas Can I Use?

Getting right down to it, the type of antenna to use in your attic should be one designed for outdoor, rather than for indoor use.

Outdoor antennas are specifically designed for better reception and have higher gain and range than their (much smaller) indoor cousins. Due to the increased gain, outdoor antennas can bypass potential sources of interference lurking in your attic.

As well, attic installations are becoming popular, resulting in a new wave of specialized antennas.

For instance, the GE 33692 Attic Mount HD Antenna (shown below) is a notable example of an antenna specially designed for placement in the attic.

This antenna has all the reception power of an outdoor antenna, but features a curved metal frame of reflectors that are designed for fitting easily into smaller attic spaces.

Steps for Mounting an Antenna

In the next sections, I’ll show you the generic steps you’ll follow to install an antenna in your attic, as well as some parts and tools often required. 

What You’ll Need

Here’s a proposed checklist of parts and tools.

  • Ladder: You may need a ladder if you're suspending the antenna from a high attic ceiling, or mounting it on a wall. Although any short ladder will do, preferably it should be non-conductive and commercial grade.
  • Antenna mast: The mast can be either manufacturer supplied or purchased separately, such as the Adjustable Outdoor/Attic TV Antenna Mount Pole, or a conduit such as PVC pipe from your local hardware store. If you'll be constructing your own antenna mast, make sure the pipe is of metal or PVC. Heavier metals as a material aren't recommended if you're mounting the antenna on a wall, as these may overburden the wall.
  • Base mount: A base mount such as the Heavy Duty Roof Mount for Masts up to 1-7/8" OD - EZ 19A holds the antenna mast and can be attached to a wall or floor. Many manufacturer-supplied masts include base mounts; if using PVC pipe you can buy a swivel mount separately -- just ensure however the mount diameter matches that of the pipe.
  • Guy wires: If you're suspending the antenna from the ceiling, I'd suggest using guy wires made of galvanized steel. You might consider National Hardware N267-013 2573BC for its excellent weight-bearing specs.
  • U-bolts for securing the antenna to a mast: Usually two of these will be supplied with any outdoor antenna. These often come with a bracket and screws for easy mounting.
  • Extra coaxial cable: Although some antennas ship with a coaxial cable, these are usually of poorer quality than you can buy yourself. I recommend having some extra RG6 coaxial cable around in case you need to run it further than anticipated, or for replacing a damaged segment.
  • Coaxial cable compression fittings: These are metal fittings that "cap" a coaxial cable, allowing you to plug it in to device connectors. If you want to buy a set of fittings, I recommend the GoodQbuy Coax Compression Connector, which is an all-in-one kit that also comes with wire stripping and crimping tools.
  • A carpenter's level tool: If you've set up the antenna on a mast, you should use a level tool to ensure the mast is perfectly vertical, as reception might be affected otherwise.
  • One or more types of screwdrivers
  • Power drill
  • Adjustable wrench

Basic Preparations

Before getting started, you should do a few things to prepare for the installation.

Get your parts and tools together, and do an inventory to ensure everything’s in order. Also, measure the dimensions of the attic space into which you’ll be inserting the antenna.

You could also ask someone to assist you in verifying reception by doing a channel scan on the TV below. For this, you can both use walkie-talkies or a smartphone app like FaceTime (available on Apple devices).

1. Choose a Spot for the Antenna

Finding a Place

The best place for your antenna will be the corner of your attic that:

In most cases, these two criteria should work. Don’t forget the role of chance, though — for unseen reasons, you may get very poor to no reception in your attic.

If that’s the case, you should strongly consider moving the antenna to your rooftop.

Fitting Your Antenna In

Attics are known for their limited space and cramped confines.

If you’re tempted to buy a smaller antenna just so it fits in the space, understand that it’ll have comparatively less gain for overcoming interference from your home’s construction.

Tiny attic spaces offer many ways to mount an antenna, with people sometimes mounting theirs:

  • On top of a mast attached to the floor
  • On a mast hanging from a wooden ceiling beam
  • Suspended from the ceiling via guy wires
  • On a wall bracket or short mast attached to a vertical wooden beam

Choose the antenna’s location in the attic carefully, and leave a few extra centimeters of free space to ensure you can make spontaneous adjustments to the antenna’s position and orientation later.

Attic antenna suspended from ceiling

Testing Your Antenna’s Location For Best Reception

If possible, you should consider ways to test various potential placements of your antenna before definitively setting it up.

You can place the antenna in a temporary position and orientation for testing purposes, before moving it again to a new position.

A small, portable television is great for this; otherwise you can attach the coaxial cable to both your antenna and the TV below — just make sure the cable is of sufficient length to allow testing of various placements around the attic.

2. Set Up the Antenna

The steps for setting up your antenna will depend on how you plan on doing it: whether you’re attaching it to a mast or directly on a rafter via a base mount, suspending it from the ceiling, or by other means.

Thus, only some general guidelines can be given here, rather than precise steps:

  • Make sure the floor beneath the antenna (especially if you’re attaching it to a base mount or mast on the floor) is sufficiently stable. You can do this by placing additional 2 x 4 wooden planks over the area.
  • If you’re using a ladder, you should pad the floor with extra planks to ensure stability.
  • After mounting the antenna on a mast or base mount, try to shake it a bit and verify its stability, reinforcing it if necessary.

3. Run the Coaxial Cable to Your TV

Normally the instructions that came with your antenna will show how and where to attach the coaxial cable to it.

Most outdoor antennas that feature a balun will have their coaxial cable connector there.

When running the coax from the antenna down to the TV or converter box, you’ll probably have to drill holes through the ceiling and walls.

Make sure there’s no existing wiring in the places you need to drill. This is not only to avoid the risk of damaging your electrical system, but also to avoid interference caused by electric current being too close to the coax.

In fact, you should ensure there’s at least half a foot of distance between your antenna coax and other wires.

Try to take the shortest path possible to the TV, in order to minimize the cable’s length and thus avoid potential loss of signal along the way.

For RG6 cable I recommend Mediabridge, which is 75 Ohm and tri shielded to minimize interference (not all RG6 types are tri or quad shielded, so I’d specifically look for this). If you have any coax left over from a previous satellite or cable TV installation, it can also be reused.

Try not to create sharp turns in the cable, keeping the coax as straight as possible for most of its journey. If needed, you can use a right angle connector like 90 Degree F Type Adapter for Coax Cable.

4. Test Your Attic Antenna

After finishing the installation, you can verify the number and quality of channels you get.

Hopefully you were previously able to test various placements and orientations of your antenna before mounting it, but if not, it’s definitely never too late.

This is where the assistance of a friend or family member can be useful, as they can do a channel scan on the TV downstairs and communicate the results to you (for instance via a smartphone app).

If you encounter reception issues at this stage, the problem may likely be excessive interference caused by your house structure.

In this case you may consider getting an amplifier to overcome this interference. Most customers who mount an antenna in their attic end up installing a preamp on their antennas.

5. Ground Your Antenna

You should ground a TV antenna that’s installed outdoors to avoid the effects of lightning strikes (whether direct or indirect) or static electric buildup during storms.

In the case of an attic installation, your TV antenna will be sheltered from the environment, so there would be no need to ground it for that reason.

However, the connection of your antenna coax to various AC-operated equipment (in this case, your converter box or TV) introduces the potential of electric shock.

Seems strange? Let me explain. All appliances leak some amount of current. Although this amount is typically less than you’d detect when handling equipment or cables, a faulty component somewhere can cause an excessive amount of leaked current and actually shock you.

While not a regular occurrence, there have been cases of people experiencing strong electric shock (as in: very detectable and painful) when handling their attic-mounted TV antennas and coaxial cables. If you’re concerned this may happen, I’d definitely take the extra step of attaching a grounding block to the coaxial cable to shunt off excessive, leaked current.

But check the electrical plugs of the various devices attached to the TV line first, as you may not need to ground the antenna. If they’re using a three-prong plug like the one below, then the electrical line is already grounded as the third prong is in fact a ground connector.

3-prong electrical plug

3-prong electrical plug

Additional Precautions

  • While wind and rain will cheerfully clear dust and debris off antennas installed outdoors, dust can accumulate on attic antennas. Make sure to wipe the dust off your attic antenna periodically — you might get a few extra channels as a result.
  • Always double-check the location of the nearest towers. Sometimes, an antenna may receive more channels if you aim it at a different signal tower within a group. While it may be unclear why this happens, it’s always good to try this.
  • Make sure the antenna is out of reach. If people regularly venture into your attic, they may bump the antenna and disrupt your setup.

Concluding Thoughts

Mounting an attic antenna requires planning before the installation, as well as trial and error during setup. If you’re careful in setting up your antenna, you can enjoy a myriad of channels standard or high definition quality. Inform yourself, be careful, and most importantly — stay patient.

Click here to add a comment

Leave a comment: