This article lays out how to install an outdoor TV antenna that you’ve purchased in seven steps.
As all installations are different, these are generalized steps and provide a solid idea of the tools and issues involved with setting up an outdoor antenna.
As you’ll see, it’s not a complicated task — but it’ll take some medium DIY skills and an awareness of safety risks when going up on your roof.
The easiest part will be assembling the antenna, which you should do beforehand (and many antennas come preassembled these days). Some antenna models may only require you to extend and lock the dipoles into place, and that’s it.
Others may require you to use a screwdriver to attach the various elements to the frame.
Probably the most challenging task will be running the coaxial cable from the antenna down through your house and to your TV. If you’re not comfortable with this, I’d recommend finding a professional to set things up for you.
Lastly, be sure to read the antenna instructions before you start the installation to anticipate any surprises. Whatever obstacles you encounter on the way to cutting the cord, remember to keep a cool head and don’t rush to finish everything.
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[ Infographic: How to Install an Outdoor HDTV Antenna ]
Should You Hire a Professional?
I’ve written about the topic extensively here (including estimated costs) but it’ll all come down to the complexity of your installation, and your confidence in your own DIY skills.
It’s also a question of time: Do you have a free weekend available? Are you willing to wait a few days if you need to replace a part?
Asking for Assistance
Even if you don’t call a professional, I recommend asking one or two other people to assist with the installation.
Besides helping with the installation itself, another person such as a spouse, friend, or neighbor can stand by the TV and give feedback on the number and quality of channels you’re getting as you orient the antenna in different directions.
Walkie-talkies or a smartphone app such as FaceTime (available on Apple devices) are great communication tools for this.
Know the Specifications of Your TV
Before installing an antenna, you should first take a look at your TV.
Now there are real TVs, and then there are “kinda sorta” TVs. Don’t be fooled by these latter types; they have big screens and look like TVs on the outside, but they’re missing a crucial part for usage with an antenna: a digital (ATSC) tuner.
A digital tuner receives the signal from your antenna (in digital format) and converts it to analog picture and sound for your television.
How to Tell it’s Not a True Television
Older televisions (manufactured prior to 2009) are often missing this critical piece. Also, some modern “displays” (so-called cable-ready TVs) are missing both tuners and coaxial cable inputs (F-types or F connectors). Often you can tell these by the fact the product name doesn’t contain the word “television.” Basically, these are no different than computer monitors.
When looking for a new TV, make sure to:
If your TV doesn’t have a built-in tuner, or was manufactured prior to 2009, then you’ll need a converter or set-top box (like the ViewTV AT-163 ATSC Digital TV Converter Box pictured below).
This device usually sits on or near your TV, and will basically act as your external digital tuner.
You’ll plug the coaxial cable from the antenna right into this box; from there, you’ll run a cable from the box to your TV set.
Most converter boxes have HDMI or coaxial cable outputs so make sure your television has matching inputs.
Besides having a digital tuner, converter boxes have features such as:
- An electronic programming guide of available TV channels
- Recording and playback of TV shows
- Parental control, etc.
What You Need to Install an Outdoor TV Antenna
Every antenna installation is different, and that’s why it’s hard to give a standardized list of tools and parts.
Such a list would depend on:
- Where you’re planning to install it, such as on the roof or side of the house. If you intend to mount it in the attic, check out my article on attic installations.
- How you’re setting it up. For example, whether you’ll be connecting several TVs to the antenna, using the same cable as a previous satellite dish installation, or running a new cable down through the house to the TV, etc.
Most outdoor antenna installations will require a ladder (preferably commercial grade and non-conductive).
If most of your work will involve standing on the ladder, I’d recommend wearing a toolbelt (such as the 11 Pocket Leather Tool Pouch) for holding parts and tools you’ll be needing.
It’ll be better than clambering up and down the ladder to retrieve extra screws.
Tools & Parts: The Ultimate Antenna Installation Checklist
Below you’ll find my personal checklist of items that most antenna installations will require:
Step 1: Find Your Local TV Stations
As with real estate prices, TV antenna reception is all about location. The first thing you need to do is find the locations of local transmission towers to understand what kind of antenna you’ll eventually need and how to orient it.
The best place to find which TV stations are available is to generate a signal report on the TV Fool website. This will give you a list of real (otherwise known as “RF” or radio frequency) channels being broadcast in your area — in the UHF and VHF bands.
Here’s a list of local stations in the Austin, Texas area:
You can see the signal strength is green for these stations, which means I only need an indoor antenna to pick them up. Besides these, there are a few other stations that I haven’t noted that can probably be received by a more powerful, outdoor antenna.
You can also see that these stations are clustered together. A single antenna would probably receive all these stations.
Although the TVFool.com signal report provides both true and magnetic azimuth headings, I recommend using the magnetic headings to orient your antenna.
VHF and UHF Channels
Note that many antennas pick up real broadcast channels for both the VHF (real channels 2-13) and UHF (real channels 14-51) frequencies, but some pick up either VHF or UHF.
Since 2009, many stations that had previously broadcast on VHF (in the days of analog TV) have moved to UHF, while some stations have remained on VHF. And yet others have moved from UHF back to VHF, or to another UHF channel as a result of a recent FCC spectrum auction.
As you can see in my station list above, all stations but one (KTBC) are broadcasting on UHF. If you wanted to additionally receive this lone VHF channel, you would need an antenna that receives on both frequencies.
The FCC Channel Repack
From September 2018 to July 2020, a number of television stations across the United States will change their real channel number as a result of an FCC spectrum auction. You can go on rabbitears.info to check whether any local stations on your list will be changing to a different channel number.
According to the website, I can see that one of my local channels will be reassigned during Phase 3 (from real channel 49 to 23).
Doing a channel rescan on your TV or converter box at the end of the corresponding phase will automatically register and resolve these changes, but it’s still good to have a heads-up.
Step 2: Shop For Your Antenna
Now that you know the locations, distances, and frequency bands of local TV stations, it’s time to get a TV antenna.
Directional or Omnidirectional?
Outdoor TV antennas are usually directional (i.e., uni- or multidirectional), meaning they’re optimized for receiving signals from specific directions rather than from 360 degrees around (so-called omnidirectional antennas). In this article I show some examples of uni- and multidirectional antennas.
If correctly facing towards a transmission tower, a directional antenna offers more stronger, longer-range reception than that of an omnidirectional antenna (all else being equal).
Omnidirectional antennas tend to work best when your surrounding terrain is rather flat (as opposed to hilly or mountainous), as well as when you’re less than 15 or 20 miles from transmission towers. It’s no accident that indoor antennas tend to be omnidirectional.
Each antenna has a reception range that you’ll find in the product description.
The manufacturer has assigned this range based on the antenna’s design, and as a result of testing under ideal conditions. You should know that the range stated on the box may not be valid under all conditions.
For instance, if you have hills or tall buildings next door, these can effectively weaken or block your signal. Thus, the antenna’s indicated distance may be shortened as a result of interference along the signal’s path.
That’s a caveat to keep in mind. Depending on where you choose to place an antenna, or whether you amplify it, your antenna should still pick up weak signals and convey them to your television as a perfect picture.
Before purchasing an antenna, it’s important to first get the locations and distances of local broadcast towers in order to get one with sufficient reception range.
One last thing, my rule of thumb for deciding the correct range of antenna is to take the distance stated by the manufacturer on the box and halve it. Many manufacturers overstate their advertised ranges.
CTA Color Codes
If you’ve bought an antenna before, you might have seen CTA color ratings on the side of the box. Many antennas are assigned a color code that’s based on their classification by the Consumer Technology Association.
The colors correspond to antenna reception qualities such as antenna size, directionality, and distance rating. They’re really only useful for AntennaWeb.org’s signal report, where the codes indicate quality of signal strength.
The color codes apply to outdoor antennas only.
Small omni- or directional (multi- or unidirectional) outdoor antennas requiring the strongest signals are yellow (15 miles from towers or less)
Medium omni- or directional antennas requiring good signal strength (30 miles from towers or less)
Medium omni- or directional antennas for areas with weaker signals than green, perhaps requiring amplification (30 miles from towers or less)
Medium directional antennas for areas with weaker signals (45 miles from towers or less)
Medium directional antennas for areas with weaker signals, perhaps requiring amplification, installed on towers or high rooftops (60 miles from stations or less)
Large directional antennas with amplification for areas far from stations, installed on towers or high rooftops (60 miles from stations or more)
Amplifier and Rotator?
When you get right down to it, antennas are passive, fixed receivers. Under most circumstances they work great — for example, in urban areas where broadcast towers tend to be nearer to you and grouped together, or even conveniently lined up for your directional antenna to pick up.
However, local stations in your own location may not be so fortuitously placed, particularly if you live relatively far from an urban center.
In such cases you may consider adding some features to your antenna to pick up more channels.
1. Adding a Signal Booster
For example, you might amplify the line between your antenna and TV in order to boost signals you’re already receiving, but that have been weakened to the point they don’t appear on your television screen. This happens due to various factors such as external interference, signal loss along your TV line, etc.
In most cases you might install a preamplifier at the antenna itself to boost the signal before it travels down the line to your TV.
Alternatively, there may be issues of excessive signal loss along the coaxial cables from your antenna to your television.
For instance, you may be using a passive splitter device to distribute your signal to several TVs in your house. Or the total cable run from the antenna may exceed 50 feet. These scenarios introduce signal loss in that they augment the noise in your TV line. In such cases, a distribution amplifier may be helpful.
2. Installing an Antenna Rotator
On the other hand, you may find that several transmission towers are spread fairly wide apart (more than 90 degrees) in relation to your position. In such cases, you could get a rotator to point the antenna’s direction to other stations when needed.
Some antennas come with a built-in rotor, like the Vansky Outdoor Amplified HD Antenna. For most antennas though, you’ll need to purchase and install the rotator separately.
3. Combining Antennas
Rather than setting up a rotator, you could purchase and install a second antenna. This option especially makes sense especially if your household has several TVs with family members watching their own programming (a rotator would affect everyone’s reception in this case).
Antenna size is another factor to consider for your installation. Some antennas are relatively small and compact, allowing for easier placement in different areas of your house, such as in the attic.
But they can also be rather large and sprawling, limiting installation possibilities to the roof or on the top of a mast.
As a tradeoff, keep in mind that the larger the antenna, the greater its surface area and corresponding reception power generally.
Step 3: Choose the Location Of the Antenna
Where to Place Your TV Antenna
Finding a good location for your TV antenna can mean the difference between getting only a few channels or receiving all the stations in your area.
Installing an antenna outdoors will always be better (in terms of reception) than putting it inside — whether in your attic or your living room. This is because the structure of your house, such as walls, attic insulation, or a metal roof, introduces interference and weakens signals.
An outdoor antenna will therefore experience less interference, although you might still have local obstacles such as forests and hills to contend with.
When positioning your outdoor antenna, always try to get a clean and direct line of sight to transmission towers if possible, in order to further minimize possible sources of interference.
How High Should You Install an Outdoor Antenna?
Ideally, you should install the antenna around 30 feet off the ground.
Regardless of how high you can install it though, just mount it as high as you can so that it clears the majority of local obstacles in its line of sight.
Remember that if a surrounding house or structure casts a shadow on the antenna, it will likely block or weaken TV signals coming from that direction.
If you’re installing the antenna on a metal roof, I’d advise mounting it on a mast of at least one meter (around 3.3 feet) above the roof to minimize interference.
Look at the Neighbors’ Antennas
Lastly, take a look at where your neighbors’ antennas are pointing. This also gives a good indication of where transmitters are.
Step 4: Prepare the Tools
Get all your tools and parts together before starting the installation. Make sure your tools are in working order and that all the antenna’s parts have been delivered, by cross-referencing these with the antenna installation manual.
Inspecting and gathering everything together in one place beforehand might spare you some frustration later as you’re setting up the antenna.
Step 5: Mount the Antenna
You’ve previously chosen the best place for your antenna. Now you’re ready to start the installation proper.
Your goal should be to have everything prepared, and the antenna fully assembled, before bringing all the parts to the roof.
When using any type of mount, it’s important that the mast be perfectly vertical, as any deviation can cause reception issues.
To ensure this, use a carpenter’s level tool or smartphone app with a level feature.
Using your compass and the magnetic azimuth headings you noted for each channel previously, orient the antenna in the direction that provides optimal reception for all of these.
If several stations are at different headings, try to aim the antenna in the middle of the group and slowly adjust the orientation until you hit maximum reception.
If you own a portable TV, this can be a useful device for testing the antenna’s position and orientation before running the coaxial cable down to the television.
Step 6: Run the Cable to Your TV
It’s important to realize the coaxial cable itself is a source of interference and signal loss, so care should be taken in installing and connecting it.
You should have a cable of the appropriate length to run between your antenna and television or converter box. Try to avoid sharp turns or bends along the route.
I recommend using RG6 cable such as from 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.
Waterproof Coaxial Antenna Connections
One of the most common ways that moisture can seep into your TV line and cause poor reception is through poorly sealed coaxial connections.
After you’ve connected the coaxial cable to the antenna, you should verify that this connection is “weatherproof” to prevent the ingress of moisture.
Many outdoor antennas come with a waterproof, rubber boot that fits over the coax connection and shelters it, but you may want to take extra precautions:
- You can wrap sealing tape such as Parts Express Coax Seal Moisture Proof Tape around connections
- You can apply a silicone or waterproofing grease such as STUF Dielectric Waterproofing Grease. The gel won’t affect the flow of signal and will keep moisture out. You can apply this sealant to other areas deemed vulnerable to moisture or corrosion as well, such as screws, holes, bolts, etc.
Attach the Coaxial to the Antenna Mast
Next, attach the coaxial cable sufficiently tightly — but not too tightly, as this can damage the cable’s weatherproof outer sheath — to the mast.
You can use either plastic tie wires, or electrical tape such as Super 33+ Electrical Vinyl Tape. Some use other methods but tie wires or tape are the most common ways to bind the cable.
Run the Coaxial into the House
The coaxial cable should take as direct a route as possible to your television in order to minimize the effects of interference and signal leakage.
Try to avoid sharp turns in the coaxial cable, and use a right-angle connector like 90 Degree F Type Adapter for Coax Cable if necessary.
Choose the area for drilling carefully and avoid internal wiring in the walls. If you find existing wiring, ensure there’s at least a half a foot’s distance between the coax and these — to minimize interference from the wires.
After threading the cable through the hole, you can apply silicone caulk of the appropriate color (e.g., clear or white) to seal the hole around the cable.
In some cases you might be able to avoid drilling holes by snaking coax around doors and windows with Ghost Wire Flat Jumper cable.
Step 7: Hook Up the Coaxial to Your TV Set
Finally your coaxial will end up at the television, where you’ll attach it to the F connector input on the back panel of either the converter box or TV set.
Once the coaxial is attached, run a channel scan to get the received channels and compare these with the list you made from your signal report in a previous step.
If you’re not getting a sufficient number of channels, you’ll need to re-aim the antenna in a (perhaps slightly) different direction. This article has a run-down of possible issues and how to address them.
For re-orienting the antenna and getting channel results, you should team up with someone who can run channel scans on the TV after every adjustment you make to the antenna and tell you (over walkie-talkie or a communication app) the results of your adjustments.
Ground Your Antenna
After you’ve set up your outdoor antenna with good reception, you should take the additional step of grounding it to protect against static discharges and the effects of indirect lightning strikes.
Setting up an outdoor TV antenna isn’t rocket science. You’ll need patience and sufficient time for both the preparation and the actual installation steps.
If you don’t have the time or inclination, you can always call a professional to set it up for you. Make sure that you’ve purchased the appropriate antenna for your needs and that, after the installation, you’re getting the over-the-air channels that you want.