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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception

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Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception

by Ryan Dube

wifi feng shui

Setting up a Wi-Fi network should be an easy prospect, shouldn't it? I mean, a house is a closed-in box, and you'd think when you place a device that transmits wireless signals in all directions that achieving a perfect signal everywhere in the house would be insanely easy.

Well, that's not exactly the case. There are a lot of things that can cause problems with a Wi-Fi signal, and a house is full of them. There are walls made of all different materials, blocks of masonry, electronic devices creating both inductive noise and emitting frequencies of all sorts. If you don't carefully plan the placement of your router, taking into account all of those factors, you may not get the pristine wireless Internet signal that you deserve.

We've covered a few wireless issues before here at MakeUseOf. In March, Danny wrote about why wireless Internet is the future. In May, Erez wrote about new wireless printers hitting the market. It isn't difficult to see just how important it is these days to be wireless.

Experiencing Perfect Wi-Fi Feng Shui

Just like real Feng Shui suggests placing your living environment in harmony with naturally-occurring energies, wireless Feng Shui requires that you allow your wireless signal to flow effortlessly throughout your house, dancing harmoniously with all of the other noise and interference that may be going on.

When you look at a typical house, the number of obstacles and points of interference is amazing. To avoid problems, the temptation is to situate your wireless router somewhere in the very center of your home.

wifi feng shui

The problem with this is that "interference" when it comes to wi-fi isn't just about walls or objects. There are many other things to think about. In this guide, I'm going to give you four major points to consider when you're trying to lay out where you want to place your router as well as any additional access points you may be considering.

Avoid Walls & Obstructions

You'll see this advice on almost any article about optimizing Wi-Fi. While a wireless signal can travel through walls, there are certain materials that it can't penetrate - metal and concrete or cement. In fact, one of the easiest ways to block your wireless signal from your neighbors is to place the router below the level of your cement basement wall. That foundation wall will absorb nearly the entire signal.

Most people do place their router in the basement, but a common mistake is placing it on a shelf right next to that exterior foundation wall.

wifi layout

The wireless signal from that router radiates out in every direction. By doing this, you're essentially wasting a lot of the capacity of that router, radiating the signals right into the concrete wall where it has no place to go. It's even worse situated above, because just around the corner of that wall is a majority of the house, where people upstairs will have a difficult time getting a good signal. Very bad Wi-Fi feng-shui.

Another object that people don't really consider until it causes Wi-Fi problems is that massive slab of masonry in the middle of your home called a "chimney". Yes folks, that block of stone can play games with a wireless signal when you place the router a little too close to it. Maybe in the basement you have a nice convenient shelf near the chimney, so you put your router right there, plug it in, and the next thing you know you can't seem to get a very good wireless signal throughout half of your house.

wifi layout

And that half of your house happens to be on the other side of that chimney. Go figure.

Bottom line: Place the router in a central location, away from masonry walls or objects like a chimney. You want to give your router some "breathing room" to radiate those signals out in every direction into your home.

Here's an example of a decent placement if you prefer putting your router in the basement. This router is placed on a shelf in the center of the basement, away from any wall or window (windows or other reflective surfaces will deflect signals and cause interference).

wifi layout

You'll wire this router to your cable modem or whatever your primary incoming Internet signal comes from. Then, your wireless router will radiate up throughout the entire first floor. So, that should do it, right?

Well, not entirely. What if you have an entire second floor of a house to consider. Do you think that wireless signal can easily radiate through the first floor as well as the second floor? You will notice a drop in signal by the time you get up into those second floor bedrooms, and if you want a good signal throughout the entire house, you should consider placing a repeater somewhere on the first floor of the house.

Placing An Access Point On The First Floor

The easiest way to do this is to actually purchase an access point that is the same brand of your router. An access point will pick up your wireless network signal and send it out again from that area. It serves as a "repeater" of sorts, so placing such a device high up on the first floor, anywhere toward the ceiling, will "refresh" the wireless signal and provide a nice strong signal to the second floor of the house.

The fastest and easiest way to do this if you have an old router on hand and don't want to buy an access point, is to set up the router exactly as Jorge described in his wireless bridge article, and then place that new access point up on the top of a closet situated somewhere in the center of the first floor.

wifi layout design

By placing it toward the ceiling of the first floor, it has a nice strong wireless signal from the router in your basement, plus it only needs to penetrate through one wood floor into the second floor of your house. You'll notice that this produces a nice, clear signal for everyone upstairs.

Avoid Devices That Emit Wireless Signals

People don't realize just how many devices in a house can generate wireless frequencies or electromagnetic interference that can mess up your wireless signal. Placing your router near any sort of motor, which generates an inductive "flux" and therefore wireless EM frequencies, or devices like a microwave or a wireless telephone that emit similar frequencies to a router - those can all have disastrous effects on your Wi-Fi signal.

It's tempting, when looking around the center of the first floor, to place the router right up in that kitchen shelf right above the microwave that you never use, right?

wifi layout design

Yeah bud, you can go ahead and do that if you want to be made an example of absolutely horrid Wi-Fi feng shui. That microwave will play more games with your router than Zsa Zsa Gabor played with her nine husbands.

Microwaves are a router's worst enemy. Wireless phones are a close second. When you're looking to place your router in that perfect location, don't only think about location - draw a diagram of the floor plan and make sure to highlight where you have existing devices that are actively emitting wireless signals.

If you can do that - you're going to have a house that's just flowing with oodles of wireless Internet everywhere you go.

Build a Wireless Amplifier?

If you're really gung-ho about maximizing your signal and you have to place a router near one of those basement walls, you might consider placing a reflective canister on the your router antenna.

I've read about this technique at a few places and was never really convinced that it works, so I decided to give it a try. I saw some results that were positive. Nothing spectacular, but if you have to get another bar out of that thing, you can give this a shot. Theoretically, the reflective surface of the inside of the can focuses the signal into the direction of the open end of the can.

It's fast and simple. first, cut the end off of two soda cans (or one if you only have one antenna on the router). Be careful about the sharp edges of the can!

wifi layout design

With the can standing up, measure three inches from the bottom and cut a hole in the side of the can.

Finally, just place the antenna through the hole and point the new "amplifiers" in the direction that you want a stronger Wi-Fi signal. If near a basement wall, these cans would be pointing away from the wall toward the center of the house.

Did this make a difference? A little bit - but I can't say it was definitely because of the amplifiers. Here was the signal right before I applied the amps to the router.

The top wireless signal is from my new router - a Wireless-N router- and the lower one is a Wireless-G router, which had one bar less when I placed my tablet at the far corner of the house.

After applying the amplifier setup, I did notice the wireless bar tick up one bar higher.

wifi feng shui

Was it definitely because of the cans? Maybe, or maybe not - I didn't perform enough tests to confirm it, but a lot of folks out there swear that this setup can help focus a wireless signal. So, if you really need it, give it a shot and point it toward the center of your house. At the very least, it can only help your Wi-Fi feng shui, it can't hurt it!

Do you have any other Wi-Fi feng shui tips and advice for someone to improve the placement of Wi-Fi routers and access points in their house? What techniques do you use? Share your advice and tips in the comments section below.

Image Credit: 3D Isometric View the Cut via Shutterstock, Wi-Fi Icon on Dark Background