Dear PoPville – Wifi problems in old townhouse?

Photo by PoPville resident Kip

“Dear PoPville,

I live in a 100 year old town home in Dupont. The back bedroom is set up as an office, and is where my wireless router sits. I have terrible wifi reception pretty much everywhere else in the house. There are a number of plaster walls and a bathroom between the back room and the front of the house. Moving the router out of that room is problematic for a number of reasons, and I’ve upgraded to the most powerful router, turned it up to 11 and so on. Have your readers experienced similar issues, and what work-arounds have folks come up with?”

24 Comment

  • Get one or more of these to extend the range of the router. The single signal going through all the walls is surely the problem.

    • novadancer

      we have the netgear range extender and it works perfectly. original router is in basement but it has connection problems in our bedroom (4th floor). we’ve had no connection problems since purchasing the extender!

  • Yes. Brick houses with plaster, occasionally with metal lathe, are horrible for electrical signalling. Cell phones, wifi, etc. will all have dead spots. It’s the nature of materials.


    I have a wired connection between a router and a wireless access point (like a wireless router, but “dumb”). The router serves the upstairs and the access point serves the downstairs. It works splendidly. My computer can access either for signalling.

    Three caveats: It’s a pain in the butt to set up; it’s not a highly advertised feature of routers. Many routers don’t include the functionality, although my linksys router had it. You still have to run a wired connection between the the two.

    On the plus side the CIA is totally not able to read your brain waves.

  • Check out power-line network adapters. They use your existing electric wiring to extend your network.

  • I have a second router (Linksys) acting as a repeater on the main floor in the front of the house, with my primary router (FIOS) on the upper floor in the back. But I figured out a way to run the network wireless. It’s probably more of a pain in the butt to set up than the wired version, but it’s worth the trouble.

  • Yeah, my office is also at the back of the house. It’s outside the original structure, so the signal is weakened by that brick wall. Weird how that happens when my neighbors’ signals are often stronger than mine, but whatevs.

    Just get a range booster. I’m not at all tech savvy, but I think it’s safe to say the more you pay, the better your range. I’ve got a $90 D-Link dealie that plugs into a USB on my laptop.

  • Since you asked, no, I haven’t experienced any issues in my 132-year-old brick and plaster wall house. I have an ancient Linksys WRT54G router situated on the main level (there are 3 levels total), in the back room but towards the center of the house. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how strong the signal is throughout the house.

  • My house is also ~100 years old, and while renovated, they generally just put up sheet rock on top of the plaster, so shouldn’t be all that different.

    I have my router set up in the basement, at the entry point for the cable. It’s a workhorse linksys router (WRT54G), and I consistently get speeds far exceeding the incoming bandwidth using 802.11g.

    I’d recommend the following:
    1) free: check the channel setting on the router – consider using a different channel (check this with something like Wifi Stumbler to see what’s free/less busy). interference could be working against you

    2) consider getting a wireless N standard router – this could alleviate the problem (though may require you to buy a new input device for your computer, depending on how old it is). maybe you already did this – hard to tell from your description what exactly you bought.

    3) use a second router (as suggested) as a repeater. be aware, this will cut your bandwidth in half. if you’re using 802.11g, it’s no big deal for your incoming pipe, as half of theoretical max (54 MBps/2 = 27) is still bigger than almost all internet service you can get. may be more noticeable as an issue for internal network file transfers (though i’d doubt that you’ll have real issues with this either).

    Powerline could be an interesting option as well – I’ve never personally tried it, though the reviews are generally good.

  • Very similar problems here. Plaster shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I wan’t getting signal from my router but I was from neighbors 3 houses down the block.

    We were using the free router we got from Comcast and sometimes internet would fade in and out when you were in the same room. THEN after we couldn’t handle it any more we went through relative hell and got a real router. I doubt it’s turbocharged and I know it’s not the most expensive thing out there… it’s just not the cheapest.

    Zero problems since then. Call your provider, tell them your problem and to send a tech and don’t let him or her leave till you have internet everywhere.

  • I pray for wifi reception when I have problems, and it usually works.

  • Great Spinal Tap reference. I would offer advice, but there is a lot of good stuff here already and I would just be repeating.

  • It could be, if you left the router on the default channel, that you need to switch to a less crowded one. Generally you should stick to channels 1,6 or 11 as these have the least overlap. Download a program called inSSIDer, it’ll give you a graphical representation of all the wireless networks that are around you, pick the channel with the least number of networks at the lowest power.

  • Make sure the router is as high off the ground as possible. On top of a bookshelf is a great place. You may also want to consider a new router, however, not knowing what kind you have I can’t say for sure. The Dlink DIR-655 is GREAT.

  • It might be as simple as where in the room the router is located.

    I was all ready to spring for a new, fancy expensive router with built in range boosting, but my tech savvy friend suggested that I try moving the router first.

    After I moved my venerable old WRT54G from the corner of the room behind the TV and stereo to along the front wall of the house the difference was like night and day.

  • Location, location, location… make sure your router has as clear a path as possible to the rest of the room, ESPECIALLY immediately around the router. This will allow for better signal propagation throughout the room and the house. Even a lamp sitting a couple of feet away from the router will create a dead zone behind the lamp, and get larger the further away from the lamp. Almost all routers have omnidirectional antennas which have pretty good coverage, but are more subject to signal interference.

  • Try cutting a beer can into a directional antennae before buying a repeater.

  • On a different note-
    When I first moved here I used to get free wifi because I lived right next to a school. On a more annoying note, people would park on our street and use their laptops for hours leaving no spaces for residents.

  • Submitter here – many thanks for all the suggestions and tips. I’ll start with the easy ones and see what help.

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