There are a surprising number of things in your home, from the type of material your walls are made of to the types of things you decorate your home with, that can degrade your Wi-Fi signal.
A word about router location
Before we delve into all the different things that can affect the Wi-Fi signal in your home, let’s start by talking about Wi-Fi in general, the location of the router, and how to make the best use of the information we’re about to share.
You will never have a house that is absolutely perfect for a Wi-Fi signal because having a house with things (including you and your family!) affects the Wi-Fi connection. But you can use a better understanding of how Wi-Fi works to better locate your Wi-Fi router and/or mesh nodes in your home.
It’s helpful to think of your Wi-Fi router as a light bulb that radiates Wi-Fi out into the environment just like a light bulb that radiates visible light. Why do we put lights on the ceilings of the rooms in our houses? Because that is the most practical place to put a light bulb if we want the greatest amount of light to reach most of the room without anything getting in the way.
And when we use lighting elsewhere, like a table lamp, we don’t put the table lamp behind a large appliance, we put it where the light can fall where we need it, like next to a reading chair or on our desk.
So while you’re reading about all the different objects and materials here that can affect your Wi-Fi signal, think of ways you can move your Wi-Fi router or adjust the location of your Wi-Fi mesh nodes to avoid bugs. materials that block or absorb the signal.
Decor can degrade Wi-Fi
One of the most surprising things that can degrade your Wi-Fi signal is decoration. We tend to think of things like concrete walls or other big, heavy things when looking at Wi-Fi issues, but there are some interesting examples of decor affecting the signal.
Water, for example, is great at blocking Wi-Fi signals. Putting your Wi-Fi router right next to a big fish tank is like putting a shock absorber on it.
You will get a good signal on the side of the tank where the router is located, but notice a degraded signal on the other side.
Books are pretty dense, and if you put enough of them together, such as lining an entire wall with bookshelves, you’ve effectively built yourself a huge signal damper. Traversing the length of a long bookcase is even more difficult for Wi-Fi signals.
It’s best not to put a router or mesh node on a shelf, but this is especially true if the place where you need a strong signal is at the opposite end of a large number of shelves.
Mirrors can also interfere with Wi-Fi signals. The coating that turns a sheet of glass into a mirror is metallic.
Large wall mirrors have a bigger impact than smaller mirrors and older mirrors affect Wi-Fi more than newer ones (because older mirrors contain real silver and not the less expensive backings found on newer mirrors).
TVs look like black mirrors when they’re off, but it’s not the glass that’s causing the problem, it’s the giant metal shield inside. If you were to take your flat screen TV (or computer monitors) apart you would find that a metal plate covers almost the entire back.
That metal plate serves both as an electromagnetic shield and to reinforce the structural integrity of the TV. It also interferes with Wi-Fi signals passing through that space, so don’t hide your router right behind your TV.
Speaking of metal, metal decor can also hamper your Wi-Fi. Metal wall art (even if it’s on the opposite side of the wall from where you hung the router) can affect your signal.
In one memorable case, a neighbor of mine complained that his Wi-Fi signal was fine upstairs but complete rubbish downstairs. Upon investigation, I discovered that their router had been placed in a large decorative metal basket.
The Wi-Fi signal could pass upstairs relatively unhindered, but the router was surrounded by an accidental Faraday cage on the sides.
Appliances are like lead aprons
Not everyone has huge antique mirrors in their homes or giant fish tanks. But we all have appliances, and appliances are practically lead aprons when it comes to impeding Wi-Fi signals.
In the kitchen, the refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, and even the microwave oven are large metal objects that effectively block Wi-Fi.
When thinking about the layout of your home and the router’s relationship to devices that need Wi-Fi, don’t overlook how much radio wave absorption mass there is in the kitchen.
Laundry appliances and household services
In the laundry room, your washer and dryer are equally thick metal objects that aren’t Wi-Fi friendly. And while they’re not typically thought of as an “appliance,” exactly, your furnace and water heater also affect the strength of your Wi-Fi signal. (The water heater is doubly so, since it’s not just a giant metal cylinder, it’s also filled with water!)
For people with the laundry room, furnace, and water heater tucked away in the corner of the basement, it’s probably not much of a consideration. But, if you have a laundry room and utility room on the first floor, you’ll want to consider the location of your router relative to it.
Sponge signs for construction materials
Everything else we’ve talked about so far is relatively easy to handle. If you had your Wi-Fi router sitting on a shelf right next to a giant aquarium or realized that your home office is separated from your router by your kitchen and laundry room, you’re in luck. Moving a router is trivial compared to dealing with the actual construction in your home that conspires against a good Wi-Fi signal.
Drywall is not so bad
From the point of view of Wi-Fi signal transmission, interior walls covered with wooden beams and drywall are best. Drywall is virtually invisible to Wi-Fi, and while the wood absorbs some of the Wi-Fi signal, the studs are quite small and widely spaced.
People with stick and drywall homes will have the best Wi-Fi signal transmission range among all other home construction types.
Steel studs and old lathe walls can be problematic
If your house has steel beam construction, the steel beams interfere with the signal. Similar problems arise if you have an older house with turned and plastered walls instead of drywall. The metal wire used to reinforce the winch can function as a primitive Faraday cage.
The more metal in the walls of your home, whether it’s steel studs, turned wire, or even the foil-lined insulation that was popular in the mid-20th century, the more transmission problems you’ll have.
Concrete walls are terrible for Wi-Fi
Thick concrete walls and concrete floors are not particularly common in most residential construction, but there is a noticeable trend toward houses built with isolated concrete forms rather than rebar construction. Having a solid concrete exterior and even interior walls is great for energy bills and surviving tornadoes, but terrible for Wi-Fi transmission.
Concrete block walls aren’t much better, though they don’t dampen the signal as strongly as solid concrete.
And while concrete and steel construction is still fairly uncommon in detached residences, at least in the United States, it’s quite common in newer condominiums, townhomes, and apartments. If you live in a relatively new multi-person residence, chances are good that it’s built with steel and concrete and not wood.
Floors can frustrate you too
In multi-story houses and/or houses with basements, don’t forget to think about the floor itself. If you have poured concrete floors, you have the same problem you would with concrete walls.
Foil insulation layers on floors can also cause problems. The same is true of the wire grid pattern found in underfloor electric radiant heat, as is the mass of water found in radiator-based systems. Often these systems are embedded in or right on top of concrete floors, compounding the problem.
Unlike some of the situations we mentioned above, like you unknowingly placed your Wi-Fi router too close to your fish tank or shared a wall with your water heater, it’s a little more difficult to deal with the physical structure of your House. You can’t just replace concrete walls with wood walls or swap brick for drywall.
In those cases, your best option, aside from paying close attention to the design of your home and aiming for an optimal location, is to upgrade your router, especially to a mesh system where you can place multiple nodes throughout the home to increase overall coverage. .