FROM THE FRONT LINES: Can you install an indoor antenna indoors?

Yes that was a real question. Well, the actual question as it came from a customer was a little more nuanced. Not much, but, well, you decide:

If I get your smallest possible antenna, will it work inside my house?

Give the person the benefit of the doubt if you want. Some folks here in the office think that they were just asking if the antenna would work at all, while others think that the customer wanted to put the indoor antenna up on the roof. Either way, it generated some spirited discussion around the office.  As much as we would like to laugh though, it comes from a position of just not understanding some of the technology behind antennas.

How television antennas work

All television antennas pick up radio waves, which are a form of electromagnetic radiation similar to light. Radio waves are invisible, most people agree anyway, but there’s some confusion as to why they can pass through walls when light can’t. Light can pass through solid objects, obviously, because we have windows. Windows can be just as thick as cinder blocks but light can’t pass through cinder blocks even though it passes through windows. That’s because the atoms in glass are set up in just such a way that the light waves can pass through them.

Getting deep into the theory

Whether or not something is transparent depends on its atomic structure. In every substance, the atoms arrange themselves in 3-D grids. With glass or anything transparent, the gaps between the grids are just the right size and shape so light waves pass. Radio waves are a different size and shape, though. They fit easily through most things that light fits through, but they are also able to fit through lots of things that light waves can’t. So, those radio waves can pass through walls and doors even though light waves can’t.

However, just because radio waves can pass through something doesn’t mean they aren’t affected. Imagine for example a black piece of fabric. Shine a light behind it and you’ll still see the light. However, it won’t be as bright or as intense. Some of the light is blocked by the fabric. The same is true when radio waves pass through solid substances. Of course it would be a lot easier to explain this if I had an imaging device to show all of it to you, but such devices are very expensive. They are far beyond the budget of this or probably any blogger.

How much signal is lost?

A TV signal loses about half its strength by going through a wall or a door. Not only that, indoor antennas are smaller than outdoor ones. They are less sensitive as a result. In the end, using an indoor antenna outdoors may gain you some signal that using it indoors won’t. This may make the difference between watching TV and not watching it, but for the most part if you’re using an indoor antenna as it was designed, within 10-15 miles of the towers, you’ll have no problem.

For the best in indoor antennas, shop the great selection at Solid Signal!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.