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HF in a condo?

Jason Hissong (KC8HYI) on September 24, 2000
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Like myself, not too long ago, many hams live under restrictions and/or covenants with landlords, associations, and zoning laws. This limits on what we can do with our hobby. Some hams throw in the towel and only hope to work a local repeater. All is not lost. Contacts can be made from indoor antennas, even DX! I am not saying you are going to get the kind of contacts you would with stacked beams on a 200 foot tower, but you can still enjoy ham radio and have some fun in the process of getting your station on the air.

MY LITTLE DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible for any consequences from the recommendations on this page. What I did worked for me, it may not work for you. There, I said it. (whew).

What I did to get on the air

I use to live in a condo, so for me, I had to make due with what I had. Fortunately, my condo association approved an antenna installation to the chimney. But to avoid the hassle of installation, grounding, (and the money), I decided to install an antenna in my attic instead. My budget was really tight. So I was limited to my attic space and money. What to do?

I have to admit, I had to wait about a year to get the radio, the tuner, and and the hardware to get KC8HYI on the HF bands due to money constraints. I had to save up for the radio, fix it, then get my father over to help me get coax from the attic to the basement. All said and done, I finally got the radio fixed and the appropriate station accessories. My father came over and we installed the coax. Now for the antenna!

My $10 Antenna

I went to Lowe's, a local home improvement shop, and bought 100 feet of 14 gauge insulated single conductor housing wire. This was $6.00. I had an older 10 meter dipole that I did not use anymore, so I clipped the antenna wire off of it and used the center support and insulators. (You can also use some half inch PVC pipe and drill some holes through it to feed the wires through.) I measured the wire to resonate on 40 meters. I attached and soldered the wire to the center support and leads. Now was the time to install it.

I bought some TV cable standoffs and some wire straps. About $4. Got up into the attic, and installed the TV cable standoffs into the beams. Once that was done, I folded the dipole until it fit (with some pruning to get it there.) I used the wire straps to attach the antenna to the TV cable standoffs.

Using the remaining wire, I later installed the 10 meter portion to the same center support and had a couple of old egg insulators and attached them to the beams as well. Below is a diagram of the finished antenna:

dipole.gif (2731 bytes)

North is to the right. On 40 it resonated pretty well in the phone portion, on 10 meters it resonated very well. All other bands I used an antenna tuner. It performed quite well. On 10 meters, working the 10 meter contest, I worked California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Idaho, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Aruba on 5 watts!!! Not bad for a $10 dipole!

My attic was a normal attic with wood beams and a wooden roof with shingles. You may not be able to do something like this if you have any kind of a metal roof.

QRP is the way to go

Nothing makes me more excited than getting a 599 on 5 to 10 watts (with honest signal reports of course HI!). When I pushed it over 20 watts, especially on 10 meters, I caused RFI. I remember hitting my key on 10 meters and the answering machine went off when using 30 watts. Keeping it below 20 watts, I did not have any complaints. So keeping the power low will help you prevent problems with your spouse and the neighbors. Getting a 599 using 5 watts into an attic dipole will be the ultimate compliment!

I would not go more than 100 watts to be safe. I remember trying to tune up on 80 meters with this antenna. It did not work well at all.

CW instead of SSB

I know that this is a touchy subject to many, but using CW will also help you get more contacts instead of SSB with this configuration. Let's face it, QRP and SSB does not work as effectively as QRP and CW. I am not saying that SSB QRP does not work, just that you may find yourself not making as many contacts with SSB QRP.

Also, using SSB can cause more interference than CW. You can get away with slight thumping sounds in audio speakers. But with SSB, you can hear someone's garbled voice. It is friction city when they see that you are the only ham on their street when they see your tags you proudly display on your car!


I have found much satisfaction with my old station and what I had to do to get me on the air. In the process, I learned alot about antennas and what they can do indoors. Much credit to the ARRL Antenna Handbook as I spent many hours reading it. Since then, I have moved into a house where I can build a tower if I want. However, I have decided to stick with wire antennas as they are cheap and easy to construct and install.

My elmer says it best: "Not everyone can use a 1500 watt amplifier using a 100 foot tower to make a DX contact. It takes a little engineering and creativity to do the best you can with what you have to use." Just like in the old days of amatuer radio when folks would search for parts in junk yards to get on the air.

Good Luck and 73!

Member Comments:
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Also PSK31  
by N3HKN on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
In addition to CW for restricted antenna/power sites the PSK31 mode offers an equal opportunity for getting out with its efficient, narrow bandwidth, mode. Most people run 50watts and competition for S-meter readings is almost nil. The only competitive item is the purity of your signal. For the "knobs all the way to the right" crowd a rebuke will be forthcoming as they are visually obvious in their lack of basic ham skills.

Great mode and growing at a rapid rate.

Dick N3HKN Delmont, Pa.
HF in a condo?  
by K1TWH on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
_____It may be possible to add either 75 or 80M to this basic set up by adding mobile resonators to the ends of the 40M wire. Some small pieces of plexiglass can be fastened into the rafters at the ends of the 40M dipole sticking down about 4 inches. Connect the ends of the 40M dipole to the resonators (keep the resonators about 4 inches away from other attic materials) and tune them for your operating frequency. Bandwidth will be small, maybe 50 KHz but it will get you on another band.
_____I agree with the low power idea. I never call CQ on high power. The 500W amp is reserved for rescuing QSOs in bad band conditions (its an ole sweep tube unit anyway).
______________ Tom Howey WB1FPA
RE: HF in a condo?  
by VK3YE on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I have a very similar system to Jason, and finds it works well. Mine consists of coax fed parallel dipoles for 40, 20 and 10 metres in the attic. Performance on these bands is good. Also works on 15m without an ATU. 17m is usable with an ATU. I suspect 30 and 12 would also be usable.

Power used is generally between 5 and 40 watts. I have had interference complaints with 40w, but 10-20w seems to be trouble free. With 40w I find I can easily work the US and Euroope on 20m SSB. It's still possible with 10 watts - typical report is 5/5. As has already been pointed out PSK-31 at 5 watts is very effective, again with many DX contacts.

Let's have a look at the log over the last month for proof. It shows close to 50 DX contacts (mostly US and EU) with the above antenna system. Most contacts were on 20m. Modes used were PSK-31, SSB and CW (in that order of number of contacts).

It is true that DX on 40 metres is well-nigh impossible with the set up described - 3000km is about the limit. But with the high bands in good shape at the moment, who cares? 80 and 160 metre operation is also possible, by tying the feedline together and loading against earth, but it will be a compromise, and you will be 'the weak station in the group'.


Peter VK3YE

Condo Antennas  
by WA4CNG on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I have just finished working #100 DXCCY2K with my attic antennas. I too continue to have problems loading on 80 meters, but I will have a loaded shortened dipole up in the next week which will work without the tuner. Great going with more good ideas on how to get on the air no matter what the restriction is.
HF in a Condo - what has worked for me  
by WB9MII on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
I am currently using something I call the ugly homebrew vertical with excellent results. I am on the 2nd floor of my condo type place. My elmer had told me in other years guys would wrap a bamboo pole in wire and use it on 80 and 160. I couldn't get a hold of a bamboo pole so I got about 8 feet of PVC, wrapped it in some nr 18 speaker wire I had laying around. No math or specific legnth, I tried to keep my turns 1/2 inch apart. Cut the center out of a paper plate and wrapped it in tinfoil and put it at the top of the Vert for a capacity hat. The floor and ceiling hold it up (like those 60's vintage floor to ceiling lamps). I feed it at the bottom with single wire feed to my tuner, I have also used twinlead feeders with good results. The single wire feed is a matter of convenience. Is the idea originally mine ? I don't think so. Will it outperform a beam or something ? no way. But for what it is it works very well. I use an MFJ941D elderly tuner and either my century 21 rig at 5 watts or my mfj 9020 and 9040 at 4 watts. I don't have an attic. This is unobtrussive and has worked well for me
"Hogan's Heroes" Method for HF  
by K7LA on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
A close friend of mine lives in an exclusive townhome community with very strict CC&Rs. His solution was to rig up a retractible vertical HF antenna system, an idea he got from the TV show "Hogan's Heroes" (you know where the troops extend an antenna out of the flagpole). His system works at nighttime and requires some knowlege of building construction techniques. Here's how he did it: Step one was to install a fake outside roof vent atop an inside hollow wall which was cut open to install a light cable pulley system. The 20 meter vertical antenna was placed inside the wall safely hidden. Step two was to bury ground radials in his backyard. When he wants to operate at night, he simply hoists the antenna above the roof into clear air from inside the townhome. When he's done operating the antenna is simply retracted out of sight. As for effectiveness, I have worked Europe from his home in Southern California on this set-up. Of course, it will never be as effective as a set of beams but it has worked out great for him.
RE: HF in a Condo - what has worked for me  
by KF4BOT on September 24, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Necessity is definitely the mother of invention. It all started in my CB days 20 years ago. In New York, I was able to have an antenna on my roof. Once I moved to a condo in Florida, I realized that I would have to make due with what I could have on my balcony. A mobile whip didn't work. I couldn't get the SWR down enough. The "groundless" marine whip was no different. In desperation, I took a 3-foot wooden dowel and wound 2 loading coils on it, top and bottom. I took a wire hanger, straightened it out with a couple of locking pliers, and cut it in half (2 18" sections). I soldered the wire hanger whips to the 2 loading coils, top and bottom. I used the antenna formula 300 / frequency = meters. I then converted meters into inches and divided by 4, for quarter wave measurements. I made a choke balun by winding wave of wire around a plastic 35mm film canister. All the wire was 20G. I soldered the choke balun to the 2 loading coils (center of the antenna) and soldered the coax to this. I then took a pair of pliers and bent the top of the wire hanger whip into a U-shaped hook and hung it from the ceiling on the balcony. After some trial and error, lengthening and shortening the whips, I was able to get the SWR down to a 1.5:1 using a conventional CB matchbox. This worked fine for me. What I designed and constructed was a wave loaded vertical dipole, 5 feet high. I built an identical one 5 years ago, this time using 16-gauge wire. By now, I had a Kenwood AT-180 antenna tuner. I had a Technician level ham license with aspirations of upgrading to Tech-Plus or General. I was one of the April 15 General upgrades. My 11-meter dipole would load up on 10 and 12 m with no problem, using the Kenwood antenna matcher. Now that I was a General, I needed another antenna. I have 2 HF radios, a Kenwood TS-520 and an Icom IC-730. I fashioned another wave loaded dipole for 20m. This antenna works fine on both 20 and 15m. It is a bit difficult getting a decent SWR on the 17m band, but it is possible. Granted, there is no substitute for a decent rooftop mounted antenna (unless you're thinking towers), but I can make contacts with it. My longest distance contact on 10m using 100W SSB is Guam from my QTH in South Florida. My next project will be a 40m antenna. I intend to use wire and loading coils on wooden dowels (no wire hanger whips this time), attached to a 1:1 balun, horizontally mounted the length of my balcony (18 feet). If this works OK, I'll try the same thing for 80m. For VHF / UHF, I use a coat hanger wave ground plane, also hanging from the ceiling on the balcony. I designed it for 2 m, but it gives me an excellent SWR on both 2m and 440. Using a 50W dual-band Icom IC-2340H I can get into repeaters 50 miles away. Fine business! It takes me only 10 minutes to take the 3 antennas down and bring them inside if a hurricane threatens, and another 10 minutes to put them back outside.
Stealth Operating  
by N9JIY on September 25, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
The challenge of operating HF in "ham-hostile" environments is one truly fun challenge for an op. Quick setup, quick teardown, low/no profile, WHILE getting out is the goal. Turn on a TV set to channels 2-6 to make sure you're not QRM on TVs nearby. Get a good tuner, some flexible wire, and have at it!! Bilal's Isotron mono-banders work great, ....locktite the nuts so they dont work loose, ....just hang somewhere, run coax to them and go. When I travelled, I used to see if I could make 80M CW contacts with 30watts from motel/hotel rooms. Neon sign and ice machine QRN is murder! Sink plumbing often WONT work as a ground, ...gess too much plastic piping. A banana plug in the ground connection of electric outlets works pretty good, ...except when a lousey match pops the Ground-Fault! Maybe should be clubs of travelling hams engaging in this challenge?? What name for such a club??
HF from a Condo  
by N2LK on September 27, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
The antenna just described is exactly what I used for 5 years in my small 2 bedroom condo. A 40mtr. dipole bent 2 times over to fit in my attic space only 18 feet long! Fed with a balun and coax, I worked Europe, Africa, Russia, Asiatic Russia and Asia on CW regularly with 100 watts or less! On top of that the peak of the attic at best was 25 ft. above the ground! I added a 20 meter dipole and 15 mtrs as well and enjoyed good operations. The most surprising was during SSB DX contests where at nite I was able to work the larger european contest stations on 40 meter SSB! Its not as good as an outside antenna and you pick up unwanted building electrical noise but at least you can enjoy alot of DX and keep radio active. It only works of course with wooden structures. My new house has antenna restrictions but I hope to hide my G5RV antenna in trees in my back yard so nobody will know. It that doesn't work, my new attic is very large as well as being on top of a small mountain so I should be OK if need be.

Don't let CC&R's stop you from working HF, a dipole in the attic is a very good option.

73, John N2LK
attic antenna  
by WA1VMJ on September 27, 2000 Mail this to a friend!
Hooray,for us attic antenna engineers! I also live in an apartment,and have installed an inverted V wire antenna.Transmiting on my yaesu ft840 with only 100 watts i have worked other stations as far away as Newzealand, and Australia, and numerous state side,and european stations on 10,12,15,17,and 20 mtr hf bands. These attic antennas really do work.
RE: attic antenna  
by Z3PR on December 2, 2001 Mail this to a friend!
RE: attic antenna  
by SWLBRS29858 on April 19, 2002 Mail this to a friend!
Hi Paul
My Name is fox and I have a Holliday Caravan
My Problem was similer to yours
I am a SWL of Some Years and Disabled with Arthritis of the spine so erecting Antennas is not easy
I found a Antenna called a lamp pole antenna in a Book
it is one of those poles they use to hang things on in the lounge called decoratorpoles you cut it in half and insert a 1.5inch wooden plug and wind 90 turns of speaker wire on the1.5inch plug so I made it
For Receiving it works fine and the location is in a valley the welsh mountains
One of my friends transmitted with it and had no problems on the site with Interferance
it fits between the roof and ceiling of the van you will have to cut a peice out when you add the wooden plug so that it fits the hight of the caravan
or you could use 1inch copper tube if you cannot find one of these poles Mine is 7ft and 63turns for 40 and 20mtrs after all its only the same as a mobile centre loaded whip
let me know how you get on with the Problem it might help me too

Best Wishes FOX
HF in a condo?  
by N2CTZ on January 13, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
i would move or operate mobile then live under a dictatorship
called the condo committee or hoa
HF in a condo?  
by AD5KL on March 6, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
Don't forget the "half in-half out" attic antennas. Run the feedline inside attic up to the gable vent & put the driven side of the dipole outside to suitable support (with thin wire to foil snooping eyes,) and shield side inside the attic. Should minimize RF exposure inside the house. Planning on installing one of these myself - are they a good alternative?
RE: HF in a condo?  
by N6AJR on May 21, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
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