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Author Topic: What would you do to build a Ham-friendly house?  (Read 3535 times)

Posts: 14

« on: November 29, 2005, 02:03:15 PM »

I may have the opportunity to build a new house in the next year or two. It's a golden opportunity to fix some of those niggling issues found in most tract-built homes. I /really/ would prefer the shack on the second floor, so there's the RF ground issue. (A six inch pipe full of dirt??) I'd like to know from you folks what you would do if you had this opportunity?  How would you make the house HAM-friendly? How would you make the house "Plug 'n Play" for your gear? There will be no CC&Rs so anything goes.  Thanks in advance for any insights. I appreciate it.

Posts: 3746

« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2005, 04:53:24 PM »


Maybe put the 'shack' on the same side of the
house as the electric panel (underground feed)
to feed subpanel in the shack

half bath in the same room as the shack and
wetbar type setup with small fridge when you
work the contests

Hot tub, no bad idea !

73 james


Posts: 380

« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2005, 02:54:00 AM »

Some random thoughts, no particular order.

1) Shack on the ground floor (sorry, it's the only way to do it).

2) Foundations for tower poured at the same time as the foundations for the house.

3) Earth mat, make that a LARGE earth mat installed before you lay the lawns in your yard.

4) Dedicated waterproof panel in the outer wall to run feeders through.

5) Four inch plastic pipe running underground from the shack to the center of your earth mat. This can be used to carry feeders for your vertical(s) along with a control cable for an automatic ATU.

6) Seperate 220v electrical supply running right back to the box.

7) Lots of table space and good lighting. Power strips running along the top of the benches. Experiment here and make the height of at least one table just right for your keying style.

Cool RF friendly alarm system.

9) RF friendly telephone system and computer network.

10) As mentioned, a cooler for the beer.

I'm sure there are other items to add to the list, who's next?


Posts: 14304

« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2005, 08:47:27 AM »

If possible, keep the antennas away from the house (at least 50 feet). This will solve most of your RFI problems. Its amazing how much quieter the bands are when you are 50 feet away from the noise generators in the house.

Shack on the ground floor is a must! Located near the electrical panel is a real plus for grounding purposes. Run a dedicated 120V circuit and a dedicated 240V circuit from the panel to the shack. Provide shack lighting on a separate ciruit so that if you blow a radio breaker you won't suddenly be in the dark. Provide an emergency light package so that if power goes out you have battery lighting for 30 minutes or so. Provide a transfer switch and outside (or garage) connection so that you can switch the radio shack over to generator power (at least the 120V circuit and one light).

Run a large PVC pipe underground to the antenna site. Make sure to use swept 90's so there are no sharp bends. You could bring it thru the floor before the concrete is poured or you can bring it up the outside and thru the wall. Check the Polyphaser site for grounding information. Now is the time to design and install that single point grounding system for lightning protection. Consider having a whole house surge protection system installed on the electrical service panel.

You might consider having one wall made double thick with 2x6 framing. It makes a great way to install large boxes to bring in antenna connections.

Put insulation in the interior walls and in the ceiling for better sound proofing of your radio space.

Although not radio related, think about CAT5 for computer connections to various rooms, phone connections, and cable TV connections. Phone and cable system grounds need to be a part of that single point grounding system as well. What will you use for Internet connection, where you will place the modem, router, etc if you want a local network.

Make sure you have a place to route future cables in the house from end to end and from floor to floor. Either put in an empty PVC pipe or leave a pull line in a chase somewhere.

Posts: 21749

« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2005, 09:05:21 AM »

Lot of good ideas here, but I disagree that a first-floor ham shack is the only way to go.

Of my 16 ham shacks that I've had (starting with my parents' house as a kid, and progressing through the 15 homes I've purchased over the years), a few of them were on upper floors and all worked out perfectly.  No "RFI" issues, no feedback, no burns, no shocks, no problems of any kind, while running legal-limit power on eleven bands as I almost always have.

It's all in station engineering, and using the right kind of antennas.  I've never had an "RF ground" in my life, anywhere.  Never felt the need to have one, and I still don't.  I run 1500W output on 160m through 2m, and nothing bothers anything.

I sure agree with a lot of what's been written here, though.  Surely if you're around to watch the house be built, definitely run dedicated 120V and 240V lines to the shack while it's cheap and easy to do.  Might as well have the electrical contractor run a big, fat ground from the service panel directly to your shack and might want to make sure he uses a ground rod directly below that panel.  Around here where I live, it's evident that they installed the ground rod prior to pouring the pad for the house, as all I can see is the top six inches of the rod sticking up through the cement, but at least it is directly below the service panel, so it's really close.

The part about pouring a foundation for a tower at the same time as the foundation or pad is a good one, I think.  I'd do that, if I have a new house built.  I agree that "getting antennas away from the house" is definitely a good idea for all kinds of reasons, but in my case, that distance is created vertically, not horizontally.  My antennas are all more than 50' from my house because they're more than 50' above my house.  A great advantage of having a tower close to the house is that you don't have to walk far to get at it; also, you can use it as a ladder to access your roof (I always do, it's much easier than getting out an extension ladder when it's time to clean the rain gutters and stuff); and of course it helps keep your feedlines shorter.  And it makes the "underground plumbing" for coax lines and rotor cables a non-requirement, because the tower's right there, next to the house.

In some places (including right here in Los Angeles), your antenna tower is automatically covered under your Homeowner's Insurance policy *only if* the tower is physically connected to the house.  If it's a foot away and not touching, it's not covered.  A lot of hams found this out the hard way after the local big earthquake.

So, my free-standing, self-supporting, telescoping tower, which requires no support of any kind from my house, is lightly bracketed to the house.  Not for support, but for insurance purposes.  The tower would probably help hold the house up in a big earthquake, but who cares?  I get free coverage for any tower damage this way.

Check out such stuff and decide what's best for you.

Good luck!



Posts: 14

« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2005, 10:46:17 AM »

Thanks for some great ideas here! I've printed them out so I won't forget. The hot tub's a for sure, but as for the bathroom nearby, I was thinking of a tube direct to the drain field (Ewwwww!!!)

But the question of the FR Ground set up is interesting. Any further comment on how one could get away with a second storey shack? WOULD a tube of dirt work, or do I have to be in proximity to the 'plane' of the ground rather just in contact with a column of dirt? Obviously I can follow directions and pound a stick into the ground, but I'm not understanding the theory very well here.


Posts: 14

« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2005, 11:52:18 AM »

I meant "RF" Geez! (Blush)

Posts: 21749

« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2005, 01:46:54 PM »

First, it pays to list the reasons that you'd need an R.F. ground.  I can list them here:

The list is directly above.

Fact is, nobody needs an R.F. ground, at least not one attached to their station equipment.  Those who *do* need an R.F. ground have done something wrong, like trying to end-feed a wire antenna when its length is close to an integer of a half-wavelength -- stuff like that.  With "real" antennas, an R.F. ground serves no purpose.

A column of earth won't work.  Earth is actually a lousy conductor.  If you measure the resistance between an 8' ground rod driven into your soil at one location and another 8' ground rod driven into your soil at another location, it will be "a lot" of resistance.  Almost any conductor or semi-conductor is better.

However, earth is the reference pole for almost anything we need to reference in the field.  It's an enormous "sink" for energy, both electrically and thermally.  But it's not a good conductor.  It's a place to dump stuff we don't want, which unfortunately seems to include our garbage!

In lieu of an R.F. ground, if a station has issues with R.F. common mode currents and the voltage that can induce on equipment chassis and such, there are zillions of alternatives that work just fine.  1/4-wavelength counterpoises are extremely effective and require no earth connection (actually, an earth connection would invalidate using them).  Ferrite chokes and current baluns work well, too.  Proper station engineering, including antenna system design and installation, eliminates the requirement for any sort of R.F. ground 100% of the time.

A safety ground's something completely different, and very easy to achieve on a second floor, or a one hundredth floor.  A lightning protection ground is also something completely different, and is something used "outside," not inside, so it doesn't matter where your station is.

All the 50kW+ FM and television transmitters located atop the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower and similar structures are more than one thousand feet above earth...


Posts: 2008

« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2005, 07:59:28 AM »

<< but as for the bathroom nearby, I was thinking of a tube direct to the drain field (Ewwwww!!!) >>

NOT a good idea in cold climates!!! <g>

Posts: 32

« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2005, 05:52:20 AM »

Locate shack in close proximity to the garage. Ensure that the UPS driver can back straight in when you are doing major eBay buying:-) Keep it all on one level to make moving heavy gear easy (I am not kidding). Insulate the walls so when up all night you won't disturb any one else. Under no circumstances install an intercom, most are terrible RF receivers. Have normal heating and airconditioning.

Posts: 14304

« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2005, 10:11:55 AM »

Steve is correct - there is no need for an RF ground at the radio if your antenna system is designed and installed correctly. If the antenna is a 1/4 wave vertical or end fed wire then you will need an RF ground at the antenna feed point (but not necessarily at the radio).

My suggestion (overstated as "must") that the shack be on the ground floor simply makes it much easier to provide a good single point ground for lightning protection purposes. It is quite possible to bring the cables in at a ground level single point ground and then route them to an upper floor to the radio. What you want to avoid if possible is having the cable entry and grounding point two stories up and then run 20 feet of ground wire down to the ground rod. Having a long run of cable between the radio and the ground also leaves you open to currents being inductivly coupled into the cable runs so the closer you can locate the radio to the grounding point the better.

Again, no need for an RF ground but there is a need for a lightning ground and for safety purposes that ground must be bonded to the house electrical system ground.

Posts: 17


« Reply #11 on: December 23, 2005, 08:14:51 AM »

My custom house is still under construction.  The shack is above the garage.  Since the house is on a 1750' mountain ridge at nearly the highest point, I built a ground ring around the house and the tower with a radials/ground rods for lightning protection.  I had a consultant do the design.  For an RF ground (I'm not sure if this is really needed but I installed it anyway), I ran 24" wide copper flashing from the ground ring into the garage where the conduits come into the house from the tower.  From this point I continued up the wall into the shack with 12" wide flashing.  That flashing goes to 3 station positions in 3 of the 4 corners of the room.  If you look at the flashing on the floor (it will be under the carpet) it looks like an "L".  My hope is that the flashing will present a low impedence RF ground.  Heavy 0/2 and #6 AWG copper wires are in place for lightning and safety grounds all the way to the shack. I am not relying on the flashing for anything other than an RF ground. Of course, all ground systems are tied together as required in the NEC. The shack has it's own 125 amp breaker panel.  I'll have three 220V 30amp circuits for the amps plus lots of other circuits for the radios.

The transmission lines will run through four 4" conduits.  110V AC power runs to the base of the tower as well (As required by code it is run in its own 3/4 conduit).  I have full access to all cabling through access panels in the "chase" in the garage and behind the wall of the main radio desk.  Cables to the other operating positions (one for UHF/VHF and the other for my "classic novice station") were run before the drywall was installed.  I ran far more coax to these positions than necessary.  I also ran some Cat 5e cable as well.

With no access to cable TV, I will have to install a dish.  I ran 2 quad shield RG-6 cables and a CAT 5e cable to each TV location.  The CAT 5E is needed for a phone connection for the sat. receivers.

I was told the mountain power was spotty so I'm installing a 25KW LP generator to run the house and the radio shack.  Most of the appliances are LP gas to reduce the size of the standby generator.  

This house was built as my "Ham Heaven". We call it, "The Mountain" since we call our place at the ocean, "The Beach".  However, I'd love to change the name to "Tower Mountain". Fat chance.

Posts: 184

« Reply #12 on: December 25, 2005, 07:45:30 AM »

4 Inch PVC conduit from shack to exit portal from the house for antenna cables.  Seperate 2 inch PVC for rotor control wiring, beverage switching lines ect. Insure that Sweeps not elbows are installed at transition points, you are really lucky if you can design a straight out feed.  The obvious power feed (100A 240VAC) sub panel in the shack.  All power, telco, control wiring enters the shack thru the same area with surge protection at the common entry area (usually a 24x24inch wallboard) with all surge protection single point grounded.  Distribute RF and control wiring from this single entry point to any multiple operating positions. Single ground connection of 2/0 cable down to ground rod, or ground ring.  As others have said if you need an RF ground, re-design your antenna system.  And yes, watch the house being built.

Good Luck
Steve W4CNG

Posts: 2415

« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2005, 02:24:34 AM »

Lots of good ideas presented so far. One I did not see is to be SURE to connect ground wire stubs to your rebar in the concrete footings for the house, To be attached to your ground "system" (And the "system" should consist of more than a single ground rod)  More ground rods can always be added in the future, But once the concrete is poured, It is too late to bond the ground system to the rebar. Concrete rebar grounds (UFer grounds) are nowadays commonly done on all commercial systems around here.

Posts: 72

« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2006, 08:01:10 PM »

:purposes. It is quite possible to bring the cables in at
: a ground level single point ground and then route them
:to an upper floor to the radio. What you want to avoid :if possible is having the cable entry and grounding

This would be the best alternative for me as well.
However, I can't accomplish it in a preexisting house.
My move to a CSPG would require the entrance at 10 feet
above ground.  I can't drill through the concrete and
drill holes into the shack.  It isn't allowed.

I was thinking of having a primary junction point at
ground level.  This would consist of a sheet metal
grounded to one rod.  The feed would go to the entrance
panel, which would be grounded for the equipment as well.

I have slight RFI on 40 meters with my Gap Titan.

As Steve has pointed out common mode chokes, I hear
others advise against.  Why can't I take coaxial and
coil it?  Are there any cons against coiling for a choke before my feedline for the GAP TITAN enters?

Bill N1EY
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