Manager - AB7RG
Manager Notes

How to Overcome Some Condo Issues

Created by on 2018-01-16

Moving into a condo changes one's life, especially a ham operator's. I was used to a collection of horizontal loops, a NVIS antenna and verticals with a large radial system. The rig was a Yaesu FT-897 which did a reasonable job, especially with that antenna system. Then, the condo!

Although hams are commonly faulted for foolishly moving into a limited antenna situation, things as age and the need to be nearer family precludes hobby preferences. Hence, we are now in a condo in the city of Charlotte.

I am limited in ham knowledge, so maybe my errors will benefit those who love the hobby, but aren't engineering types. I will therefore outline my thinking (?) and the processes that I went through in establishing a viable ham station on the cheap (excluding transceiver).

First, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You just keep adjusting, both expectations and equipment, until there's improvement. The value of total failure adds to the odds of the next effort being successful. In many, if not most cases, there will be an opening to work with your hobby. You may also find that garage sales, etc., can help save money on your next effort of station improvement, especially if it flops. I've found wire, power supplies, tuners, cables and even office equipment with a little perseverance.

Condos provide more noise, less space, more neighbors and abundant rules. So thinking in advance. I rightly expected huge QRM/N in the condo and therefore I looked at magnetic loops which tend to be inherently quieter. My first purchase in preparation for the move was a W4OP mag loop. This is a very efficient loop and helps reduce background noise and is also priced reasonably. Another good decision is to always deal with quality companies who respond to (my) dumb questions and support their product. LNR Precision, who make the W4OP loop, is one of them.

The loop had worked well in my old den and tuned easily. However, in the condo, the loop struggled to tune on 20 meters. It seems, there was too much metal in the window framing. However, with some wisdom from Dale Parfitt (the designer of the loop) I rotated the loop, elevated it a bit and, behold, it would tune. He was patient. However, the den is still a Faraday cage so although the loop worked, I knew I was missing a great deal because the loop performed better outside. In fact, it was incredibly good. But in my den, there were too many impedances.

Interestingly, the condo had been pre-wired for cable. I located the cable distribution box in a closet, isolated the den cable and extended it through a hole I drilled in the ceiling. This would then run into the available attic space over the garage.

In that little attic (along with A/C ducts, and wiring) I had a space of 25' by 4-5'. I made a 100-foot double loop and used a 4:1 balun. Sometimes it worked better than others. It was almost good. However, when I turned the power up to 50 watts to see if I would be able to make QSO, I began wondering why my wife was screaming in the living room.

We have electrically operated furniture. Apparently, RF can make the furniture open and close up at will....even if someone is sitting in it watching TV. My wife was stuck in a recliner and was doing her best to let me know. Thankfully, if the chair/couch, etc. is unplugged, it resets itself where it will work normally without the use of RF. I later found out that the balun was dying the death of intermittency. When the RF went up, the balun just shorted out and the furniture danced.

I replaced all with a dipole to see if it would work with lots of ferrite for a choke. Every CQ I called moved the furniture. Sure enough, my field strength meter hopped up and down with each transmission.

I added ground wire. I ran unobtrusively thin speaker wire out the den window, used a hot glue gun, and glued the wire cleverly around each rectangular stone in that part of the exterior wall to the ground. I then ran the wire under pine needles to the nearest exterior faucet and secured it with hot glue up the wall corner and then over to an outdoor faucet under the siding edge for a better ground. Inside I tried another transmission. More comments from my wife who was now hopping up and down let me know the system needed work.

I then added more ground wire and ran it along the wall in the opposite direction from the faucet to help with the RF. More hoping up and down!

Waiting a few weeks and saving a few bucks, I purchased a used $10 balun at a hamfest, and decided to empower my attic dipole using four metal slinkies. I stretched out two slinkies on each side of the balun and it worked, but, again, not fabulously.

Then I began to eye the small maple tree (20' high) outside my den window. I was unsure about running RG-8 out the window obscurely, but some hot glue, patience and more pine needles brought both it and me to the base of the tree. I then hot- glued an antenna wire up the trunk, around some low branches and then with a weight, strung some wire in the upper branches and back down where I could wrap the (apparent unsightly) black antenna wire around some dark branches. It received better than the attic antenna. However, I could still move furniture and I felt moved to be quiet when a neighbor complained that his electronic washer/dryer combination began to act up.

With the frustration of QRM and poor reception of the antenna and potentially of the neighbors, I thought about going portable and made a major life decision: I sold the trusty Yaesu FT-897 to purchase an Elecraft KX3.

The FT-897 was heavy to carry around for portable use with a 22ah battery, the mag loop and equipment, and it didn't have great filtering. I did some research, and sold the Yaesu to afford the ultimate (in my opinion) home/portable rig: the Elecraft KX3. This was a major purchase for me, but the built- in tuner, portability, and truly high-quality reception was a necessary step up. Elecraft was another company with great customer support and has a good customer base who are willing to help those of us who are just getting into the SDR concept.

One other thing: I also went from 100 watts to 15 watts. Why the decrease in power with poor antenna availability? There were two contributing factors. The first was that the KX3 is truly an exceptional portable/in-shack rig and provides top-of- the-line filtering. It did require a learning curve (hmmm, why does this button NOT do this?). It also travels well. I still remember taking my Yaesu to Hawaii in my luggage. I was younger.

The KX3 is really wonderful outside with the mag loop, or a no-counterpoise wire antenna or even two short wires connected to the BNC plug as antenna and ground. The ATU tunes everything but my wooden venetian blinds. However, what do I do when I don't want to go out due to spells of bad weather or laziness?

I looked at the antenna situation again. I remembered that I had had some success with the attic loop antenna so I just connected the two ends of my slinky dipole and made it a large loop. This was a bit better, but it was still not as good as working in a local park gazebo with an antenna wire on its roof and a radial on the ground.

There WAS one possibility. I looked at the condo rules again and they allowed a place for an "antenna!". They didn't say what KIND of antenna, just an "antenna", by which they meant a satellite antenna for cable However, "antenna" means something much different to me. I thought of using the supplied TV cable (slightly mismatched, but that was the least of my concerns) and putting up a vertical on the dish stand. But then, there was the thought of the dancing furniture which was just inside that wall. So in deference to avoid trapping wives in a chair, I sought another solution.

People have mentioned that if one spends $1500 on a transceiver, why would you then try to save money on the auxiliary equipment? The answer is that: 1) it's still a hobby that is hands on; 2) the initial cost $1500 really limits continuing to toss money in the same direction when there are other things going on in one's life. Plus, it's fun to actually do a few things yourself, like throwing out a wire, calling it an antenna, and making QSO's.

I looked at the tree antenna situation again and decided to try to isolate the antenna better with an unun. Saving a few bucks, I found it was easy to wind your own with an old ferrite antenna which is a good ferrite mixture for this purpose. The unun actually worked. The antenna seemed to work better, my RF meter was happy, the furniture didn't move, the chair was more comfortable and my watts actually got out.

Even with the outside tree antenna and unun, I wasn't making it into Europe bigtime, and although I could tune 80 meters, it was still fairly noisy due to its proximity to the condo. During the day I still wasn't getting out well.

I then began to think of actually spending some money and getting some very thin near-invisible wire. But then my greatest thought hit: in my antenna bag in the garage, I had a spaghetti pile of very thin wire colored with alternating colors of pale blue and white. This was another great garages sale find!

I separated 30' of wire, and with a little fishing line and a weight, added this wire to the end of the tree antenna antenna which serpentines all over the place. The wire stretches out now to another 20' tree. The wire is really incredibly difficult to see against the sky. It is blandly colored with short alternating cream and pale-blue strips and is 15' high. It may not seem like much, but the addition is like a breath of fresh RF. The bands are now alive.

I still have the BNC connectors and wires, the mag loop and all that I need to go portable plus I've learned much. Not only that, but I now have reasonable ham shack performance. I have antennas for portable use, I can operate at 15 watts (big time for me now) and I've learned about the transceiver. I'm enjoying both ham radio and SWL-ing. Now, if I can just filter out how the guys running 5kw SSB with directional arrays!

K4TML 2018-03-03
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Years back, I moved into an apartment building with a "No antennas" covenant. After a bit of headscratching, I remembered Martin Jue's "Tune a bedspring" MFJ Travel tuner that had been sitting in a storage unit for several years.
The apartment had galvanized steel A/C ducts going upstairs and down, and were connected to the heat pump by a canvas flex duct. A quick ohmmeter check showed they were isolated from ground. So a foot of RG-8 went from the HW-101 to the tuner, 10' of #12 stranded to the cold water pipe on the water heater, and another 10' of same was silver soldered to the start of the duct, and back to the random wire post of the tuner.
I was pretty much limited to 40M and down, but that kludge got QSL's from Labrador to French Guiana. When there's a will......
KG6QKJ 2018-02-24
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
I just use a Hamstick Dipole on a balcony and move it inside when I am done with it and then bring it back out the next time. I use quick disconnects to change bands. I even hang a hummingbird feeder on it sometimes to appease the little ol lady next door.

I also have an abundance of LMR-400 equivalent so that extra shielding may help. No RFI and using 100 watts.
KA6TPR 2018-02-20
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
NO6L said:
"Now, on another level, why, regardless of, but not excluding, your involvement in amateur radio, in the name of all that is sane would you have even considered moving into a condo or other HOA housing?"
Sactimonious sh!t.
Because everybody has to make trade-off in life, that's why. Because ham radio is a hobby, not my life. Because I don't like to rake leave, I couldn't afford the Olympic sized swimming pool I use, pricing condo fees vs stand-alone housing upkeep is about a wash, somebody takes care of the place while we spend 6 months in the Winnebago. Because I don't want to live in someplace I could afford 4 acres with 100 foot trees and shovel snow in the winter and cow manure in the summer.

AI4WC 2018-02-09
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
This subject reminds me words like "incest" or "ethnic cleansing." Now that I have your attention, why can't we have a civil and scientific discussion helping all to learn and understand more about RFI? Why do some rigs, antenna setups and such work well with no problems and others seem to present impossible problems? And, is there a lower limit of output where RFI ceases, at least so it does not cause problems? Ferrites on appliance wires do help, but can we eliminate the CAUSE of RFI instead of simply formulating more treatments? A simplified, universal approach to the problem for every amateur to know and follow would really help.

OK; I've had my say. I hope enough of you are thoughtful enough to not damn me and start the thoughtful approach to the problem. Let me start by stating that this is not just a "condo" or "HOA" problem! It applies to all of us.
W4FJT 2018-02-06
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Also, many of us rent condos while on vacation and like to take a rig with us and some type of portable antenna. So the discussion is valuable in that way too.
KO7I 2018-02-02
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
I keep on hand a 84ft doublet made of #18 Grey Teflon insulated wire. It is virtually invisible at a distance, even out in plan site.
I like the "load up the rain gutters idea".
Reminds me of a friend who once loaded up 2 end to end ironing boards on 40M when he decided he wanted to get on the air after drinking a little to much. He claimed it worked...
I figure those ironing boards aren't any worse than a mag loop.
VE3TMT 2018-02-02
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Reading your story brought back the nightmares from when I was apartment living and trying to get a station going.

I tried everything from near invisible 26AWG wire running along the hedge line to hanging a length from the underside of the balcony of the apartment above me. And I remember digging up the back yard in the dark to bury the coax when no one would see me.

They were fun times and sad times. If the RFI from the apartment didn't get me, the wife screaming when the TV went nuts did. A constant S-9 noise level from all that apartment crap really hampered my operating. I built a 3' loop using a vacuum variable cap for tuning. I could work up and down the east coast on 40m with it in the basement. Worked great until the antenna fell over and the cap smashed.

When I moved to our current home, I put up an R7 vertical and worked the world. The original Cushcraft antenna was a nice antenna. Now I have a three element beam on a tower, something I could only have dreamed of living in the apartment. No HOA or city limitations whatsoever. Only finances keep me from upgrading.

My wife and I will be retiring soon, and we are tossing around the idea of buying a permanent three-season trailer at a nearby campsite. I doubt a permanent antenna will be allowed, so I imagine my DMR hotspot will be seeing a lot more use.
KD8ZM 2018-01-30
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
You need different furniture!
KW1K 2018-01-24
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
I am an attorney and I am retired and can't offer legal advice, I can provide some legal guidance [more latter].

If you own the land around your unit, a Hustler BTV vertical fits nicely inside a 2 inch PVC pipe to make a flagpole. If you do not wish to deal with radials [which are easy to install], there are off center fed flagpole antennas commercially available, or you can build your own. Magnetic loop antennas are also a reasonable choice although these have narrow bandwidth and require frequent adjustment. There are several commercially available as well as several discussion groups for homebrew.

Now for the law part. If the flag your HOA is prohibiting is the good old stars and stripes, the HOA is probably out of line. Your right to display the United States flag is protected by federal law. The “Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005” makes it illegal for an HOA to restrict owners from displaying a U.S. flag. See

In addition, there are state laws. Here in Florida there is a state law allowing me to erect a 20 foot flagpole and display both the US and Florida flags. It contains language permitting owners in such associations, regardless of what may be contained in the applicable declaration, bylaws or rules of the association, to display the American flag and military flag on the owner’s property. The manner and placement in which such flags may be displayed by owners can be regulated by the Board through reasonable rules and regulations.'+

Again. I can't provide legal advice, and suggest you consult a local attorney but I hope this is some encouragement; there are very good solutions available regardless of what the HOA rules state since both Federal and State law takes precedence.

Best of luck & 73.
KL7FZ 2018-01-20
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
The wife had a 50 watt excitation level.
At least she wasn't a dead short as some are.
VE3CUI 2018-01-20

You've just really, REALLY depressed me!!! Unintentionally, of course, but depressed me, none-the-less…

So THIS is what I have to look forward to in my "Golden Years" of Ham Radio, after having enjoyed, for decades, the freedom of country living atop 4-acres of land, dotted with tall trees…?!

Hey --- they shoot HORSES, don't they…?! :o)
W7ASA 2018-01-20
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
I just wanted to thank you for writing and posting your article. Antenna restrictions and RFI are the central problem for many hams today. Good writing, humor and examples of the old 'can-do' attitude are fuel for thought and experimentation. The electric furniture; well, I think in pictures, so you had me laughing.

73 de Ray ..._ ._
NO6L 2018-01-19
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Absolutely no one mentioned it, but, first, why not go to the source of the problem. Not the station, but the equipment that is malfunctioning. Don't slap a bunch of "fer-rites" around the power cords, it never works at HF unless there is SOME kind of filtering in the equipment's power supplies, which there never is. All it does is reduce capacitance on the antennas that the power cords are functioning as, putting them closer to resonance. And as you found, a mag loop will not work either. Because the wiring in your walls serves as an antenna for the furniture's power supplies, everywhere you point it will be another current note the noise is radiating from. And they will appear to move about as you change frequency and bands, further confounding you to the point of insanity.

You have to use brute force filters, usually found in quality metal enclosures, at the faulty equipent. You will also find your noise level will drop, too. They can be found at surplus outfits at reasonable prices a lot cheaper, and safer, than a home made unit. They are also UL rated as long as it is installed in a safe enclosure with fusing. Until you fix the problem, "You will forever be running around plugging holes in a water-logged dyke".

Now, on another level, why, regardless of, but not excluding, your involvement in amateur radio, in the name of all that is sane would you have even considered moving into a condo or other HOA housing? On a financial level it makes absolutely no sense. Not only are you still paying property taxes you are paying rent. Yes, you are. You are paying to live in a place you own. Why? just so someone else will do your yard work and upkeep of the outside? Was it because your wife said, "Condo or divorce"? Okay, it has to be said, I might as well be the one. Malfunctioning electronic furniture (really?), noise and limited transmission range are not your problems.
W8QZ 2018-01-19
RE: How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions
As far as the issue with RFI and the chair controls - I'd try the ferrite filters that sells - wrap a couple turns of each cable for the chair through one of his low-frequency mix-31 split cores, to keep RF out of the controls. They have worked very well at my house - I can run a KW without bothering things. (FWIW, I have no connection with the aformentioned business - just a happy customer)
K0UA 2018-01-18
RE: How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions
"People live where they do for a variety of reasons, OM. As a young officer in the military, I lived in apartments and townhomes, and always made it work. Years later, it's all good and I couldn't be happier.

People who protected you, so you were free to work and live where you pleased, made far, far less money than you did, and their choices were very limited."

Thank you for your service and thank you for giving me a new prospective on this issue.
KB6QXM 2018-01-18
RE: How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions
@K9MHZ-Thank you for your service. Don't assume that the people you are talking to did not make the same sacrifices as you did.

K3SZ 2018-01-17
RE: How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions

Well said...

KM4OBL 2018-01-17
RE: How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions
I live in an apartment by necessity, with a ham-unfriendly management. I have to keep a low profile.

When I became licensed a few years ago, I figured out right away that the only way to go for dx on HF, which was my principle interest, was to use the digital modes and keep a low profile. I mounted a stick antenna on a tripod and a bracket that projects the antenna away from the railing and balcony at an angle.

Every session on the radio requires me to take the antenna/tripod combination out on the balcony and tune it and the three radials. It is a pain in the neck, but it works well enough to get me on the air and across the ocean, first with psk31 and now with FT8.
K9MHZ 2018-01-17
RE: How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions
"In addition I find it humorous that hams buy Condos and homes in CC&R and HOA controlled areas and then figure out how to go around the rules. Huh? How does that work??"

How many times have we read this exact comment here, over the years? The sanctimony does get old.

People live where they do for a variety of reasons, OM. As a young officer in the military, I lived in apartments and townhomes, and always made it work. Years later, it's all good and I couldn't be happier.

People who protected you, so you were free to work and live where you pleased, made far, far less money than you did, and their choices were very limited.

AA7LX 2018-01-17
How to Overcome Condo/Apartment restrictions
I hope this can help other Hams... Where I just moved into-- I'm lucky. Having previously lived in this Complex(5 yearts ago) and, sinc-- staying in touch with the the Maintenence Man and the Manager; I have just finished putting a 73 ft. dipole; 6M ground plane; 2M/440M Vertical with their approval on the roof of the 2 story Biulding I live in, pretty much right above my 2nd story Condo. Right now, I'm setting up the Station and doing Antenna testing. The only possible problem may be the Dipole is to close(low) to the Roof. Believe me, I know not everyone has access to the Roof. Before this QTH; I built Quads to fit the size of the balcony-- behind a roll-down screen on the Balcony and was able to work 6M and everything VHF. '73, George, AA7LX
GM1FLQ 2018-01-17
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
"K6AER said it all.

Not only does this story applies to hams that live in Condos, but everyone that purchases or rents a house in a CC&R or HOA controlled area. Let's not forget our California hams AND the "visual impact" controlled areas.

In addition I find it humorous that hams buy Condos and homes in CC&R and HOA controlled areas and then figure out how to go around the rules. Huh? How does that work??"

.....and some also find it humorous that hams buy QRO amps, >100ft towers, studio boom mics and don't figure out they are not a commercial radio station.......
NN2X 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Well, If I was in your situation, I would get into digital (If you are not already)..

If you like rag chew, Olivia is your answer, it works -13dB below the noise floor, if you only like to exchange signal reports, FT8 mode, (That works -24dB BELOW the noise floor..

Using PSK reporter, you can see if your signal is getting out...

BPSK 31, is another one...But using only 15 watts, and modest antenna, you can work the world easily with Olivia and FT8...

I have one of those 5KW AMPS...It sits quietly off, while I use digital modes!

C U on the bands..
ONAIR 2018-01-16
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
The Villages in Florida have a very strict HOA. Members of their ham club are able to beat them! Check the "resources" section on their website.
KB2FCV 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
If I had to downsize a place with HOA's, CC&R's, etc... I would definitely find something with access to an attic.

The last place we lived before we bought a house we rented a townhouse which had attic. I was able to get a loop fed with ladder line up there as well as a 6m dipole and a 2 meter beam. The loop was basically as much wire as I could fit around the perimeter of the attic fed with ladder line which dropped down through the attic access hole straight to the tuner. I made my own access cover with holes for antenna cables so that I could replace the original when we moved out. How did it work? It worked pretty well! The furthest DX was VQ9. I was able to get into AF, EU, some south pacific, SA. It certainly had its limitations but I got out! Oh yeah, CW/Digital modes pretty much exclusively for HF... SSB was a challenge. I ran 100W.

If age / ability / etc prevents you from climbing up into the attic.. get involved with a club. At least around here, club members help others all the time with antenna projects. I've helped out quite a few times over the years. You can probably find someone who will gladly climb up there.
KB2NAT 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Some magloops can really get costly, especially if one is thinking of running some power.. I paid $329 for mine. One of the problems of some condos is that the ability to home-brew is limited by the lack of a facility to do so.
W1RKW 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
$429 for a mag loop? Wow! I would've homebrewed one for a quarter of the cost.
KB6QXM 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
K6AER said it all.

Not only does this story applies to hams that live in Condos, but everyone that purchases or rents a house in a CC&R or HOA controlled area. Let's not forget our California hams AND the "visual impact" controlled areas.

In addition I find it humorous that hams buy Condos and homes in CC&R and HOA controlled areas and then figure out how to go around the rules. Huh? How does that work??

Lastly, if the ham is serious about their hobby, there should be other considerations. Tower permit/restrictions. Noise issues. Maybe do a site survey with a portable HF receiver to determine if there is a noise issue in your potential new QTH.

In California, you do not have the option to have your station as strictly a mobile, as the new "distracted driver" laws have just killed mobile ham radio in the state of California.

K6AER 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Living in a condo and having the hobby of ham radio is like owning a 911S and having no drivers license.
KK6HUY 2018-01-16
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
Thank you, one of the best I've seen here to date, and covers the inevitable RFI issues, of which there are plenty when people are living on top of each other as is the condo way.

Hey, it's not my ideal situation, but I can't afford my ideal situation, so it's condo life for me.
KB2DHG 2018-01-16
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
There is ALWAYS A WY! you just have to be crafty... I hid a G5RV on the roof of my condo and worked with it for 6 years until I moved out of that hell hole! Not back in a house with NO restrictions and neighbors.
N8FVJ 2018-01-16
RE: How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
I heard using an antenna tuner may load into a metal gutter.
N3HKN 2018-01-16
How to Overcome Some Condo Issues
"So in deference to avoid trapping wives in a chair, I sought another solution." Sounds like another hobby. As a condo dweller I threw 66ft of wire from the third floor to the deck and ran thwire around it avoiding parallel runs. I can get out about 150 miles with 10 watts on 40 meters. I use a free remote receiver service to monitor for my signal as I fiddle things. It is invigorating to hear your signal at some distance away at 6 watts.

Dick N3HKN
PS: if you still have a hi-noise level an amplified loop really works as a receive only antenna. I bought one with low expectations but setting on an office chair behind me I can rotate it to receive everything I can on the wire. BUT at a lower signal level. The secret is that you rotate it until you hit a null for the noise. The signal is even lower BUT the noise is much lower and the Signal to Noise is improved. It is not the S-Meter but SNR that gives you better reception.