How Do I Run Wi-Fi To An Outbuilding?

Your Connectivity Options

You’re considering using a tiny home or some other building outside your home as an office?

That’s a great idea…so long as you’ll have Internet access there.

Let’s look at how you can go about doing that.

But first, let’s get some technology stuff out of the way.

Understanding Wi-Fi Technologies

How Wi-Fi Works

Wi-Fi is a wireless communication technology, first released to the public in 1997, that allows your devices, such as smartphones, laptops, or tablets, to connect to the Internet without physical wires.

It uses radio frequency (RF) signals to transmit data between devices. 

Your Wi-Fi router serves as the central hub, receiving the RF signals from your devices and routing them to the proper destination i.e. another device or the public Internet. 

Now let’s look at the type of building you’re trying to sort out a connection to.

Assessing outbuilding requirements

Building distance and Wi-Fi range

The theoretical maximum distance a Wi-Fi signal can travel outdoors is around 1,000 feet.

But there are a few things to keep in mind here such as:

  • You must have a clear line of sight (not even a leaf in the way)
  • Atmospheric conditions need to be perfect
  • There can be absolutely no electromagnetic (EM) interference
  • Accepting that your connection speed 1,000 feet out will likely be worse than dial-up.

A more realistic outdoor distance for a Wi-Fi signal to travel is no more than 100 meters, or 300 feet, catering for my Imperial and Metric readers.

Is your outbuilding/tiny home located further than 100 meters from your home?

If so you’re going to need a more commercial solution for your connectivity, involving things called repeaters.

But it’s far more likely for your outbuilding to be maybe 10-20 meters from your home.

Just remember that the further the signal has to travel the weaker it becomes, and the slower your connection speed will be as a result. 

What is the building made from?

If your outbuilding has concrete or steel walls (even cladding), then your Wi-Fi signal is going to suffer from something called attenuation.

This is a fancy way of saying “suffer from signal interference” because radio waves don’t travel readily through solid objects.

Even wooden or dry-rock walls will cause a certain amount of signal loss. 

Wi-Fi connection options

Let’s look at some popular options, including Wi-Fi extenders, powerline networking, Wi-Fi mesh systems, and direct Ethernet connections.

Wi-Fi extenders

These are also called repeaters or boosters, and they help increase the strength and range of your existing wireless network. 

They “capture” the Wi-Fi signal from your router and retransmit it, extending its range.

But there are a few things to consider here:

  1. An outdoor extender will need an outdoor power source
  2. An extender doesn’t make a weak Wi-Fi signal better, it just makes it travel further

Wi-Fi Mesh systems

Wi-Fi mesh systems are a popular and more modern option for extending Wi-Fi coverage across larger areas inside a building.

And while these are typically only used indoors to ensure that every room in a home has a decent Wi-Fi signal, they can be configured to provide outdoor coverage too.

Something like the TP-Link AX3000 Deco outdoor mesh repeater would do the job.

Again, this involves placing an electronic device outdoors, so you’ll need an external power source that’s also waterproof.

Direct Ethernet connection

A direct Ethernet connection is not a Wi-Fi connection because it requires the use of a wire – well actually there’s several wires inside an Ethernet cable.

But a direct Ethernet connection to your exterior building can still be made wireless by simply plugging the other end of the cable into a wireless router. Something like the AC1200 by TP-Link would give you a dedicated Wi-Fi access point throughout your entire outbuilding.

And for very little cost.

Just remember that Ethernet does not magically produce a Wi-Fi signal all on its own and also that you may need to run the cable underground or through heavy conduit to prevent external interference, animals chewing on it, etc.

And that means extra work for you or the contractor you have to hire to do this for you.

Powerline networking

Powerline networking uses your existing electrical wiring to transmit data from one point to another within your household.

Your electrical wiring is made of copper, which is perfect for transmitting data over short distances. 

In this setup, you first have to sync up the powerline adapters to your router – this is explained in the documentation for them and only takes a couple of seconds.

You can then run an Ethernet cable from the router inside your home to a powerline/HomeAV plug adapter on your wall that then plugs into a power outlet/socket.

You then plug a powerline/HomeAV plug adapter into a power outlet in your outbuilding or exterior office – you need to do this pretty quickly to maintain the sync between the adapters. 

And voila, you have a Wi-Fi access point offering direct Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity in your outbuilding.

I use the  TP-Link AC1200 as my extender of choice for powerline network extensions.

The other major requirement here is that your powerline/HomeAV plug adapters must be connected directly to a mains power outlet or socket and not an extension cord or cable. 

A direct mains connection is required for these adapters to network correctly.