Home > Canada, Cutting Cable, Media Center, TV and Movies > Installing an attic antenna for free HDTV in Canada

Installing an attic antenna for free HDTV in Canada

On August 31 2011, the Canadian airwaves will light up with new free HDTV signals from your local television stations.  In order to take advantage of these signals you’ll want a good quality antenna to pull in the signals.

The best option is to install an antenna on your roof, but if you’re like me then there are a few reasons why this might not happen:

  1. My wife (and likely neighbours) doesn’t want an ugly antenna sticking out of my roof
  2. I’m not comfortable working on the roof myself
  3. I’m too cheap to pay someone to do it for me (about $250 labour to install)
    The next best thing to an outdoor antenna is to install an antenna in your attic, which is actually quite easy to do.  I’ll walk you through the basics.

    What you’ll need (expect to spend about $150):

    A good-quality antenna:

    • See the chart over at Digital Home Canada for the latest recommendations
    • The CM4221 was my choice because it can grab fringe channels from Buffalo and will fit through my attic hatch
    • Note that you’ll need to match the antenna to the channels you plan to receive and there are a few odd ducks out there that will be tough to match to an attic-sized antenna (I’m lookin’ at you Global TV on channel 6 in Paris, Ontario)

    A pole to mount it to:

    • Personally I used some cheap PVC conduit from Home Depot

    A pre-amplifier:

    • This is only necessary if you plan to split the signal to multiple TVs, but a pre-amp is a good investment as it amplifies the signal right at the antenna before any signal gets lost in the cable or splitters
    • See the chart over at Digital Home Canada for the latest recommendations. 
    • The Winegard AP-4700 was my choice as I didn’t want to over-amplify the signal and at the time I only needed UHF channels 14 and up.

    Coax cable:

    • RG6 grade is the way to go here, which is available at Home Depot in bulk
    • You’ll also need a way to put screw-ends on the coax, which usually involves a special cutter and crimper which is also available at Home Depot (I’m happy to lend my compression crimpers out to local friends and colleagues)
    • Look in the telecom section for good quality stuff, not the TV cables section which is where Home Depot puts the cheap junk

    Step 1 – Mount the antenna

    Find a spot in the attic that is relatively easy to access.  Use conduit clamps (also at Home Depot) to mount the pole vertically between rafters.  Use a level to ensure the pole is straight.

    Mount the antenna to the pole following the manufacturer’s instructions, as high as is possible.  The CM4221 is a simple U-bolt that you loosen via a couple of nuts.

    Step 2 – Run the cable

    Figure out how you’re going to run a cable from your antenna to its ultimate destination (likely the TV).

    Here’s how I did it:

    • Found a cold-air return duct that ran from the ceiling of the top floor all the way down to the basement. 
    • Popped off the cover from the vent, and drilled a hole upwards into the attic
    • Stuck a coat hanger through the hole so that I could find it through the insulation
    • In the attic, use electrical tape to attach the coax cable to the coat hanger, then pulled it through into the duct.
    • Pull the cable through until I felt it hit bottom in the basement
    • Asked a buddy to jiggle the cable while I located it by sound in the basement
    • Cut a relatively large opening into the cold air return duct with tin snips to locate the cable, then pulled it through into the basement
    • Stapled the cable into place in the basement, ultimately ending near where the rest of the coax comes into the house (generally near your electrical box)
    • Closed up the cold air vent with the sheet metal I had cut out and some aluminum tape
    • Sealed all the holes with caulk
      Step 3 – Connect the antenna

    • Connect the balun (the little adapter the converts two wires into coax) to the antenna
    • Using a small piece of coax, connect the balun to the antenna side of the preamp
    • Connect the long piece of coax to the power supply side of the preamp
    • Back in the basement, connect the long coax to the power supply that came with the preamp.
    • Connect another length of coax from the preamp power supply to a splitter, and ultimately to the TVs you wish to connect (you can probably re-use the cables already in your home that were put there for Cable TV).

    Step 4 – Adjust the antenna

    • Using maps on TVFool, figure out in which direction the TV stations are broadcasting from, and point your antenna in that general direction.
    • The next set of steps is mostly trial and error, and you’ll likely need a helper. 
    • Pick one of the channels from your TVFool report that is relatively low on the list, we’re going to try to point the antenna optimally to bring in that hard-to-get channel. 
    • Tune your HDTV to that channel (you may have to run a channel scan first), and set the TV to signal strength mode. 
    • Try adjusting the antenna left or right until you get the best signal strength. 
    • Once you’ve got that hard-to-get channel working, check the signal strength on the other channels to ensure they’re coming in strong.  If not, you may have to keep tweaking until you find a happy medium for all the channels.
    • Nerd tip: If you’re using the HDHomerun3 network tuner (highly recommended), there is an iPad app called Signal GH that makes quick work of pointing the antenna.  Maps, compass, and signal strength all on your iPad
      Step 5 – Enjoy!
      That’s about it, you should now have access to all of the free HDTV signals that are flying through the air here in Canada.
      I’ve included a couple photos below of my setup to help you visualize.  You may notice that I actually chose to stack two Channel Master 4221 antennas in the attic, which helps me to pull in some of the more challenging channels from Buffalo.

      Stacked 4221 antennas in the attic Stacked 4221 antennas in the attic

      Additional Resources:

      Digitalhome.ca: More help and info on over-the-air antennas and reception in Canada

      TVFool.com: Tools to help you figure out the channels available in your area

      Save ‘n Replay: Canadian online retailer that sells over-the-air supplies

      Media Center and HDTV: Instructions to set up Windows 7 as a HDTV PVR

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      1. Eryn HT Smit
        August 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

        Great post, Peter! I stumbled across your blog in the digital home.ca forums. My family has been cable-free since just before the analog to digital conversion in the US, and we love it. The Globe & Mail got ahold of my account of our switch and did a feature in the Report on Business back then. The only thing I have left to add is a PVR device for our Macs, and we will be good to go. The combination down here in Chatham of an OTA antenna, ATSC tuners, Netflix, a PS3, and an apple tv has completely negated the need for cable, and the upgrade to digital for Canadian channels in a couple weeks will be awesome. The hardware required to get going was still far less than my total cable bill for a 12 month period! Continue spreading the word – cable should become a thing of the past.
        Eryn Smit

        • JOHNSTON, Robert
          July 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm

          Good morning:
          We have cut the cable and are looking for a supplier of amps, etc in the Chatham area.
          Can you offer any advice?

      2. September 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm

        Thanks to you contribution to the community .I have EPG working on my MCE 7 with a HDHomeRun Ethernet tuner card on my HTPC

        Recently on 18-Aug TVO Ontario cut over to DTV. How do I get the EPG for this channel? Currently I get the message that no data is available

        Appreciate your help

        Ferdinand Martin

      3. September 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm

        Ferdinand: When editing your guide, look for the callsign CICA and apply those listings. It’s not listed as TVO in the guide.

      4. Franko
        May 24, 2013 at 1:21 pm

        I live in Milton and installed a digitwave 2084 on my old expresss vu pipe. Cannot pick up anything, the line of site is blocked by houses in rear. I will put it in my attic as you have posted and try it again, thanks for the post.
        Do I need an amplifier ??
        txs, franko

      5. May 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm

        It’s odd to get nothing, are you sure it’s all connected properly? The bowties point towards the signal (the front), the mesh blocks signals (the back) so make sure it’s pointed the right way. A pre-amp may help, yes.

        Check out digitalhome.ca for more detailed help. http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=81

      6. Ann
        October 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

        Hi, my name is Ann. I live in south Scarborough, Ontario. I recently installed my channel master 4228HD, to my backyard garage. The garage is 200 feet from my house. I ran a cable underground from the garage to by basement and attached the cable to my TV on the main floor of a two story house. The reception is excellent and I was able to get 21 channels constantly.

      7. Mario
        January 18, 2015 at 11:25 am

        Hi, I have a mini state antenna installed in my attic. This mini state model 5MS740 amplified UHF/VHF, with a remote controller, to change directions. It was put in there, some twenty years ago. When my two daughter were home, we were on cable. After they moved out, I have decided to re- connect this antenna. Here is my question for you Can you change this antenna, to the one you recommend for a longer range, and to receive more channel? All the wiring and cable connections are still in the attic. My attic is about 20′ tall, and there is no problem for you to get in there. A small pole mast is still there. What I am hoping for is, removing the mini state and connecting your recommended antenna. My wife does not like an antenna on the top of the roof. Can you connect me with a person that can do this for me? Installing a new antenna, and re – connecting the coaxial cable. There is no ladder required, while in there, the rafter are in aligned to do this. We do not like rotating it, for each station that we watch. Can you contact me? I had a broken leg and can’t do any any work myself. Thank you.

      8. January 18, 2015 at 5:36 pm

        Mario, should be something you can do yes. Where are you located, I’m sure there are some antenna guys who could help you out.

        You probably want to look at a new antenna and a new pre-amplifier, and look at any splitters you have along the way to ensure they’re in good shape too. Shouldn’t be too big a job.

        As for recommended antennas, take a look at the chart at the link in the article to see what is best. There are some newer antennas than the one I have which are now recommended.

      9. Mario
        January 19, 2015 at 4:48 pm

        I have done all that I can. I have called 4 different installers, and have had no luck with any of them. They are all interested in putting up their own package. They all want to install a tower, with their own antenna. None of them want to install in my attic. They all claim that they would be wasting their time, and it won’t work. I can understand their motive, move me up, so they can make more money. The original installer is no longer able to do anything for me. He fell off a ladder and is out of the antenna business. I live in the Niagara Region, I
        contacted you as a way of finding other installers, that could help. I also should not have used my real name. It is embarrassing to me for all to read, especially all who know me.
        thank you, Mario..

        • January 19, 2015 at 5:09 pm

          Mario, no problem. I edited out your last name for you.
          Try calling http://www.saveandreplay.com to see if they can recommend someone for you. They’re based in Mississauga but may know someone in the Niagara area. Good place to buy your gear too.

      10. Mario
        January 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

        I have contacted http://www.saveandreplay.com and their reply was that they do not install inside attics. They have no installers that would come down to my area. The only do GTA. They will sell me all that I require for my changeover,and they have no one that can do my job. Please, do you have any other suggestions for me? Thank you, Mario…..

      11. Chris
        October 27, 2015 at 11:15 am

        I’m skimming through your post here and didn’t notice any booster/amp for your antenna. Do you use one? I’m going to try this in Paris ON, and I wonder if I’ll need some sort of booster.

        • October 27, 2015 at 12:10 pm

          Yes, I did use a pre-amp. In my case, I use the Kitztech KT-100VG-COAX but any quality low-noise pre-amp should work for you.

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