Ask LH: How Can I Upgrade My Tech-Unfriendly Home?

Ask LH: How Can I Upgrade My Tech-Unfriendly Home?

Dear Lifehacker, I love technology, but in my attempts to keep up to date I feel like I’m in a constant struggle with my home. I’ve got bad Wi-Fi reception, limited outlets, and despite all of this my power bill is through the roof. How can I make my home more 21st-century tech-friendly? Sincerely, Living in Obsolescence

Photo by Nyulas (Shutterstock).

Dear LIO,

I have the same problem in my current apartment, and while I don’t believe there’s a perfect solution (short of hiring an electirician to rewire the place), there is still quite a bit you can do to keep your home from feeling like a relic. Most of what you can do is free or inexpensive, but — like with most things — if you’re willing to pay a little extra you have a few more options. Let’s go over them all.

Control Your Power

Power is generally one of the biggest problems. Too few outlets and too many devices mean your walls are going to have powerboards flying out of them like octopus arms. The ideal solution is to get an electrician in and have new outlets fitted, but that may not be practical for renters, or in an older house. Your best bet in that case is to at least ensure that your outlets aren’t drawing more than they need.

You’re best bet in this area something like the Belkin Conserve Smart AV. This will automatically reduce power when your electronics are in standby mode. It also has one special outlet that you can use with the TV in your home theatre system. When you turn your TV on, the power strip will provide power to every outlet. When you turn your TV off, it will turn off everything else as well. This way you don’t have to worry about accidentally leaving anything else on and can cut noticeably down your power usage.

Improve Your Wi-Fi Reception


Wi-Fi signal problems are common in homes, even when they’re not that large. I previously lived in an apartment that had a router placed on one end of the room and lost most of its signal on the side — only about 30 metres away. We’ve previously discussed solutions to bad reception problems, but here’s what I’ve found works best in practice:

  1. Mount your router as high in the room as possible. Don’t stick it under a table, in a drawer, or anywhere that can obstruct its broadcast. Keep it out in the open and as high up as possible.
  2. If your router supports it, install DD-WRT (open-source custom firmware that provides additional options) and boost your transmit power a little bit. (If you don’t know how, read this guide.)
  3. Choose the broadcast channel with the least interference. By default, your router probably broadcasts on Channel 11. If other nearby routers are using this channel you’ll end up with signal interference. To avoid this, use a tool like Wi-Fi Stumbler to discover which channels are underused. You want to pick the one that is used the least, but that also has little-to-no use on the surrounding channels. This is because your router broadcasts on a primary channel, but that broadcast bleeds into the surrounding channels as well. As a result, picking an lesser-used channel may not solve the problem if its surrounding channels are in heavy use.

If your issue is simply that your signal won’t reach, you can turn an old router into a repeater to extend it further. I’ve found this tends to hurt the signal in a small space and would recommend avoiding it unless it is necessary.

In the end, there’s only so much you can do to improve your signal and should consider wiring your home. This doesn’t mean you have to fish cables through the walls. You can simply run your cables along those walls, tape them on, and paint over the tape to hide them (if necessary). You may be surprised how easily you can run cables around your home without creating an eyesore. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can just turn them into art.

Automate Your Home

Finally, one more way to bring your home into the 21st century is with automation. Even if you can’t rewire the house (or apartment), you can still automate things like your lights and other outlet-based tech. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. You can just turn an old router into a home automation server. Alternatively, you can go the professional route and use X10 devices to get the job done. Software for Windows and OS X or iOS can make it simple to control power around your home with a few clicks (or taps). This is really great if you have very little (or no) built-in lighting in your home and have to turn on every light manually with an individual switch. X10 devices can allow you to control many lights at once and even program room settings. It’s a really elegant way to solve that problem without rewiring or spending lots of money.

All in all, there’s a lot you can do to make your out-of-date home feel much more tech-friendly. While it might require a small investment in the beginning, if you employ some power-saving methods you’ll get that money back in a couple of years. Enjoy your new, 21st century home!

Cheers Lifehacker

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