It’s a well-known fact that concrete walls, such as those that make up an ICF core, can create cellular “dead zones” in a building by degrading the signal quality.
But is this really an insurmountable problem?
Not at all! Luckily, there’s a quick and easy solution, which we will discuss in the post below.
What Affects Cell Reception?
Various objects — both natural and artificial — can interfere with wireless reception.
Mother nature throws up a number of obstacles to our cell phones’ communications with adjacent towers. For example, did you know that even tree foliage can worsen your cell signal to a degree? And the same goes for the more apparent culprits that come between your phone and the tower, like tree trunks, terrain, clouds, rain, and snow.
Artificial objects also play a role in reducing the strength of your cell signal. Drywall, insulation, roofing materials, your building’s wood frame, and even clear glass are all guilty.
Low-e coated glass? Great for energy efficiency and comfort, but also excels at reflecting the wireless signal back into the building. Metal? Forget about it!
Why ICF Walls Interfere With Cellular Signals
Wireless signal strength is measured in decibel milliwatts (dBm); a reading of -50dBm shows you’ve got full strength (5 bars on your phone), while with -120dBm, you may as well be in the 18th century.
Now, 6 inches of concrete can deduct as much as -20dBm from your signal if you’re using a 1900MHz frequency band. Here’s a quick chart of how various materials — including concrete — affect wireless reception:
So, you throw in 2 layers of rigid insulation, some drywall, and an exterior finish of your choice, and your -50dBm signal can quickly deteriorate to -100dBm.
But there’s some good news. For less than $2,000, you can ensure that your ICF building will allow for sufficient cell signal despite all the obstacles in the wall assembly.
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How to Boost Cell Signal in ICF Homes and Buildings
All you need to improve reception is to give the radio waves that carry cellular communications a way around the building’s envelope. And you can do this by setting up a relay point between the user and the cell tower, which is easily accomplished with a cellular signal booster.
A typical cellular signal booster has an outdoor antenna you can mount on the building’s roof, and this will receive radio waves with as few obstacles around as possible.
Next, the signal will travel to the booster inside the building, which will then transmit it to the indoor antenna. The latter then propagates the signal inside your home.
A simple 4G Cellular Booster Kit can cost about $1,500 CAD and gets you:
- An outdoor antenna (directional antennas are best for rural areas, whereas post antennas offer the best solution for urban locales).
- An indoor antenna
- Cellular booster
- Cabling for the entire system
- Power adapter
An added advantage of considering this in the planning stage of your new home build is that you can easy hide the wiring and place the components exactly where you want them.
Tips for Improving Cell Signal in ICF Buildings
Here are a few tips for facilitating signal booster installation:
- Pick a suitable outdoor antenna — Unless you know the end user’s carrier and where their tower is, it’s always best to go with a post-type antenna. These antennas have a 360-degree reach, so they can pick up a signal from any tower in the vicinity.
- Choose the correct indoor antenna — Some are attached directly to the booster, while others must be wall/ceiling mounted. Make sure you integrate this upgrade with the building’s architectural and structural designs.
- Install all the wiring before the finishes — This way, the wires can be out of sight and out of mind.
Wrapping It Up
Like many other natural and artificial materials, ICF walls get in the way of radio waves that carry the cellular signal. But luckily, the solution is simple — all you need is a cell signal booster.
For less than $2,000 (in most cases), you can eliminate this issue completely; and, that’s a small enough price to pay to get your occupants all the benefits of an ICF home.