Can I Use A Powerline Adapter In An Old House?

Powerline adapters can be great home networking solutions, but it’s also true that they don’t always work in all cases. And one particular scenario where you’re more likely to encounter trouble using them is in older or larger houses. Is there a bottom line answer on this? Can powerline adapters work in old houses?

Powerline adapters may or may not work in old houses, depending on the structure and quality of the electrical wiring and power outlets. Performance is definitely not guaranteed and it’s one of the more common scenarios where they won’t work.

In other words, there are no guarantees that you can use powerline adapters in older residences. And it’s difficult to know beforehand without trying them.

But let’s run through some potential issues and alternatives.

Potential Issues In Old Houses

As with all things powerline adapters, it comes down to the structure and quality of the electrical wiring in any one residence as to whether powerline adapters can work, as they rely on the house wiring to communicate with each other.

Here are some possible problems you might run into in older houses:

  • The quality of the wiring may be poor because of it’s age, preventing a good signal being sent between the adapters.
  • The structure of the wiring may be complex or just different from modern houses, especially in larger older houses.
  • The wall sockets might also be not the best.
  • Over larger houses, the circuity might be split into different phases/rings, which can again prevent the adapters pairing, or lead to a weaker or inconsistent signal.

Personally, I have run into problems once using powerline adapters in one older house I rented. With me, they worked fine for periods of time, but then would periodically lose connection with each other. The connection just wasn’t as reliable or solid as in a newer houses with better wiring. But it did still work some of the time.

In other cases, they may not work at all in old houses. And in other cases, they’ll work just fine. It’s kind of a lottery whether you’ll get them to work or not, and it will vary with each case.

What To Try If They Don’t Work

If you do run into problems getting powerline adapters to work in an old house, here are some quick things to try:

  • Firstly, plug the adapters in right next to each other in adjacent wall sockets, and try pairing them this way. If this works, you know it’s at least possible.
  • Then try testing the adapters in different rooms and wall sockets in the house. They may work in some but not others.
  • Don’t plug the adapters in next to high energy use devices.
  • Don’t plug them into worn or damaged old wall outlets.
  • It’s generally best not to use them in extension cords or strips.
  • Make sure all adapters are connected on the same internal circuit. They can sometimes cross over into new phases, but not always.
  • Use another home networking solution instead (some suggestions further below).

See here for my powerline adapter troubleshooting guide for more things to try to get them working.

Bottom line – if it’s just the quality of the wiring, there often won’t be anything you can do other than replace it all. But in some cases you might be able to work around it a bit and get the adapters working in some wall outlets some of the time. It will vary with each case.

Testing Out Powerline Adapters

The general idea here if you want to test the waters is to not spend anything you’d be unhappy with if the adapters don’t work, as there is a risk they won’t for sure in old houses. And sometimes, you can test it for free.

Here are some options I can think of and things to bear in mind:

  • If you’ve friends and family who use powerline adapters, ask them to bring them round one day and test out in the house.
  • Buy a cheap second hand pair on eBay or another second hand retailer.
  • Buy a cheap entry level model such as the TP Link Nano powerline kit.
  • Some retailers will have refund policies that covers powerline adapters not working, especially electronics retailers that are aware of how temperamental powerline adapters can be in certain scenarios.

Alternative Home Networking Option

If you’ve tried without success to get powerline adapters to work in an older house, there are some other solutions to spread internet coverage, but they’re more wireless than wired solutions.

Wi-Fi Extenders – Single plug models that you also install in a wall socket, but that don’t depend on wiring to transmit data. They just capture and amplify the existing Wi-Fi from the router, spreading it over a large area. Cheap entry level models available. See my powerline vs extender guide here.

Wi-Fi Mesh – More expensive versions of extenders consisting of kits with several nodes or pods you place around the house. Good for really spreading stronger coverage over a larger old house. But can be quite expensive (powerline vs Mesh guide here).

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