The Reach & Range Of Powerline Adapters Explained

Powerline adapters are clever home networking solutions that can spread internet access points across a home. But there can be some confusion as to their reach and range. Just how far can powerline adapters reach? What is their range? And what happens if you exceed this range?

Powerline adapters can theoretically work across up to 100 meters or 328 ft of copper house wiring, beyond which the signal will not be sent between the adapters. However, the shorter the distance the signal has to travel between the adapters, the better.

In other words, you’ve got about 100 meters of house wiring to play with to get powerline adapters to work properly. Bottom line is that in most modern and semi modern houses/apartments with wiring in good condition, they deliver acceptable or good performance, indicating that the distance across the circuitry is less than this 100m limit.

Let’s explain and explore the issue in more detail.

The Working Range Of Copper Wiring Explained

Because powerline adapters send data between two (or more) adapter plugs via the existing house wiring, their medium of data transmission is whatever your house wiring is made of. Which in almost all houses, is copper.

And it’s the same if you’re using long ethernet cables – inside these cables is just a load of copper wiring twisted over itself.

And the theoretical maximum working range of copper to send “signals” or data is 100 meters (328 foot). Beyond this limit, the electrons take too long to get from one end to the other, and the connection is “timed out” or lost (source).

Therefore this is the upper limit you’ve got to work with to get two powerline adapters to communicate. As long as the house wiring that connects the two adapters is less than 100m/328ft in length, they should work.

But house wiring can be very complex, twisty and non linear in terms of how it’s laid out. And general recommendations for wiring modern houses is that you need one foot of wiring per square foot of house size. But this is just the total amount to be fed through an entire house and doesn’t really capture the distance of wiring between two specific wall sockets you’re using adapters in.

The Best & Worst Scenarios To Use Powerline Adapters

Again, the bottom line on this is that in most houses you try them, powerline adapters connect up and work fine within the house. Let’s break down some different scenarios:

Within house – For smaller and medium sized houses, the length of wiring between the wall sockets is almost always less than 100m and the adapters connect fine. For really large houses, this can start to be pushed, but it would have to be a really large property.

Detached buildings – As soon as signals would have to travel along wiring fed to detached building a long way from the house (garages, extensions etc), you’re starting to add more distance and this is one reason why adapters don’t always work well in outside buildings, delivering no signal or sometimes a weak signal and slow speeds.

The shorter the distance the signal has to travel between adapters, the better for speeds and consistency. But the 100 meter upper limit of copper transmission usually gives enough for users within most residences.

Other Considerations With Powerline Adapters & Circuitry

It’s not just the range/distance of the copper wiring that you need to consider when trying to get powerline adapters to work. It can also be tricky to get them even to communicate in some cases even if the distance across the wiring is within the 100 m working range.

Here’s some other factors to consider:

Interference – Powerline adapters can be susceptible to interference if installed near high power consumption device like dryers, washers, some electric tools, ovens, fridges, etc. Try to keep them away from these appliances as much as possible.

Different phases – This is another one that’s very variable from house to house. Powerline adapters work fine within one single circuit. They can also work across different “phases” within a single residence, but not always. It varies, and when they do work, you may get reduced speeds. Some houses also split the wiring into different “loops” or “rings” for upstairs/downstairs etc. Again they can work across these as long as the distance is less than 100m, but again performance varies.

What To Do If You Cannot Pair Adapters

If you literally cannot get adapters to “find” each other and pair up, here are some quick troubleshooting steps to try and fix this that relate to the range of the wiring they’re being used across:

  • Try the adapters in different wall sockets in the same room
  • Try in different rooms altogether.
  • Try pairing the adapters right next to each other in adjacent sockets first, then try moving them around progressively installing them further apart.
  • Make sure they’re not on different “phases” of circuitry.
  • Move the adapters away from high energy use devices.
  • For outdoor buildings, the wiring may be too long to send a signal. Try them inside first, and then in different outlets in the outside building.

See here for my troubleshooting guide for powerline adapters for more things to try if you can’t get them to work.

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