June 19, 2022
Now that we’ve covered in a recent post where (and where not) to put your Wifi routers and mesh gear, questions have been raised about the balance between performance and aesthetics. Equipment like this is generally designed to be efficient, not elegant looking.
I run into this issue pretty frequently when placing devices in stadiums and arenas. Very often when mounting an access point on a concrete column it’s a simple case of painting it to match its surroundings. But in the case of a suite or other premium area, the owners or occupants flat out don’t want to see the gear but still expect the benefits. In these cases, the gear is hidden in walls or ceilings, masked with a wrap to resemble it’s surroundings, like wood, or concealed in clever enclosures.
Wifi routers and mesh nodes are often not the most attractive to look at either. And as best practices for optimal coverage dictates placement of routers in a central location or eye level for mesh nodes in your home, they can become difficult to blend with your décor. I plan to install a more professional grade distributed system with wired Wifi access points mounted on the ceilings in a few of the rooms. This introduces its own unique aesthetic challenges around aligning with décor.
Debbie and I are starting to get out in front of this as placement of equipment is being planned. And we have the same concerns as stadium suite owners in maintaining peak performance of our smart home gear without sacrificing design and aesthetics.
So what do you do? How do you conceal your smart home gear and still enjoy the benefits? You might be tempted to conceal them away. Is it OK to cover your router to hide it?
If you search around the internet, especially sites like Pinterest or YouTube craft channels, you’ll come across all sorts of tutorials to help you conceal your unsightly Wifi gear. There are so many different ways to turn a black box with some antennas sticking out of it into something a little more acceptable.
The solutions range from terrible, such as making a box out of decorative metal sheeting to the not-as-terrible such as hiding your router in a lightweight cloth basket. There are even commercial decorative router cover options on the market, designed expressly for the task of camouflaging your router. Or if you’re crafty, you can turn it into a DIY project by painting it or wrapping your device with contact paper.
There are router covers out there and you’ll find all types of them ranging from faux-books to airy, decorative enclosures. Before you buy a router cover, however, I’d encourage you to consider all the details of your decor and your Wifi setup.
As clever as a lot of these solutions are, my first recommendation is that you don’t cover your Wifi router, access points or other Wifi gear. These devices are all designed to be in the open and not enclosed in something, hidden behind things or otherwise covered up.
Instead, before you consider concealing your router, first consider doing what you can to smooth over your complaints about the device. For example, if your primary complaint is that the LED lights are unbearably bright, check the device settings as many offer an option to turn them off. Otherwise I’d suggest using simple electrical tape or buying some Light Dims to cover the LEDs.
If your issue is how just plain ugly and utilitarian your Wifi router looks, there’s always the option to upgrade to a mesh system. Mesh systems are intended to be placed throughout a home, and the mesh nodes are designed to look way less industrial and blend well with your decor. I covered mesh Wifi recently as a superior solution but there’s also no arguing they have a much more elegant look by design.
Google Nest Wifi nodes look like small, gently curved white canisters, for instance, and Eero nodes have a similar, boxier, rounded look. Several of Netgear’s mesh systems like the Nighthawk AX3600 MK83 have a shape like a textured cube that looks more like a little speaker than a Wifi device.
Nearly all Wifi mesh systems feature nodes without external antennas so regardless of shape, the lack of large antennas sticking out of them goes a long way toward helping the nodes blend into your decor. The biggest challenge with internal antennas may be the Wifi coverage they generate — resembling a giant ‘donut’ or a spherical cloud. Because of that it’s’ best to place them higher in a room to maximize coverage. This obviously puts them more ‘line of sight’ and noticeable.
If you’re going to cover up your router, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, so let’s run through all the dos and don’ts of camouflaging your router.
First, let me share that these tips build on good router placement practices and understanding what things in your home block Wifi signals. To review best practices and router placement, see my recent post ‘Why does my home Wifi stink?’
Wifi signals are waves on the electromagnetic spectrum and a form of energy. Putting your router inside something with thick walls like a heavy decorative box just dampens the signal. And it doesn’t matter if the box is open on one side or even if the ‘container’ is actually an opening on a bookshelf heavily loaded with books. All those books act as radio-wave absorbing barriers and significantly impede your signal. The more open-air exposure your router has, the better.
Just like putting your router inside a heavy box or behind thick books is less than ideal, metal is an issue when it comes to concealing your router. Among other materials on my list of things in the home that block Wifi signals, metal is one of the most prevalent and problematic. You don’t want to hide your router in a metal mesh basket or container because that creates a Faraday cage effect that impacts your Wifi coverage. Even putting the router on the wall behind a large TV isn’t the best idea as most TVs have a massive metal shield inside.
Another consideration is that electronic devices generate heat and high temperatures are the enemy of all electronics. While the heat-dissipation demands of a small home router aren’t anywhere near the demands of a laptop or game console, that doesn’t mean you can pile stuff on top of or place the router in a cramped space without repercussions.
Excess heat might not outright kill the device, but you’ll risk performance issues and instability. To avoid that don’t tightly enclose the router in anything and especially don’t put it somewhere that the heat vents on the router are covered up.
Whether your router is passively cooled, as most consumer routers are or it has a small fan, covering the vents up will lead to problems. This isn’t to say you can never put the router inside or behind anything, but whatever you put it in should allow for heat to rise and have adequate air circulation.
The thinner and less metallic the thing you use to conceal your router the better. Just make sure it’s large enough for your router and allows for airflow. Also, whatever you put the router in shouldn’t have a lid. On top of not blocking the vents, you want somewhere for the heat to go and heat wants to go up. Open-top baskets and bins, magazine racks either on a table or mounted on a wall, and other solutions help you to conceal the general shape and color of the router while still allow the heat to escape.
As our internet use has become more demanding over the years, routers have become more robust to handle all of our streaming, gaming and more. The downside is these better routers generate more heat than their predecessors.
In the case of routers with actual external antennas, position the router in a position so the antennas can project up out of whatever you’ve placed the router in. There are plenty of commercial options that are designed to break up the profile of the router while still allowing the antennas to project out. Or you can give it a shot yourself by getting a little creative. Routers with internal antennas can be easier but still need to follow the general rules. In many cases, due to mesh Wifi’s less conspicuous, low-profile design you may be able to get away with not concealing it at all.
Obviously a lot to think about here. But nothing you can’t figure out using a little trial and error if you’re serious about concealing your router and maintaining optimal Wifi coverage. The potential solutions can be pretty apparent if you know what to look for. Hopefully this has given you a better framework to balance Wifi performance and satisfy décor preferences.
Have you run into any of these issues in the past? How did you resolve them? Does it even matter to you that your router is exposed? Have you run into other aesthetic challenges that I haven’t covered here? What’s your preferred solution? Would you recommend the solution you’re using?
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails as we really enjoy hearing from you. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’ Until next week …