Can an Antenna Really Save You Money?

by AJ Pettersen · 21 comments

A few months ago, I discussed options for cutting down your cable bill. I suggested internet streaming (Netflix and Hulu Plus), dish companies, and even calling your cable provider and complaining — but what I didn’t explore was an antenna.

Now that baseball season is over and I’m home with my fiancée for the off-season, this is something I needed to revisit. My fiancée cancelled the cable service a couple months back to save us around $75 a month. We already have a Netflix account, and we prefer not to spend most of our time in front of the TV anyways.

Now that I’m back, I’d like to occasionally be able to watch sporting events and other programs on local TV. So I turned to the comments from my post and found that an antenna may be a plausible solution.

The Antenna Options

A quick Google search for antennas yields an overwhelming number of options. Outdoor, indoor, amplified, flat, bunny ears, and more. I began my search by looking at reviews. An antenna is a simple device: it either gets reception or it doesn’t. If it’s getting bad reviews, it probably doesn’t work. There are a few things to keep in mind on your search:

  • How far are you from towers?
  • Can you mount an outdoor antenna?
  • How much are you willing to spend?

Your distance from the nearest tower is important; you can find out on sites like Antennaweb.org. If you live in an apartment, you probably won’t be able to mount an outdoor antenna. If you own a house, an outdoor antenna typically picks up a better signal, because there are no walls blocking the signal.

Antennas can cost anywhere from $10 to well over $100, and in general, you’ll get what you pay for. If the antenna advertises the ability to reach towers 30 miles away, don’t expect it to do anything more.

My Antenna Search

I purchased an antenna for $30 at Best Buy, but unfortunately, it didn’t pick up a signal for me. I returned the unit and am still searching for the right solution. The antenna from Best Buy was flat, making it sleek, but not functional. The next one I buy will likely have bunny ears and hopefully be more practical.

Over the next four months, having an antenna (assuming I can find one that works) will save us over $250. It’ll also save us numerous hours sitting in front of the TV watching useless TV shows. Finding a new way to fill this time should be simple.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you ever owned an antenna? Was it a positive or negative experience? I’m excited for my antenna experience to begin. It’ll force me to get outside and enjoy things other than television.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Anne says:

    ) Take away any obstacles and clean it thoroughly.

  • Frank says:

    I put up a large winegard antenna on my roof with an amplifier, we get 95 channels clear and in hd. The antenna is directional and about 12 feet long bout 175 including amplifier I couldn’t be happier

  • Steven says:

    I have never had cable TV and live in a 56-year-old house with the original roof-top antenna. We get about 60 channels on our smart TV. Pay about $36/month for cable Internet, which we aksi use for VOIP almost free phone service. Have saved a bundle over the years. I turn 60 next week.

  • JL Teague says:

    Installed an antenna about 1 1/2 years ago and very glad we did. We pick up over 25 channels, most in HD and the pictures are great actually better than you get from cable. ours is mounted on an 8ft post mounted to the porch roof. you also have access to a host of information on line to help pick out the right antenna fot your application. Places like solidsignal.com that has a simple form to fill out about your location and they send you a recommendation as to which antenna should work best for you. Simply put get an antenna and don’t look back, take the money you save to the bank.

  • Rachel says:

    We have an antenna from the 1960’s and use it with our HD LCD tv, so all of those advertisements about needing an HDTV really seem like a money-waster. It works great.

    Our original cable provider tried to talk us into a $30/mo. antenna service with them, but basic channels are free and should not require servicing by a cable company. We turned down that offer.

  • Marbella says:

    Since I have an internet connection, I can always find TV shows, sports channels etc. transmitting all I want to see for free to a computer.

  • Bmoney says:

    I bought an antenna a few months ago and it was the best money i ever spent. Get a clearstream 2 from antennas direct. It can be used indoors or out. You wont have the same selection of channels but you will get local channels and Paying $100 for an antenna is alot better than paying that every month

  • mmm says:

    My girlfriend made me a fractal antenna with some wire and a piece of wood. Its about 15 inches long and hangs outside on my 3rd story condo balcony. I get all the pbs and network channels in HD. Also, FullDocumentary.com is a great site for streaming documentaries, fyi.

  • Wayne says:

    We have never had cable or satellite, etc., always had rabbit ears, just the basic antenna, probably $10-12. We get 14 channels. Occasionally the reception fades, but not usually for long, and hey, the price is right!

  • I’ve owned an antenna and helped a friend set one up. There are a few tricks to watch out for. If you have a clear view to the towers, you can set your antenna by the window. Even a cheap antenna without amplification will work fine, you just have to run a coax cable to where your window is with direct line of sight.

    If you have a bunch of walls and no clear line of sight (as in the case of living in a downstairs apartment not facing outwards or in the right direction) get an antenna that plugs in to a plug for amplified signal.

    As for you David, since your signal is coming from Mt. Wilson, you may have a difficult time picking it up. Irvine is quite far, but I could be wrong. My best suggestion would be to get one of those amplified antennas and return it if it doesn’t work 🙂

  • Garrett says:

    This reminded me of some of the incredible do-it-yourself antennas I’ve seen built in Vancouver. On a nearby mountain there is a broadcaster who sends out a decent amount of HD channels which people in town can pick up. You need to be facing the right direction, at the right height, etc but if you can get a clear line it’s free TV for you.

    I had loads of friends in Kitsilano (one area that gets decent coverage) that built some of the most amazing antennas you’ve ever seen out of $5 of odds and ends from Home Depot. Unfortunately being downtown I was never able to do the same, but they got pretty great reception out of it and all for free too.

  • Steff says:

    I just bought an antenna from Best Buy. My husband was trying to get me to buy the $30 one that you bought (the sales guy told us the flat ones got better reception) but I insisted on the cheaper one. I kept telling him that if it doesn’t work we could always bring it back! Fortunately it did work, very well. We get ABC, NBC, Fox, etc crystal clear. I expected some static and whatnot, but there’s not! Our was just the cheapest at Best Buy with the bunny ears.

  • I purchased my antenna a couple of years ago for around $100 and it has been working fine until now. It is a directional antenna and can give us good reception from various channels. We mounted it at the rooftop of the apartment building we are renting out. Good thing the landlord as well as the zoning regulations are not really strict with it.

  • Lisa says:

    We do use an outdoor antenna and it works very well for us. It’s on a tower that is much taller than our house, but these are common in our rural area. However, some people who live in residential areas might need to check into neighborhood covenants or zoning regulations to make sure the large structure is allowed.

  • Rhonda says:

    We have had an exterior antenna for more than 3 years and are pretty much happy with it. We live about 50 miles north of OKCity and 50 miles west of Tulsa.
    We consistently have good reception for OKCity stations, the 3 major ones, a big Christian one, the local Fox, WB and ION. Also PBS.
    One of the neat things about the antenna is it picks up the additional channels on broadcast- like the local CBS channel plays the regular programming on 9.1 and the news gets replayed on a loop on 9.2.
    Most all of them broadcast.

    The outside antenna is big- looks like a retro one. I think my husband got it on Ebay for about $100- I really don’t remember.
    We also use a ROKU box for additional programming and usually can watch most anything we want.
    and no more $75 cable bills.

  • Lauren says:

    My husband and I made our own antenna with $10 of parts from Radio Shack, a little bit of copper wire, a scrap piece of board, some screws, and a lot of patience. It picks up signal really well and is no bigger than a textbook, so it’s not obtrusive or anything. We love it.

    (Note: it’s a fractal-style antenna, similar to this one here: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-fractal-antenna-for-HDTV-DTV-plus-/ However, the one we made has a lot more little fractal wire pieces, and they’re bent a little more complicated than this one. Bending all the little fractal snowflake things took FOREVER, but it was definitely worth it for us, because as I said before, it picks up signal way better than any reasonably-priced premade antenna that we found.)

  • Rita says:

    I bought a house with a tall stand alone tower outside. We bought cable just like we had at the other house we lived in. How good is reception with the towers. We have Netflix and I’m wondering if we even need cable any more. Thank you for any advice you can give.

  • Bill says:

    I have a TERK HDTVO outside mounted amplified antenna which works well in the area where I live. It is a directional antenna that I have mounted on a column on our porch. It is about 10 feet above ground and points in the general direction of most of our local TV stations. I have no doubt that it would work better if it were mounted higher, say on the roof or a TV antenna tower. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area, a good antenna mounted well above ground is the only way to get a good signal. You also need a clear view. Buildings and trees do a very good job of blocking the signal.

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