WB6WUW's Tower Installation

For the ham who does not have a background in construction and has never installed a free standing antenna tower before, the experience can be both challenging and intimidating.  I have undertaken the task twice (the same tower at two different locations) and I hope I can help you first timers over some of the rough spots.

The first time I installed the tower was in 1980.  The tower was made by Tristao Tower Company which is now U.S. Tower.  The tower is a triangular 38 foot heavy duty freestanding model and is very similar to the current corresponding U.S. Tower model HDX538.  With the exception of the rebar cage and the ready mix, I did the whole project myself (with a little help from friends).  This included acquiring the building permits, breaking through a three-foot square section of concrete sidewalk with a sledge hammer, digging the 3' x 3' x 6' deep hole, setting the forms, and supervising the concrete pour from the ready mix truck.  Speaking from experience, I do NOT recommend this to anyone who is not a glutton for punishment! The problems started the day the tower arrived at my house on a flat bed semi-trailer truck and the driver announced that it was my responsibility to provide a forklift to unload it!  They did not end until the day the DX started rolling in.  Was it worth it?  You bet it was!

This brings me to the first rule:

Hire a licensed contractor to do the heavy and specialized work.

That includes:  1)  breaking concrete, 2)  digging the footing and, 3)  building the rebar cage.  Any money you may save by doing the digging and breaking yourself will be more then offset by the medical bills for treating the back and other various injuries you WILL sustain.  The rebar cage should be made by someone with experience and with the proper tools.  In 1980 the local steel supply company built and delivered the rebar cage to my site for $65.  Today, it will cost between $150 and $175 for the same structure.  The tools to bend the rebar will need to do the job yourself will cost you more then that.

Unfortunately, I did not take photographs of that first project.  In 1989 I removed the tower and had it reinstalled at my new house in Buena Park, California.  The pictures on this web site were taken in 1989 when I had the foundation done by professionals.  I should point out that I do not feel that the quality of the finished installation was any better or worse then what I did myself.  It was just a whole lot less painful and aggravating.


For both installations, I did things by the book and in both cases it paid off.  In 1980 I found that the people at the Anaheim Department of Building and Safety were the best friends I had.  When I walked into their office to apply for my permit I did not understand the documentation provided by the tower's manufacturer.  For example, it said I needed a rebar cage, but it left out critical details because it assumed that a person with a contractor's understanding would be using it.  Building and Safety explained the requirements in understandable language and answered all my questions.  I walked out knowing exactly what I had to do.  It was well worth the fee.

When I moved the tower to Buena Park I was advised by the local ham club not to acquire a building permit.  This was because they had negotiated a verbal agreement with the city not to require building permits for towers and felt I would be setting a bad precedent.  Disregarding their advise was the best thing I ever did.  Three weeks after I raised the tower a neighbor complained to the city that I was causing TVI and demanded I remove the tower.  The fact that I had the city's approval in the form of a permit made the demand moot.  In addition, I had observed rule number 2:

Do not put an antenna on your tower for a full month after raising it.

After seeing my signed off permit and that there was no antenna on the tower, the city investigating inspector handled the complaining neighbor for me and I have not heard a peep from him in the ten years since.

One other note and then we can look at the actual construction process.  The tower, when purchased, was certified to the 1975 UBC (Universal Building Code).  When I moved it to my new house in neighboring Buena Park, California in 1989, the Buena Park Department of Public Safety required me to hire a structural engineer to recertify the tower to the 1985 UBC.  This caused a six week delay and cost $400.  The net result of the recalculation is that instead of the 30 square feet of antenna wind loading allowed by the 1975 UBC, I am limited to 20 square feet.  Since my KT34A has only 6 square feet of wind loading I am not particularly concerned.  Additionally, the size of the footing was increased from 3' x 3' x 6' to 3' x 3' x 6 1/2' deep.  For both the 1975 and 1985 codes, the footing was identical to the footing requirements for the standard 54 foot tower.



Rule Number 3:

Verify the location of all buried utilities before digging.

For those who live in cities, failure to follow rule 3 could be disastrous.  People have been killed by severing underground electrical or gas lines.  At the very least, you could be financially responsible for both the direct and consequential damages that could result and in California you could be fined up to $50,000 on top of that.  As in many other localities[1], California’s utility industry provides a free utility location service.[2]


[1]     Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi and New England.

[2]     Information on California’s requirements can be found at www.digalert.org.  DigAlert also has links to free utility location services in other states.


Last updated 9/25/02