When you think about it, there’s a ton of technology that can go onto the ceiling. Recessed lights, built-in speakers, video projectors and wiring are often mounted overhead. All of this can make your ceiling look like a block of Swiss cheese.
And, depending on the room design—like if there’s no attic space above, or the ceiling height is lower than 8 feet—the ceiling may not even be able to accommodate some of the products. Here’s where a soffit can really help, and possibly even save you some money.
Constructed of wood or Sheetrock, a soffit adds architectural interest to a flat ceiling and provides an open cavity in which to install all sorts of electronics. “It’s a great place to put surround speakers, especially” says Gustavo Serafini of Pure Audio Video, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.. “It gives you more flexibility in placement than an ordinary ceiling does, and offers an open channel through which to run cabling.”
Adds Jamie Wedel of The Home Theater Store, Kennesaw, Ga., “Soffits can also prove incredibly helpful, particularly when doing a retrofit installation where the room is already finished. The installer can use the soffit to run wiring to the front, side and rear speakers, as well as provide an HDMI, component video or Category 5 cabling run to the display. We also like to run AC power through the soffits to provide an outlet for indirect lighting, wiring to wall or column sconces and sometimes fiber optic starlight ceilings.” Make sure that all power wiring is positioned at least a foot from low voltage wiring.
Probably a soffit’s most common application, though, is that of a place to hide a video projector. It’s a good alternative to mounting the projector above the ceiling for homeowners who want to preserve the aesthetics of their media space. Given that there can be several barriers above the ceiling, such as heating/cooling ducts and joists, it can often be less laborious and expensive to build a soffit than to work around these structural obstacles.
Speaking of ducts, soffits are also a good way to cover the ductwork in an unfinished basement. “A general contractor or HVAC contractor can route the ductwork away from the center of the room and reposition it toward the outer walls,” says Wedel. “He can then frame a soffit or tray ceiling around the ducts to give the room a nice, neat appearance and avoid the plain vanilla box look.”
Besides being architecturally more eye-appealing than a flat ceiling, soffits can fool the eye into thinking that a room is longer or wider than it actually is.
Lastly, a soffit can enhance the acoustics of a home theater. Instead of having sound waves reflect harshly off a flat ceiling, a soffit can break up, or diffuse, the sound waves for a more realistic, three-dimensional listening experience.
Regardless of the application, a soffit is fairly economical for a do-it-yourselfer to construct and install. Building a soffit around the perimeter of a 13x18-foot room, for example, should cost no more than $1,000, according to Serafini. Between $300 and $400 of that total should go toward a consultation with an architect or builder who can advise you on the best size and placement of your soffit.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.