Home Theater
Overcoming Obstacles in Basement Theaters
A New England family discovers the problems and solutions to building an underground home theater.
The basement home theater took a lot of planning, as support columns behind the right wall largely determined the size. Photo by Tony Scarpetta.
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August 23, 2007 by Steven Castle

How do you go from a basement of gray concrete to one that houses an eight-seat home theater, plus a bar, pool room, bath and exercise room—all with audio/video systems? Perhaps the owners of this 4,000-square-foot New England home can explain. “We had an unfinished basement. We were going to put a room down there anyway, and we wanted a theater room,” says the homeowner, who asks to be known as Dave. “They had an idea of what they wanted to do, but they didn’t know exactly what they were going to do there,” says Don Anderson of local custom electronics installation company Home Smart Home, of North Attleboro, MA.

“We wanted a bar, and we wanted to [finish about half the space],” Dave adds. However, Dave also wanted to be able to walk downstairs and right into a finished room, but the way the room was originally laid out was undesirable. “We would walk down the steps and into the back of the theater room. That would have [allowed for] only three seats in the back row.” Dave and his wife, Beth, wanted four seats in the back, because they often have other families over whose kids play with Dave and Beth’s children, 11-year-old Megan and 6-year-old Julie, and the homeowners wanted to be sure to accommodate everyone.

That led to a revised layout, plus a billiards room and an exercise room. Dave admits it was much more expensive to build four rooms instead of two, but this way they could enter the theater in the front, have eight seats with four near the back wall—and have an entire suite of rooms in which to entertain.

No More Basement Blues
As with many basements, there were obstacles to overcome, such as heating and hot water systems, plumbing and structural supports. The location of lally columns, for one thing, largely dictated the dimensions and positioning of the home theater. “The lally columns determined how big the theater was going to be,” Anderson says. “Once we determined that, everything else fell into place, and we knew how much space the gym was going to take.”

A water tank was moved to a utility area behind the exercise room wall, where there’s a furnace and two hot water heaters. Flooding is always a concern in a basement, especially when there are finished rooms, so the builder hung drywall about three inches above the floor and covered the gaps with high baseboard molding—just in case. In addition, the hot water tanks will be switched out after seven years to minimize the risk of leaks.

Ductwork for the forced-air heating system also had to be worked around, which is why a portion of the pool room has lower ceilings. Fortunately, the basement had nearly 9-foot ceilings throughout, so the theater could even have a soffit with a star field.

“We spent a lot of time designing the theater: how we were going to lay it out and the soundproofing,” Anderson says. A high-def Sim2 projector, Denon receiver, Sonance speakers in the columns and a center channel hidden below the screen provide the audio/video thrills, with some oomph from a Sunfire subwoofer located in a front corner. Rear Sonance speakers to round out the 7.1-channel system were placed behind the wall in the back. For soundproofing, Home Smart Home used Acoustic Innovations’ Sound Core material, an 1⁄8-inch-thick rubber applied inside the walls and ceiling.

Party Central
The bar and exercise room are served by Sharp LCD flat-panel TVs, while the pool room has a Fujitsu 42-inch plasma screen. Each area has in-ceiling Sonance speakers that work off of an ADA Suite 16 whole-house audio system and an Escient media server. Counting the outside pool area, there are five zones of audio/video in the basement. “The nice thing is that the Suite 16 has the ability (with a video module) to distribute video to different TVs,” says Anderson.

“We can watch one game in the pool room, one in the bar and another in the home theater,” says Dave. This comes in handy during big get-togethers, because while their New England friends might watch the Red Sox or the Patriots, these native Philadelphians can tune into the Phillies or Eagles via DirecTV satellite receivers.

The Escient FireBall DVD-M300 music and movie server stores Dave and Beth’s music collection to a hard drive and movies to a Sony DVD changer—and makes it all easily available via on-screen graphics and in the form of any playlist they want to create. An Escient touchscreen display on a wall in the pool room makes music selection a cinch—or they can view their playlists on the Fujitsu plasma screen.

Near the Escient screen is an ADA keypad. So why both? “We can integrate the Escient into ADA, but [the ADA controller’s] small readout doesn’t give you a great interface to select your music,” Anderson explains. “The nice thing with the Escient touchpanel is if you don’t want to turn on all the stuff, you can go right to the touchpanel and tap it, and everything is right there.”

“When we have a dozen or two dozen people over, we generally play the XM Satellite Radio,” Dave says. “As the party goes on, someone will request something, and then we’ll go to the Escient system.”

And after the party? Then it’s time to relax in the basement shower that doubles as a steam room. Oh, and it has a waterproof stereo speaker in the ceiling, so you can just sit there and listen to music.

All that sure beats coming downstairs to a concrete slab.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.


System Design & Installation
Home Smart Home
North Attleboro, MA

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