The Sign of a Pro is in the Rack
Installation and design options for equipment racks
May 07, 2013 by Lisa Montgomery

No matter what type of electronic systems you install into your house—whole-house music, home theater, lighting control, home automation—it’s going to require the addition of a few black boxes. One of the first questions that will likely cross your mind is “where should I put them?” After all, they aren’t exactly pieces of decorative art.

At the very least, you’ll want to place those amps, processors, switchers and other gear in some type of rack that’s been designed with adequate shelving, proper ventilation, and accommodations for lots of cabling. Based on the components you plan to put in the rack, a custom electronics (CE) professional will be able to specify the proper rack size, customize its configuration and “dress” it so that everything looks neat and tidy, yet is easily accessible for service and upgrades.

You’ll also need to decide where exactly to put that rack. On their own racks aren’t very attractive. Rather industrial-looking, really. This is why many homeowners and CE pros opt to hide them away in a closet or mechanical room. As long as a CE pro is able to run cabling from the rack to TVs, speakers, keypads and other devices, “there’s really no need to see the equipment,” says Matt McKelvey, project manager at Service Tech Audio Visual, McKinney, Texas. “We almost always try to hide equipment racks,” adds Anthony Visante, an engineer at DSI Entertainment Systems, Los Angeles. “When a rack is in a mechanical room, for example, we can position it in a way that makes it easier to manage the big bundles of wire.”

Although the rack may be out of sight, there’s no need to get sloppy. You’ll likely want to show off your investment to your friends, so neatness counts. Most rack manufacturers offer custom faceplates, trim, LED lighting, and lacing bars for a more aesthetically pleasing—and well organized—installation of the gear.

It’s enough to inspire some homeowners install their equipment racks in the family room, den or hallway. In this case, a rack can be integrated into cabinetry or recessed into a wall. If you’re the type of person who likes to tinker with your gear, integrating a rack into a common area of the house is a good option. However, it is usually more expensive to implement than a rack that’s stowed away in a utility room. For example, to ensure you and your CE pro can reach the back of the rack it will need to be placed on some type of mechanism that allows it to slide out from the cabinet or wall. Because the rack is enclosed, a ventilation system will likely need to be added to prevent the equipment from overheating.

Here is a list of information that will be helpful to share with your CE pro when specifying and designing an equipment rack:

•Where you intend to put the rack: basement, closet, family room entertainment cabinet

•Components that will go into it: DVD player, amps, home control system, etc.

•Room for expansion—do you intend to add new components to the rack later?

•Tinkering—do you want to be able to freely tinker with the components? If so, it might be a good idea to integrate lighting so you can easily see the controls on the equipment.

•Protection—if you’d like to protect that gear from curious hands, glass doors can be applied.

•Touchscreen—often it simplifies programming of the gear in the rack, if touchscreen can be built into the front of the rack. The CE pro can reprogram a playlist, for example, right from the rack.

Check out these great racks by professional installers.

You might also like:
Questions to Ask Your Installer
Home Theater Design with THX
9 Things to Consider in a Home Automation System


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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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