by Phil Lozen
There’s not many things quite as satisfying as building something yourself. For home theater enthusiasts, that means taking that bonus room upstairs, the corner (large or small) of the basement, or maybe even the whole garage and transforming it from an empty, dank, dark space into something magical, ready to whisk you off to faraway lands or drop you in the middle of a concert. For the DIY home theater builder, the process is almost as satisfying as the finished project.
Building your own DIY home theater can be many things: exciting, rewarding, frustrating, or time consuming. Most likely it’s a little bit of all of those. But for many people, the most trying aspects of the project come after everything is done and you notice the many little things that could have been done better, different, or easier.
Many guides exist to help you through the large portions of the build, from where to hang a projector to how big of a screen to get, where you should put your speakers to what kind of lighting to install. But it might be harder to find a guide to some of the smaller things to keep in mind when planning and building you room. So here we’ve come up with a list of six seemingly small things that could lead to big headaches later if not accounted for.
Read about the DIY home theater pictured above here.
1. Do a dry run If you are starting with a blank, empty room, do a dry run of your setup before you start any work. Being able to physically see where your plans call for speakers, seating and screens can help troubleshoot issues with the room that are hard to account for in a drawing. And while you likely won’t want to take all your equipment out of its boxes, you can still use cutouts or stand-ins for your major pieces. Put a folding chair where you plan your seating. Spend a few minutes looking around the room at where everything will go. Anticipate roadblocks and change your plans appropriately.
Don’t miss the Home Theater Planning Guide in this issue of Electronic House.
2.Think about the little things If your DIY home theater includes hanging a projector in a basement, many people won’t think about the ceiling-mounted heat vents. But if that vent is between your projector and screen, the heat pouring out of the vent will reflect on your screen (think blacktop on a hot day). In-ceiling speakers? Be sure your planned location is free of all duct work. Look at your electrical box, is there enough empty space for all the new lines you’ll be running? Measure your studs or ceiling joists to ensure your builder used standard distances between them, it will help to know when you go to buy insulation. For more tips, check out this list of 9 overlooked home theater features.
3.Plan for the future We’re not talking about A/V equipment here, but infrastructure. Only starting with a 5.1 surround sound system? Run the cable for 7.1. Already at 7.1? Take a look at the specs for Atmos-enabled rooms and run the speaker wires for that. And even if you don’t need network cables now, plan for a future where all AV equipment is networked (it’s coming faster than you think) and run Cat-6 to your projector, TV, and equipment rack. Finally, be sure to plan enough power to your equipment rack. If you have four components now, plan for at least eight outlets. We all get the upgrade itch, but it’s easier to scratch without having to spend hundreds trying to run wire in a finished room. Be sure to add enough outlets around the room for all your powered subwoofers, motorized theater seats and a charging dock (for your iPad, 3D glasses, game controllers…)
4. Mark the path, and leave room Pulling cable can be one of the more difficult tasks in a theater. But encasing your cable in conduit can make things a snap. PVC is cheap and easy to work with, and running your cable in it can make it very easy to swap out later. You’re best off running conduit to all your speaker locations and to your projector, as well as any future locations you might use. While you’re at it, run a piece of nylon string through the conduit to help with future pulls. Finally, be sure not to fill the pipe more than 40%, which is code in many places and the suggested standard by InfoComm.
5. Don’t close it up yet Hanging drywall is a major milestone in the progress of a room, and it’s easy to talk yourself into rushing to get to that milestone. Don’t! Once the walls go up, it’s time consuming and expensive to take them down. So before you thread that first drywall screw triple check that ALL your infrastructure is complete. Waiting a few days could save you weeks later on.
6. Don’t cut corners Especially late in the project when you see the finish line, it’s so easy to convince yourself that the rack your building doesn’t need that extra round of sanding, or that you can live without running that one last power outlet for the TV. You’ll kick yourself later for not taking the time to complete the finish work. When you finally settle in to watch your first movie, you want to focus on how great everything looks, not on the one exposed wire that you didn’t hide. It’s the finishing touches that sometimes take the longest, but also make the room shine when done right.
Also check out 12 Home Theater Basics for Newbies.