Home Theater Construction

This portion of the site is dedicated to the saga of HT construction. As anyone who has done such a project can tell you, it is a labor of love. This page is dedicated to the timeline of the physical construction and the pictures of progress. If you would like to know more about the equipment installed, plus assessments of performance, look at Carlton’s equipment table.

Before Construction: 06 December 2004

Here is the room before construction. The home was purchased finished, so we had no choices. Our builder had made it into an exercise room with track lighting, glass doors, and a full wall of mirrors. The room dimensions were perfect for a theater with two rows. It’s also a windowless room. The glass doors added plenty of light and audio bounce, so they’d have to be replaced: we decided on exterior doors in order to reduce sound transfer. One problem was that the front of the room was only eight feet tall to allow for HVAC for the house (it can clearly be seen in the bottom left picture). In addition, the wet bar in the next room had a place for a full-sized refrigerator, which intrudes like a growth into this room.The refrigerator “bump” was a serious issue (see top right picture). Should it be removed and the screen be put on that wall, or kept so that the wet bar could have a refrigerator? In the end, we decided to leave it as an option for a refrigerator, and I had the idea to also use it for a half-rack for equipment. While the back of the room is nine feet, it still limits the height of the projector, the screen size, and the rear seating row height.

The task list was: remove mirrors, add soffit with indirect lighting and crown molding, sand and paint walls, wire for 7.1 sound, give ceiling a slip finish (more on that poor decision later), build rear platform for seating, cut hole and finish area for equipment rack, paint walls and ceiling, hang projector and screen, hang audio panels. Just writing the list is tiring!

Soffit Construction: 13 December 2004 – 19 January 2005

As can be seen by this before picture to the left, the refrigerator bump and HVAC bulkhead created some odd corners in the back (west) side of the room. Adding a soffit solves several issues. First and foremost, if the refrigerator space is to be used for an equipment rack, adequate wiring space is needed. While wire could be threaded from the mechanical room behind the screen wall (east), this task would be easier with more space. Second, adding the soffit allows for creation of indirect lighting and removal of the track lighting. Not only was the track lighting impeding viewing angles, the multiple angles created a lot of light bounce back to the screen wall. Third, this awkward construction would be visually more contiguous and therefore appear less like patchwork.

We enlisted the help of someone we know in construction. While I might have been capable of completing the HT myself, it would have taken about 20 years (not really exaggerating) and $35000 in construction equipment. Kyle brought expertise to the table…and when Carlton and I could not agree on the direction a part of the project should take, we would follow Kyle’s advice. I’m sure Kyle was not exactly happy about his mediator role! However, in many cases, he had so much more knowledge that his decisions were the better ones.

The bulkhead was constructed using 2×4 lumber. We wanted it wide enough to accommodate lighting without created a cramped feeling in the back row of seats. These pictures show the creation of the bulkhead. I helped by making cuts, creating the skeleton for the area above the rack, and using a circular saw to make the plywood structure… and cut through Kyle’s dropcloth. Oops. I also enjoyed using the air-powered nail gun, although I think Kyle wasn’t happy when one of my nails cut loose and nearly took his eye out of his head. You’ll see throughout the job this recurring theme: Kyle wishing he hadn’t taken the job.

After hanging the skeleton and adding the plywood base, we realized that the mini 4″ can light housing would not fit into the space between the 2x4s. After biting his lip and rolling his eyes, Kyle took a small circular saw and cut notches for the lights (see photo at left). Why am I relating this minute setback? Because home theater construction is not pretty, and it’s barely fun!

Side note: While wiring is a different section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the wiring was pulled through the soffit at this point. Because the room was being wired for 7.1 surround and the projector would be ceiling-mounted, it was imperative to pull cables at this point. The hole to the crawlspace can be seen in this early picture, and the bundle is seen in the picture at right. Each portion of the project had to be managed with clear communication between all three of us. The wiring that Carlton was piecing together had to be ready before the soffit was sealed with drywall.

OK, back to the soffit. Have I lost you yet? Yeah, I’m only discussing one minor phase of construction. This is not a project that can be finished in a week (at least not by lazy people like Carlton and me). The first photos show Kyle’s and my skill at teamwork and use of hammers. OK, Kyle’s skill and my use of a hammer. This was one of the easier parts of the project, except that I have a minor fear of ladders. Next, Kyle is using drywall mud to smooth the surface so that I can start sanding. Carlton is doing unrelated finish work, spackling the holes left by the caulking used on the mirrors. The two jobs needed to be done at the same time so that all three of us could focus on sanding the drywall.

With this much work, the tension can be too much, so the three of us started pulling pranks on each other. I take that back. Carlton and Kyle started pulling pranks on me. I am ever-so-innocently sanding the soffit when Kyle begins to sneak up on me (kind of impossible on squeaky construction stilts). Apparently the look of death I’m giving him in this picture is no deterrent. The two of them had a good laugh. In the last picture, I have a “white hand of Sauron” mark on my nose and I’m covered in drywall dust from all of the sanding. LOADS of fun. I was, of course, as stated, TOTALLY innocent. Poor me, so mistreated.