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Building a New Home Theater, Part 3

My theater is about halfway done

Building a New Home Theater, Part 3

Apr 20, 2009 8:54 AM,
By Jason Bovberg

Building a New Home Theater Series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Picture Gallery

The screen wall.

My theater is about halfway done. I look back on the first part of this series, and it seems ages ago that I started this project with the help of my contractor. Quite a few subcontractors have moved in and out of my basement—from heating to electricity to drywall—and we’re now past the stages that I foreshadowed in the second installment of this series. Now that the walls are freshly textured, I find myself at that all-important milestone at which I can envision this theater actually becoming a reality.

Since my last article, I’ve made some key decisions about wiring, insulation, and sound-proofing. My first meeting with the electrician was very encouraging. I had done my research, and he proved an excellent sounding board for the information I’d found from experienced theater builders online. The primary question was whether to surge-protect the entire home or to focus my power-management efforts on just the theater. For financial reasons—a big goal of this project, in the midst of this dismal economy, is to create a great theater without just dumping money into it—I chose to focus solely on theater protection with the use of a Panamax M5300-EX power conditioner, from which the electrician would span a 20-amp bridge to the ceiling-mounted Mitsubishi HC-5500 projector. It would be the perfect way to protect all my equipment—and not just the stuff at the equipment rack. (I also took the opportunity to run some 3in. conduit in the ceiling from the equipment area to the projector area, to future-proof my setup, just in case some new connector technology comes around.) After the electrician finished his work, I went ahead and strung shielded, 12-gauge loudspeaker wire (from ) throughout the room (for 7.1 surround sound), being careful to keep my distance from his electrical wiring wherever possible, to avoid any potential interference.

The equipment rack.

Now it was time to insulate—and think about sound absorption. My contractor sent over the insulation and drywall teams, and we had long conversations about my options. This theater was going to crank out a lot of sound, and my primary goal was to keep as much of that sound as possible inside the theater. To avoid the transference of deep bass upstairs through the home’s studs and joists, the ideal scenario would be to essentially separate the theater from the rest of the house. I’ve heard of people actually framing a room within a room, leaving a gap between the wood so that most bass rumblings are trapped within the confines of the theater—too rich for my budget. A more common solution is the use of hat channel (a steel channel separating drywall from wood, creating a smaller “room within a room” separated by a tiny gap). This solution is often compounded by the use of double sheets of drywall and sound-absorption materials such as Green Glue. But as I started adding up the costs of these measures, it quickly became clear that true, perfect sound isolation would be beyond my means. I would instead do the best job possible with the cash I had.

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Building a New Home Theater, Part 3

Apr 20, 2009 8:54 AM,
By Jason Bovberg

Fiber board, hat channel, and drywall.

To that end, I paid the small extra expense to have the insulators blow thick cellulose insulation into the ceiling joists—this would clearly help blunt the transference of high-end sounds upstairs. The process was fascinating to watch: A vast white sheet of netting was stapled to the undersides of the joists, and the insulators poked holes every few feet to blow the loose insulation inside. Two other decisions happened earlier: First, I told the heating subcontractor to not provide a heat register in the theater, knowing how easily sound travels through furnace systems. (To observe local code regulations, we couldn’t avoid providing a fresh-air return for the area, so for that purpose we used flexible pipe—much more amenable to sound isolation.) Second, I decided to not use canned lighting in the theater; I’d read many stories of too much attention paid to sound-isolation techniques with too little attention paid to the amount of sound that can sneak up through those hollow cans! Instead, my theater will have low-profile ceiling-mounted fixtures. One of the final tasks my insulators accomplished was to insulate my back-row seat riser with R-13 bats so that it wouldn’t sound like a hollow drum.

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With the ceiling crammed with cellulose and the walls and riser lined with R-13 bats (I wasn’t as concerned about the leaking some sound to horizontally adjacent rooms), I walked into the theater area and was amazed by how acoustically dead the room sounded. I tried playing some fairly loud music on a portable player, and upstairs I could only barely hear it. So far, pretty good. I knew a layer of drywall would help, but I still wanted to do the best job I could afford. At the last minute, my contractor and I decided to have the drywallers add fairly inexpensive Sound Choice sound-deadening fiberboard to the ceiling, to be sandwiched between the drywall and the joists. And although it might not make much difference in the end, we decided to throw in a layer of hat channel to the ceiling. (The wall studs are not protected by hat channel, so bass will still find a way upstairs for some master-bedroom rumbling, but my hope is that this measure will at least help.)

The rear of theater, including the riser.

So, the drywallers are done. Everything is taped, corner beads have been applied, and knockdown texture has been thrown. The room has a very satisfying “finished” look already. I’m looking at paint today—I’m thinking a traditional red-and-black palette—and the painters are soon coming in to prime. And as I look forward to the cosmetic steps in my near future, I’m confident that I’ve done all I can—with my economy-strained budget—to isolate my theater’s sound.

Keep in mind, I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned from your own home-theater construction, big or small. Perhaps your experiences can help me in my process. Feel free to comment with ideas or suggestions!

Jason Bovberg (

[email protected]

) is a senior editor for

Windows IT Pro and SQL Server

magazine and a regular contributor to

Residential AV Presents Connected Home

. He specializes in networking, mobile and wireless, hardware, and home computing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor in magazine, book, and special-interest publishing.

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