Building a Home Theater, Step 1: Location, Location, Location

Momentous changes are afoot. After years (decades, honestly) of apartment living, Mrs. Z and I have finally bought a house. We closed on the purchase a couple weeks ago and will move in January. In the meantime, the place needs some work, including an electrical overhaul and, of course, the conversion of its basement rec room into a proper home theater. This is where the hard part begins.

We purchased an older home, built in 1940. The electrical system is antiquated and needs a lot of work, but the house is structurally sound and otherwise in good shape. Naturally, when searching, one of my biggest and most important criteria was that the house must have a good space for my home theater, preferably a finished basement. The one we settled on has a pretty spacious rec room in the basement. Unfortunately, the room was finished in the 1950s. Both for aesthetic and pragmatic reasons, it will need some renovation before I can use it for my needs.

It turns out that the house has some character and history behind it. The former owner (now deceased) was a friend of John Huston, director of ‘The Maltese Falcon‘, ‘The African Queen‘ and other classics. He apparently spent a bit of time drinking bourbon in the very room that will be my home theater. That’s pretty cool.

First, here’s the general layout of the space. The areas highlighted in yellow are two proposed locations for my projection screen. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

As you can see in the following photos, the room looks a little tacky right now. I don’t really care for its wood paneling or that ugly green tile floor. It’s also an acoustical nightmare, with echoes everywhere. I plan to pull down the paneling, install soundproofing insulation and cover the floor.

The ceiling is frustratingly low, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about that. I’m going to pull down these hideous panels, but will have to replace them with something better looking at the same height. The fluorescent lights will definitely be replaced by recessed lighting. That will help a little, I suppose. Nevertheless, mounting a projector on the ceiling may be an issue.

Upon entering the room, I’m immediately drawn toward the area seen at the bottom of the floor plan. This seems like it would be a natural location to put the projection screen.

However, the more I think about it, the more I like this opposite end of the room.

It may seem a little lop-sided right now, which might create an unbalanced soundstage, but I can envision putting my equipment rack in the alcove area to the side, and enclosing it with a sliding partition. That would give the screen better symmetry, and would be a much more convenient location to store my disc players, A/V receiver and other gear.

Then I could use the back end of the room for media shelving and an office space. Something like this:

Some of this is a little difficult to visualize right now, but the plan is starting to come together in my head. Next step: Finding some good contractors. Ideas and recommendations are welcome.

I could especially use some some suggestions for media/disc shelving. If you have or have seen things that you like (either pre-made or custom), please post some links in the Comments below.

More to come as the project gets underway!


  1. DrMaustus

    What are your thoughts on surround sound? Do you plan to wire it for the latest surround setups (9.1?) or stick with the tried-and-true 7.1?

    Are you going to run an HDMI cable to your projector or go wireless for that?

    So many decisions…

    Baseboard heating…yikes. I think you’re in the Boston area? It has got to be expensive to heat that place…

    • Josh Zyber

      I will probably stick with 7.1. The ceiling is too low to make much use of height speakers, and the alcove area on the right will make wides impractical.

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of the baseboard heating either, but fortunately the house is heated by gas rather than oil.

      • Josh Zyber

        Sadly, the owner’s family cleared the place out. Huston had left his pipe there and some photos, but those were taken away before we closed on the sale.

  2. Ted S.

    Josh, are you going to increase your screen size from the current one in your apartment? Looks like you can fit at least 100 inch screen on that wall.

    Congrats on the house by the way.

  3. ilsiu

    How about putting media shelves on the wall adjacent to the equipment rack for easier access? Maybe put a curtain between the two columns to hide it while the movie is playing.

  4. Congratulations on purchasing a house. Building a home theater makes for the perfect series for this blog. I can’t wait to see how the theater ends up and what it takes to get there.

  5. JM

    Congratulations to all the Zs!

    John Huston’s secret drinking room will make an excellent personal cineplex.

    The sliding partition will really tie the room together.

    6’8″ is such a low ceiling. Are you going to install undersized furniture so you feel like a giant?

  6. Barsoom Bob

    Congratulations and best of luck with everything. Will follow your progress with great interest.

    I am going to be retiring next year and moving to a home I bought in Austin that has a room that can be made light tight pretty easily. Although I have been a staunch plasma guy, I am intrigued by your projection set up and the allure of the constant height projection ability, with the sole exception of Chris Nolan’s hybrid Imax blu-rays, that must send you into fits. Looking forward to your adventures with setting up this new room.

  7. Congrats on your new home. 🙂

    I think you’re on the right path with the sliding partition/equipment rack idea. Anyways as a long time reader of your articles and reviews I’ll be eagerly looking forward to your new home theater blog entries.

    I hope Mrs. Z has more space now for her hobbies as well. Good luck to the both of you.

  8. Ceilings can always be raised, especially drop ceilings like that with tiles. I’m sure there is simply an apparatus up there than holds all the tiles in place. Have the contractors remove the tiles and the apparatus and I would guess you’d be able to get another 6 – 8 inches.

    • Josh Zyber

      We’ve already taken a peek above the ceiling. It’s right up against the joists. There’s nowhere for it to be raised to, unfortunately, and digging down is out of my budget.

      It’s an old house. People were shorter back in the ’40s, apparently. 🙂

  9. Mike Attebery

    I’d replace the baseboard heaters with radiant heating. We have a RugBuddy at our place. Completely silent heat. Very nice in the winter.

  10. I think you should put the projector next to the wider area by the columns, and close off the columned area with a wall leaving a space between the column and the door. Then you would have a small room for all the equipment and even some storage for movies you don’t want on display. :), you could even add a door to make a sort of “airlock” so if someone walks in during a movie they don’t shine light from the hallway all over your screen. I just got a new projector, getting a screen for my birthday in January, and I definitely find it annoying to have lights turned on in the middle of a show.
    For the projector, maybe you could have it partially in the ceiling to give it more height if needed… just a few thoughts.

  11. I am not sure what your budget is, but you may want to go with a home-theater contractor. You already have the equipment, so it should be considerably cheaper than if you were purchasing an entire room. Just fork out the money to them to redo the walls, ceilings, floors, run the wiring, and all of that. Now, you could probably just hire a general contractor, save some money, but you will have to do the entire design process yourself.

    I say look around and just see how much it would cost to get a home theater design team in there, and let them do the interior decorating and hire the contractors and all of that. It will cost more, but you will be happier with the outcome.

    The room has potential, but there is just way too much work that needs to be done. Having lived in a house (my bedroom looked very similar to this room, and roughly about the same size, believe it or not – yeah, huge bedroom), I understand the amount of work that needs to be done. This could turn into a big headache.

    If you do the renovations yourself, you could probably get out for a few hundred, but you are looking at a LOT of work.

    If you were in the DFW area, I would suggest Marvin Electronics, I have heard that they have done installs around the US.

    Just some quick Googling in your area, and I came up with a couple of places you may want to consider:

    For a room like yours, I envision this:
    (click on the small thumbnail that looks kinda black on the far right-hand side, its like the sixth thumbnail). Like I said, you have the equipment, just get someone in there with a good eye to design the space for you and bring in their own contractors.

    Good luck. I hope you can find something in your price range!

  12. Congrats on the new home with Mrs Z! 😀 I love that a house built in the 40s is considered ‘old’. 😉 Over here, that’s practically ‘Yay! A new-build!’ (Okay, not quite, but not far off lol!)

      • Another hint, from someone who just moved in the past month – PAY someone to move you. Should only cost a couple of hundred (mine was right below $200). Trust me, by the time you rent a UHaul, and all the fees associated with it, then by the time you buy pizza and beer for all your friends, plus gas for the UHaul, plus the physical and emotional drain you place on yourself and your friends, it ends up really being cheaper to just get professionals to move you.

  13. ack_bak

    Congrats Josh, gut the room and it will look like a whole new place. If you need any info on soundproofing:

    Awesome resource and Ted White is at AVS.

    For a media shelving I am using this:

    I recommend starting a build thread at AVS. They helped me a ton there and it was great running ideas by the experts. Of course I did most of my build myself…

  14. Larry Jackson

    Congratulations on the new home which someday include a HOME THEATER.

    I will recommend the PIONEER Andrew Jones speaker system 2011 or 2012.

    If you can find a new one for $220, I will highly recommend the Marantz NR1402 ( includes Pre-Amp Out to expand to 7.1 )and a APPLE TV for AIR PLAY. Nov. 2012 @ Best Buy I found the Marantz NR1402. It wasn’t listed B.B. web site.

    If you live in the Delaware or within 20 miles, you will Tom & Bill for home improvement. They are excellent and they have references.

  15. Larry Jackson

    This old fella was answering questions while typing. If you drop the projector plan, you should consider a plasma in your Home Theater.

    Panasonic VIERA TC-P50ST50 50-Inch 1080p 600Hz Full HD 3D Plasma TV

    Tom & Bill work around Delaware & surrounding states with mileage limits.

  16. Nelll

    Trade your Denon for an 11.2 Receiver. My boss has the Yamaha RX-A3000 11.2 and it’s a beast. The Denon AVR-4520CI is too expensive in my opinion. Also you can Install speakers on the ceiling, use some external amps.Get ready for dolby atmos. I will install not one, not two, not three but four Subwoofers. like they said: “Two, three or even four properly positioned subwoofers can effectively cancel some room resonances and distribute bass more uniformly in the room, improving bass in multiple listening positions”

    Look at me Josh, you just got a new house and I am spending your money. lol
    Congrats for the house.The way I see it your Theater is going to rock. We are so happy to see your project flourishing. 🙂

  17. freakyguy666

    How about putting the screen on the Left Wall (24′ side) and building a screen wall and having a separate room for your rack and other stuff in the resulting 11’x8′ room?

  18. freakyguy666

    Also, you didn’t mention anything about the columns. Are they structural (i.e. could they be removed?) and if so what material are they made of (i.e. could they be narrowed?)? I’ve built my own home theater in my basement (12.5′ wide 16×9 screen w/9.2 system) so email me and I could send you some pics and suggestions if you’d like.

    Yo Joe!

  19. freakyguy666

    One big problem you’re gonna have is reducing sound transmission thru the basement ceiling/living room floor. With such a low ceiling in the basement you are not going to be able to insulate the joists from transmitting the sound and/or eliminating the vibrations from the floor above to the basement below via the joists and other framing. While you can utilize acoustic insulation foam to fill the cavities between the joists to somewhat minimize sound transmission thru the air, the joists and framing are going to be the big problem–especially when it comes to footsteps and low frequency sounds.