Building a Home Theater, Step 3: The Money Drain

Anyone who’s ever lived through a home renovation or construction project can undoubtedly tell you that unexpected problems and cost overruns are pretty much par for the course. As a first-time homeowner trying to build a home theater in the basement, I’m learning the reality of this the hard way. The thing that’s currently sucking the dollars out of my pocket like a Hoover: plumbing.

Problems started when I noticed a small puddle of water seeping up through the basement floor. I knew immediately that this was going to be bad. The first plumber I had in more or less just brushed this off, claiming that it was probably ground water and there was nothing I could do about it. When I explained that I planned to put carpet in the room and didn’t want a soggy floor, he pretty much told me that I was s.o.l. I didn’t like this guy at all.

Also, I knew he was wrong, and that he could have figured out that this wasn’t a ground water issue if he’d bothered to look at it for five minutes. We first noticed the puddle on a dry day, and it seemed to directly correlate to running water in the house.

After we’d already torn out the walls in the room for the remodel, my father-in-law (who knows a thing or two about plumbing) identified the source of the leak as a pipe that runs from the kitchen above, down the foundation wall, and under the basement floor. When we turned on the kitchen sink, water ran out onto the floor. When we turned off the sink, the water subsided. That seems pretty conclusive to me.

So, we tore up part of the floor to find the hole.

My father-in-law could get us this far, and put a temporary patch on the pipe to tide us over, but we still needed a plumber to fix the problem. Since I didn’t like the first guy, I called another. The second plumber at least recognized the problem, but his proposed solution was to tear out the entire basement floor and replace everything at what seemed to be an exorbitant cost (not to mention the cost of replacing all the floor afterwards). Given that the rest of the pipe that we can see appears to be in good shape, except for the junction where it hits the floor (which my father-in-law explains is most susceptible to rotting out), this plumber’s plan seemed excessive (and a budget-killer).

Thus, we brought in a third plumber. I like this guy better. He seems to know what he’s talking about, he’s familiar with the workings of old houses in this area, and he pointed out a few things regarding sewage and storm drain-outs that the last plumber either missed or was ignorant about. While his price for the repair is certainly not cheap, it’s within my means. I hired him, and he fixed the leak in a day. One problem down.

Sadly, that’s not the last of my plumbing issues. I also need him to remove the baseboard heating so that my contractor can build new walls, which the baseboards will be installed back onto later. That turns out not to be a very big deal. The plumber got that done the same day that he fixed the leak.

More problematic are some heating pipes that had been in a large soffit on one side of the room, and a gas pipe below the joists right in the center of the room.

I need my electrician to move an electrical conduit near that gas pipe as well.

Because the basement already has low headroom, I want to preserve as much height as possible. My contractor advised that it would be best to move all of these pipes out of the way so that he could put the new ceiling as close to the joists as possible. Doing so also means that he doesn’t have to build a new soffit around those low-hanging pipes, which will be a savings on his end (not enough savings to fully counteract the cost of moving the pipes, but I’d really like the area cleared anyway).

There’s also a small section of the ceiling where a water pipe dips below the joists. It doesn’t look like much of a problem, but of course re-piping it will be an expensive hassle.

I’ve committed to moving all of those pipes. The question now is where to put them. The room has another soffit near the entry that also has some pipes in it. The most logical course of action is to move all of the other pipes into this soffit.

There’s just one little problem with that. The soffit is behind a major support beam.

Why would that be an issue? Normally, it wouldn’t. However, like everything else in this basement, the beam was apparently installed by a short person. The bottom of the beam is 6 feet off the ground. I am 6’1″. I already have to duck to get under the beam, which is annoying. My plans for soundproofing the room would require building a larger soffit around the whole beam that would drop the overall height another couple of inches, bringing it to about the level of my nose. I would have to limbo to get into the room. This is not acceptable.

My contractor and I have been in talks about possible solutions to this problem, such as raising a portion of the beam. (He assures me that there’s a way to do this that is structurally sound.) Naturally, that’s going to be expensive in itself, but it can’t be done at all if that soffit with the pipes remains where it is. All of the pipes currently inside the home theater would have to be moved into the laundry room on the other side of the entry wall.

My plumber tells me that this can be done, but, like everything else, it’s going to be expensive. My money is all just pouring down the drain at this point. I have to keep assuring myself that, in another month’s time, this entire project will be complete and I’ll be able to enjoy my new home theater. That thought is the only thing getting me through this process.


  1. Bryan

    Wow …. I’m impressed – you’re going to great lengths to get this room just the way you want it. (I can’t imagine what the total cost would be – just thinking about all those plumber/contractor bills has my head spinning.) I think I would have ended up making some minor modifications and living with it …

  2. Keith T.

    This is a great blog, can’t wait to see how it turns out! I am in the search for a house at the moment, and one of the biggest selling points is having a room to build a home theater in.

  3. Erich

    Who would buy their first house and just want to “live with it”? I applaud you for making the effort to make a great room you’ll enjoy. Completely worth it for the countless hours you’ll benefit. how many of us keep buying upgraded A/V equipment, when a superior room would make a drastically larger difference?

    I’m very excited for you Josh. your efforts are inspiring.

  4. JM

    Men on a Mission is a worthwhile genre.

    At least you married well. A useful father-in-law is worth his weight in meat.

    Just think about your interest rate.

    You live there a few years, your home theater is practically free.

    Soon enough, it’ll be time to do the pretty stuff.

  5. Michael

    You could always run the stuff down new soffits on either side of the theater area. Many people will build soffits to house their lighting on all four sides of the theater. This also makes an elevated section to add the illusion of height. However with your low ceiling height as is they may be too low.

    It sounds like you have the ceiling construction figured out for sound. You can also add additional insulation between the floor joists, above the blocking for your clips & hat channel to absorb more sound, and insulate the floor above.

    I’m in the planning stages of my theater and hoping to do a 2″ extruded polystyrene foam glued to the exterior wall, slight gap, then 2×4 fiberglass insulated wall with double drywall & green glue. But as others mentioned it depends on what your local building inspector wants for the exterior walls.

    Be sure to run conduit everywhere! Always run more than you think you will need. The last thing you want to have to do is tear it all down to install new front height speakers or such.

    And speaking of the front, you may want to take 2-3 feet and build a simple screen wall. With acoustically transparent fabric you can hide all your front speakers behind it, for a clean look.

    For the floor look into a product called Delta-FL. You install it against your concrete, then can put laminate directly on top, or some OSB followed by carpet. This way if there are water issues in the future it has an air pocket to go into and dry out, rather than soaking your carpet and ruining it. Your floor will also be warmer. You’ll loose about 1″ of height doing it with OSB and carpet.

    • Josh Zyber

      All good suggestions, some of which are already in the works. I will definitely have insulation between the joists.

      I’m not doing an acoustically transparent screen, because I plan to put curtains in front of the screen to mask off different aspect ratios (and give a theatrical feel). I already do that in my apartment, and plan to continue in the house. There’s no point to putting speakers behind an AT screen if the sound will just be muffled by curtains. I don’t mind floor-standing speakers being visible in the room, personally. I know that bugs some people, but I’m fine with it. I’ve also already ordered the screen I want.

  6. Pyronaut

    Now that you have the ceiling open you should wire in some speakers in there for when Atmos makes its way to the home market 🙂

  7. Barsoom Bob

    Those seem like fairly substantial joists. Perhaps you can just notch out an inch or two to get the pipes above the bottom edge of the joist and out of the way of your ceiling. They look like heavy 2×6 at least, an inch or so isn’t going to damage the structural integrity. Ditto the electric. Replace the pipe conduit with flexible Greenfield, then you can drill small holes through the joists and pass the wiring through then just move the gang box up to be flush with the bottom of the joist.

  8. August J Lehe

    JOSH….and here I am feeling sorry for myself for having to decide when to purchase my receiver (probably a full-size MARANTZ) and re-hook my six surround speakers plus sub. The speakers on my Panasonic GT-50 Viera aren’t bad but it’s not 7.1 surround either! Even cranked up to 97%…My Pro Logic Mitsubishi HTS-100 probably has a few more years left in it, though… Good Luck!

  9. I can tell you why the second plumber wanted to replace ALL the pipes – it looks like, from the pictures, those are the old lead pipes. Modern pipes, whether plastic or metal, have issues connecting with the older pipes. You see, different materials expand at different temperatures. This means that connections will loosen and tighten, and you have the possibility of busting pipes. Keep an eye on that corner if you just patched it – chances are, you will have to patch it again in a few years. Unless, by some miracle, you found a plumbing company who stocks lead pipes.

    What is a heating pipe? I don’t think i have ever seen one.

    I am confused, are you moving the electrical outlet closer to the gas pipe, or futher away? In any case, isn’t having the outlet close to the gas pipe dangerous?

    • Josh Zyber

      The heating is by forced hot water. The electrical outlet on the ceiling is staying roughly where it is in that photo, but the conduit has been replaced by flex tubing and moved up between the joists rather than below them. The gas pipe has been moved to the other side of the room away from it.

      • Ah, gotcha. Yeah, as much as I like Gas, the thought of having a gas line that close to an electrical outlet just gives me the hibbie-jibbies. Glad to hear that the gas line got moved – we don’t have to worry about you getting blown up when you power up the projector now