Building a Home Theater, Step 6: The Heartbreak

I’m currently in a war with my house, and the house is winning. My beautiful home theater is in ruins. All the work I’ve put into this project has been set back untold weeks and considerable sums of money. Being a homeowner is an exercise in frustration, and honestly, it’s hard to see any light at the end of this tunnel right now.

Do you remember those lovely pictures I posted of how far the home theater had progressed? Well, I’ve had nothing but catastrophe after catastrophe since then.

My theater room was several thousand dollars over budget and a few weeks behind schedule, but it was about 90% complete. Construction was done. I’d painted, put up the screen and mounted the projector. The speakers were all wired up. All I needed to do was install some acoustic treatments, order new furniture, and decorate a little.

Then I felt a puddle on the carpet in the middle of the floor – the carpet I’d put in just one week earlier.

Yes, I have a leak. Another leak. Some of you may recall that I suffered a broken kitchen line back at the beginning of this project. At the time, we fixed the broken section of pipe and everything seemed stabilized. Relieved to have caught the problem early, I moved forward with construction. I built a wall in front of that pipe and put wall-to-wall carpeting on the floor.

What a fool I was. We should have pulled the entire pipe and replaced everything from one end of the room to the other. But that would have been expensive, and would have set me further behind schedule. The odds of the leak recurring seemed unlikely. So I took a gamble… and lost.

Yes, the pipe sprung another leak. I discovered water soaking up through my new carpet not one hour after my contractor did his final walkthrough. Some day in the distant future, I may look back and find it comical how cruelly the house has taunted me, but right now I’m not amused.

An insurance adjuster came out and reported the carpet a total loss. Because the water is coming from a sewer line, there’s no saving the carpet from the nasty microbes that have backed up onto it. The brand new carpet has to go. At least, the entire back half of the room does. Right now, I’m doing what I can to save the carpet in the front half, but that may ultimately be a futile effort.

This is depressing, but the insurance should cover replacing the carpet. With that removed, my plumber should have easy access to dig up the floor and fix the pipe again. Shouldn’t he?


No, you see, the leak isn’t in the floor at all. It’s behind the wall – the brand new double-drywall soundproofed wall that I’d just built. The pipe has cracked further up the line, above the section we’d previously repaired. Of course it has.

So, now my plumber cuts a big section out of that wall to remove and replace the broken pipe.

He put new pipe in the wall to stop the leak, but that doesn’t mean that I can begin the process of patching the wall back up again yet.

Even with the pipe behind the wall replaced, the pipe below the floor also looks pretty thin, and we have concerns about that giving out eventually as well. With my luck, it almost certainly will, and sooner rather than later. I just don’t trust any of the original plumbing in the house. I’m not going to put the whole room back together, only to go through this ordeal again in a few months or a year. If we’re going to fix it, we need to fix it right.

What does that entail? The options are either to remove the rest of the carpet and totally dig the pipe out of the floor, or to abandon that plumbing and run a new pipe behind the wall from the back of the room (where the kitchen line starts) to the boiler room on the other side of the front. After much debate, running a new pipe behind the wall and capping off the old one seems to be the best option. My plumber will start on that soon. In order to get the new pipe in, he’ll have to cut at least two or three more holes in the wall, which will need to be repaired and repainted later.

In the meantime, the room is a total shambles, completely unusable, months behind schedule, and I’m out of money. I feel like I’d be better off to just level the fucking house and start over at this point.

What is it that gamblers say? “Never bet against the house.” That’s a lesson I’m learning the hard way. I want to curl up into the fetal position and cry until this fiasco is finally over.


  1. August J Lehe

    I figure I would be out at least $50G by now and wouldn’t have a photo worth posting!

    So I guess it could be worse, Josh.

    Look at it this way, we’ll all laugh about this someday!

  2. I feel the pain. It’s the worst feeling in the world when something is broke, HAS to be fixed, and you are out of money, and when it affects your job….

    Horrible horrible feeling. Especially when something that was supposed to be good in your life turns out to go horribly horribly wrong.

    I wish I had some words of comfort, but I don’t. All I can say is, we are here for you man, to offer emotional support through this.

  3. Pyronaut

    Damn, what a bummer! You’ve discovered one of the downfalls of home ownership. Little things you didn’t expect can end up costing you much more than just a little.

    I can imagine what it must be like looking forward to having a new home theatre room so much, only to have it snatched away. That doesn’t mean that you’ll never have it though, it’s just a matter of time.

    When this project finally gets completed I’m sure you’ll look back on all the trouble the room caused you, and will appreciate it that much more.

  4. We just found out we have a leak in our apartment. The leak is in the bathroom, under a tiled floor. The other way to reach the leak is going at it from underneath, which happens to be a 30 foot ceiling above the garage below. It sucks. I feel your pain Josh.

  5. HuskerGuy

    That blows Josh, sorry to hear about the setback. Like Pyro said, such is the pain of home ownership.

  6. Barsoom Bob

    Your plumber gave you the right advice. I was going to suggest abandoning the line in the floor and re-routing either in the ceiling or around the room. Nothing with a house is easy and so many hidden costs that you never appreciated as a renter.

    Don’t despair though, there is an end to the tunnel. The piping work shouldn’t be that expensive and although it looks very discouraging, with holes in all your walls, sheet rock patches up pretty easily and a good painter will be able to smooth it out and since the paint job is very recent, it will blend in seamlessly so that you will not even know that the walls had been opened up.

    Can you not convince the insurance company to cover some of this other work as it was necessary to correct the broken pipe ?

    • Josh Zyber

      Insurance will only cover the cost of accessing the pipe (cutting up the wall, which is a negligible expense) and repairing the wall in the immediate area where the leak occurred. It’s doesn’t cover the actual plumbing or anything we do to the wall further into the room.

      • JREinATL

        Don’t even bother with insurance on the carpeting or the wall. In exchange for the pittance they give you, they’ll jack your rate up so you’ll end up paying back whatever they give you several times over.

  7. Feeling your pain, Josh. Keep with it, there is light at the end of the tunnel. From what we can see so far it will be an awesome room when finished.

    I’m not to far from you (about an hour drive), so if you want any sound design assistance, acoustic treatments, I can help to inexpensively build some DIY decorative absorption treatments, or even diffusion along the back. Not sure what you have in mind there yet.

  8. Jeff Shultz


    There is no feeling quite like the one you’re experiencing now. An issue that you decided was OK, has rocked your finances, enthusiasm and your original idea. Most of us go through a series of steps that include wondering about many aspects of life ( our competence, judgement, etc.) I always hated to see the disappointment on my wife’s face. You can get perspective, but it usually takes some time. House hint: when part of a system shows problems, assume the problems are elsewhere in the system. Little comfort now, but that thought can help save you in the future.

    Good luck navigating through insurance adjusters, contractors and any city issues that may crop up.

  9. Mike

    This makes me think of the plane hitting the house in Garp:

    “We’ll take the house. The chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It’s been pre-disastered. We’re going to be safe here…”

    Once that pipe is completely replaced and rerouted the theater will hopefully be pre-disastered and safe. Glad the rerouting is an option. Is your plumber going to put some soundproofing around the PVC? That stuff can be loud.

    Aaron, I had the same thing here last year. Saw a funny spot on the ceiling below our bathroom, pressed on it with my finger, and my hand went through the sheetrock. Took three attempts before the plumber finally figured out where the shower was leaking behind the wall and down into the ceiling. Nothing makes the bottom fall out of a howeowner’s stomach faster than an unexplained leak.

  10. Josh now knows what Spielberg felt like on the set of JAWS.

    Seriously though…what a disaster. I agree with you though…just put in completely new pipe. And don’t worry, as soon as the new pipe is done, your furnace will zonk out. πŸ™‚

    • Josh Zyber

      Don’t even say that! Mrs. Z and I are already dreading the day that the boiler dies. We need this one to get us through at least a couple years.

  11. Jeff Shultz


    Looking at one of the other blogs (my life in film titles) bring a couple of oldies to mind:

    “On the Waterfront” (1954) and “Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948)

    • Josh Zyber

      We watched Blandings on the living room TV a couple weeks ago. It’s hilarious how the cost of everything has inflated exponentially since that movie. How much does he spend in that movie total? Something like 20 grand to build the house from scratch, including all the setbacks and disasters. I can’t even remodel one room for that.

  12. ToddyB

    Can you start some sort of donation site for readers to help out? I’d gladly kick in $20 to the “fix-it” fund. I’ve followed the process closely figuring I’d need the blueprint for my own home theater construction someday, so there’s serious value for me in your documentation. Maybe others will feel the same way?

    • Barsoom Bob

      That is a great idea. We all spend a lot of time here on this site, the least we could do is give the guy some assistance for all the years of work he has put into maintaining this site. I say do it!

  13. Wow, Josh, I can understand why you are devastated. Hopefully it is helpful to have the well wishes of so many.

    On the positive side, that new pipe looks beautiful!


  14. JM

    Maybe you should set out a little altar of bourbon, to appease the ghost of John Huston, who has apparently decided to direct a comedy of pain.

  15. You know I empathize, but your ability to write-up a post about it without just setting a fire of rage upon the blog and everything else is truly impressive.

  16. So sorry to hear that, Josh!

    I am also new to the home-owning game, having moved in with my girlfriend last year, and I know all too well the pain of seeing a project balloon out of control, and I’m only talking about fences and a busted window or two! πŸ˜‰

    Good luck with all the repairs!

  17. Dan

    I know how you feel. My life has been practically about working on various projects, some with disastrous things occurring in-between starting and finishing them.

  18. Django

    What kind of LFE are you going to be running when it’s finished? If you got some serious subs I’d worry about what there going to do to your finicky house. Maybe shake or bust another pipe loose somewhere. Ahhhhhh!!!!!!!!

  19. Josh,

    So sorry to hear about the setbacks. As a homeowner for the past 12 years (of a house built in 1930), we’ve had our share of setbacks, but the tale of the leaky pipes is still painful to read.

    I think you’re making the right call by replacing all the plumbing. This way, you can sleep soundly and a similar tale will not be written about your home for another 50 years. I might suggest laminate flooring instead of wall to wall carpeting though, with area rugs to cozy it up. Not only better in case of any unexpected water issues, but easier to maintain in case you have any clumsy house guests spilling beer on your lovely new rug (said by the clumsy house guest).

    Anyway… it will all one day be a distant memory. Best of luck finishing it up.