The Rack

May 24th, 2015

Back of the RackI’m putting a large rack somewhere in the room. The plan is to have all of the stereo gear for the entire house located in one central area. I have four zones planned—the great room, the deck, the bar, and the theater. The great room and the deck will both be stereo, the bar will be 5.1 surround, and the theater will be 7.2.4 Atmos/DTS:X surround with transducers in the furniture. All total, that’s 24 speaker wires all to one central location.

I thought of buying a rack, but couldn’t justify the cost of a pre-made rack, and didn’t want to have to scrounge for a used server/telecom rack, so I bought four rack rails to build my own four-post rack. I used some old musical gear and blank rack panels to hold the rails at the correct position, and framed it with the straightest 2x3s I could find. As for where I was going to put it, that became a much bigger issue.

Rack in PlaceAt first, the initial plan had the rack going under the stairs and completely out of site. But my wife didn’t like the idea of losing the storage space under the stairs, and I didn’t like the idea of dust from working in that area of the basement. I thought of positioning it at one end of the bar, like a giant column, but that made access to the back of the rack problematic.

Then I realized that if I put the rack in front of the HVAC area, I can have access to the back of the rack through a hidden door, while framing a wall on the other side that’ll make the boxed ceiling area above it more cohesive with the overall space.

Ceiling Planning

May 20th, 2015

Posts and BeamBecause I don’t want to have to relocate the fire sprinkler system pipes, the plan is to screw 2x3s to the joists above to drop the drywall ceiling below the level of the pipes. This will also reduce the hard contact area between the drywall and the structure above, which, combined with the insulation we’ll be stuffing in the joists, will result in very little sound transfer between floors.

There is also the matter of the beam and posts in the middle of the space. I don’t like the look of a basement that has a boxed-in beam with a post cover in the middle of a room. To me, this screams “basement.” But there’s little choice in that the beam is in such a place that there’s no way I can hide them inside a wall. I’ll have to box in the beam and frame a column for the posts.

Main FloorFortunately, on the main floor of the house, there are several square columns, half walls, and beam-like ceiling features. If I copy the design of those features, the boxed-in beam and posts can look like the features on the main floor, and less like I’m hiding obstructions. And by putting a half wall in between the column and the outside wall, separating the bar room and the billiard room, I’ll even further match the rest of the house. And then, if I were to further match the column with columns on the walls at either end of the beam, and a similar beam/soffit over the bar, I should be adding architectural interest instead of covering up problems.

Doors and Riser

May 18th, 2015

Riser and Doors StartThere will be two rows of seating in the theater. This means that the second row will be on a riser. I wanted to do multiple rows of seating in the last house, but with less than eight feet of finished headroom, I didn’t think I could do it comfortably. I don’t have that limitation now. With the first draft plan, I had double doors that opened into where the first row was, with stairs to the right of the doors leading up onto the riser. When the theater was made wider with angled walls in the back, I had to move the door to the angled back wall, meaning the door was opening to the riser.

Doors Start 01This posed some additional challenges. If I were to have a simple door, I’d have to have two stairs immediately inside the room. This presents two problems—first, it cuts into the riser area, and with limited width already, could pose an additional problem with later furniture selection. The bigger problem is that the stairs would pose a significant tripping hazard in the dark. Putting the stairs outside the room could solve the tripping hazard; however, as the door could not open out from the theater over the stairs, opening the door into the theater still limits the usable width of the riser.

Doors FramingPocket doors don’t have the issue of do-they-open-in or do-they-open-out. They do have their own challenges in that it takes double the wall length to install them, and they can rattle if not well-installed. Because I wanted the door centered on the wall, and the wall is less than seven feet in length, I decided on double pocket doors of 18″ each. I also decided to put one stair outside the room, and the other in the room. The outside stair would be a large curved wood stair in front of a rather elaborately trimmed opening.

Doors and RiserWith the other stair inside the room, this also minimizes something that bugged me about our last house. I had a large studio space just off our media room, connected with a set of double door five feet in total width. The space had a good amount of natural light. Whenever we watched a movie during the daytime, the light spilling from underneath the doors bothered me. It wasn’t really that noticeable as it was behind the sectional and out of sight while watching a movie, but every time I turned around and saw it, I cringed a little. Now, with putting the second stair immediately entering the room, light from underneath the doors will be almost gone. Creative trim work will keep light from pouring in between the doors as well.

Fixing a Problem

May 14th, 2015

Open BoxWhen we first saw the house, while the drywall in the basement meant I couldn’t easily see the floor above, or look for any mechanical issues that might be tucked in the joists, I did see an uncovered electrical box. I thought it a bit odd, in that it had obviously been there when the house was built, and being open, a code violation. I also thought it a bit sloppy of the original electrician, as it’d be rare to have to splice something in during the original build. I figured that all I’d have to do with it would be to put a cover on it, and that’d be that.


About four months after moving in, the overhead lights in the kitchen flickered and went out. My first thought was a bad switch, so I looked at the switches and saw the electrician had (as is too common) used the push in connectors on the back of the switches, which can fail. So, I bought three new switches and installed them. No luck.

Burnt EndsThen I remembered the odd open box in the basement, and thought it could be the problem. I shut off power to the kitchen again and tested the box for power. Nothing—I’m on to something. I removed one of the wire nuts to inspect the connection, and saw not only that the electrician had merely held the stripped ends of the wires together and screwed a wire nut on to them, but that the unsecurely connected wires had arced repeatedly to the point of charring. I got my lineman’s pliers out, snipped the burnt tips off, stripped and twisted them securely before screwing fresh wire nuts and taping. The kitchen lights were fixed.