The Basement Home Theater Jim Built in the House that Jim Built

For nearly a decade I've been profiling custom home theaters for Sound & Vision, and in all that time I've never really had my own - or even a space carved out exclusively for watching movies or listening to music. And let me tell you, envy can be an ugly thing.

If you've followed some of the articles I've written for the magazine detailing how I've handled the audio-video and home networking installations my wife and I constructed on our riverfront weekend home - now our full-time residence - about 30 miles north of New York City (The House That Jim Built, Part I, June, 2004, and The House That Jim Built, Part II, October, 2004) you'd know that a dedicated home theater has always been part of the grand plan. It's just taken me a little longer to get there than I originally intended.

The final article in the series - The House That Jim Built, Part III - will appear in our October issue (or check this site soon), but we thought it would be cool to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how an empty basement with a few issues was transformed into a dedicated home theater, with a small space set aside as a recording studio.

Unlike the rooms we completed upstairs - where stealth, rather than performance, was the highest priority - I was unhindered by any aesthetic consideration (at least my wife's), so I could make this room look, and sound, however I wanted. The restraint was budgetary - and that meant I'd be doing most of the construction work myself.

As you can see from the "before" photo of the unfinished basement (CLICK HERE TO LAUNCH PHOTO GALLERY), this was a fairly significant DIY project, and the largest construction effort I'd ever undertaken. During the building of the addition, I'd had the basement excavated a foot deeper than usual to get a 9-foot ceiling height, and I'd had an electrical sub-panel installed near the home's central HVAC unit that could handle all the room's electrical requirements. The basement was completely unfinished, with a poured-concrete floor and walls, exposed HVAC ductwork, plumbing and electrical lines along with an oddly formed concrete knee-wall/framed wall that connected the new basement, which was built as a completely separate structure - to the old one.

The first project I undertook was the sub-floor. While you can lay carpet (and a padded vapor barrier) directly on concrete, I installed a floating sub-floor using DriCore panels, which are 2-foot-square engineered-wood panels that sit on top of raised polyethylene cleats. This keeps the wood from contacting the floor, and allows any condensation that might build up to evaporate. It also makes the floor more acoustically resonant. The sub-floor extends all the way to the perimeter, with a bout a 1/4-inch space left to give the floor room to expand and contract.

When the floor was done, I hired a local handyman - Michael Reizenstein - to help frame the room's perimeter walls. One good thing about 2-foot-thick concrete walls is that they're a great acoustical barrier, and since there were no adjacent rooms to the side, we built the walls conventionally (2 x 4 top plates, bottom plates, and vertical studs). We knew we'd have to build soffits to hide the ductwork and wiring, and had already cut a large piece of plywood to cover one of the soffit's sides. We also added built-in storage for my CDs, and framed a new room around the HVAC unit and electrical panel; this room would also house my equipment rack, which would open into the main room. I constructed the rack by screwing together two Raxxess 20-space studio racks, and mounting them into a frame I had built into the equipment room's framing.

Once the perimeter walls were framed, we started making the frames for the soffits using 2 x 2s ripped from extra 2 x 4s. To cover the lines and ductwork, we built one frame that ran the length of the right side of the room, and another that ran across the room from the far wall to the HVAC area. While you can drywall over the frames, we used 1/2-inch plywood for sides, both to help cut down on duct noise and to give the soffits greater structural rigidity. I also completed all the window and door frames so they'd be ready for drywall.