Installations: The House That Jim Built Page 2

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The other challenge is aesthetic. I've promised my wife - who's been living patiently with not only a ridiculous amount of A/V gear, but some 30-odd guitars and a handful of vintage guitar amps - that the new living-room area will remain clean and uncluttered. The 28 x 18-foot room has an open floor plan, with the kitchen separated from the main living space only by a large center island with seating. To take advantage of the river view, almost the entire back of the house is windows, with large doors that open onto an elevated cedar deck.
Looking from the living room into the kitchen area before drywall and cabinet installation (top) and after (above). Cables for the rear surround speakers hang from the ceiling.
While we left most of the equipment-buying decisions for later in the project, the space's open design and lack of interior walls essentially ruled out using any of my current floorstanding speakers. Having been impressed by their sound quality and reasonable price, I chose Sonance's Symphony S623T in-wall speakers for the left, center, and right channels, and three S623TR ceiling models for the surrounds. Also, because the space will be bright, I had to rule out rear-projection DLP or LCD high-def TVs in favor of a wall-mounted plasma display, which will also help maintain the room's streamlined appearance.

Fortunately, the upstairs bedroom will be easier to outfit. Since we'll be moving our son, Tyler, from his nursery to our old bedroom, which is adjacent to the new master bedroom, we decided to forego an elaborate A/V system as we'll likely be keeping the volume low or listening via wireless headphones. We do know that we'll need a TV with a fairly large screen, since it probably will be placed on or against a wall that's a fair distance - about 20 feet - from the bed.

One thing I've learned from writing about other people's installations is the importance of wiring the house before the sheetrock is installed. To save money, I initially planned to pull the RG6 coaxial and Cat5e cables myself, but my electrician convinced me he could do the job at minimal cost, since he already had to drill holes through the studs and joists. Happy to have one less project on my plate, I agreed - and soon made my first big mistake.

About the same time the electricians were finishing the wiring, I visited a nearby house where an expensive home theater and custom whole-house audio system were being installed. While I was there, I mentioned to Barry Weiner - owner of Hudson Valley Home Media, the Sparkill, New York custom-installation firm handling the project - that I was in the midst of my own more modest installation. After discovering that we lived just a few blocks apart, Weiner agreed to stop by to see how my project was going.

After a quick survey, Weiner said, "If this were my house, I'd rip out all the low-voltage wires and start over." While I'd been nervous about how close some of the A/V cables were to the higher-voltage electric lines, I'd assumed the electricians knew what they were doing. Now I was a bit more concerned, particularly since the walls were scheduled to be sheetrocked in just two days.

"Like many projects where the electricians do all the wiring, there were two immediate issues," Weiner explains. "The low-voltage wires were strung too close to the high-voltage lines, and there weren't enough runs. Of particular concern were long parallel runs where the electrical and A/V wires were strung just a few inches apart for almost the entire length of a joist, which could generate noise and interference on the network and cause 60-cycle hum bars to appear on the TVs."