Why Are Newer Homes Always So Lame for Home Theater?

So some of you who may know me, know that my wife and I desperately want our own place. Our hobbies don’t really mix well with apartments or rental properties. She wants to have a garden and raise bees, both difficult in rentals. Similarly, powerful home theaters and apartments mix like old people and Miley Cyrus, no good can come from it. That said, once her work situation is in order we hope to purchase our first home. This goal has us carefully stepping in to the house hunting game. A somewhat dreamy and fun experience that usually leads to frustration and anxiety when the reality of everything sinks in. Naturally, when it comes to perspective homes we are most interested in a large kitchen, and for me, the right room to build a dedicated theater space (I won’t talk about the kitchen here). Unfortunately, finding the right design elements have proved to be far more elusive than I first thought.

So what kind of features makes a room great for a truly killer dedicated home theater? Well number one for me is light control. Walkout basements with large patio windows do not work well if you are using a front projector and screen. It seems like no amount of curtains can truly tame the sun at midday. New home builders love bright walk-out basements, and they must sell well too apparently, because dark large rooms are increasingly a rare find in newer construction.

Another difficult obstacle comes from rooms that have odd shapes, or other design features that force you to move your display to some lame location. This can be difficult, as it seems that “L” shaped basements are also all the rage with current builders. You want to avoid corner set ups, and ensure that your sight lines and audio are positioned symmetrically with your seating position. Try to follow the Dolby surround sound guidelines shown below.

Dolby71setup

The last major thing to look for is the ability to upgrade or feed the appropriate wiring for your equipment. I find myself asking questions like “how many breakers are needed to feed this gear power safely? Do I need to upgrade the electrical in this house?” If using a projector, I would want to know if the ceiling is sheetrocked, and if so how difficult will it be to feed power and HDMI cabling to a projector? Do I need to get cabling around fireplaces or staircases? All of this adds time and effort when retrofitting audio and video in to recently finished basements.

When it comes to A/V integration, an unfinished lower level or a basement that used to belong to grandpa (the one with the dark wood paneling and the Schlitz beer sign still hanging in the corner) are perfect. You never feel bad gutting and starting fresh with something that dated. People seem to love to finish lower levels in newer homes themselves so they can add the finished square footage to their home, and increase its appraised value but in the process I find myself wanting to take a sledgehammer to 90% of them.

I wanted to end this post with a string of pictures of what I would call “epic basement A/V fails.” The idea was to post a bunch of pictures of some nice homes for sale near me, priced below $200k, that have lower levels so bad that they rule out my ever purchasing it for anything near their asking price. Finally, I wanted to end with the one or two homes I know of in town that are perfect for a future theater project. However, MLS listing policy, privacy issues, and the fact that direct links to listings will disappear in a few weeks makes this kind of difficult. Maybe I can work out a way to do it in a future post or even throw links to a few listings in the comments that can be removed later.

Hopefully we can report some positive updates in the coming months!

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6 thoughts on “Why Are Newer Homes Always So Lame for Home Theater?

    • I’ve seen black-out shades done successfully and tastefully! Its definitely doable, and the right decision for most people. I would encourage that route for anyone with a day light walk-out basement who has the space for a projector and screen. You can get a killer projector for less than $1200 bucks now, even with a screen you can get a lot of image size for less than the cost of a large flat panel. In the right house I would consider a room like that but it still isn’t my first choice. Upon further consideration I would say that fireplaces sitting exactly where I want to put my screen is actually more of an issue for me.

      … I think fireplaces are my true nemesis.

  1. As far as basement “Do’s and Don’ts” you could try making some quick designs in MS Paint. Most basements, good or bad, are constructed with straight lines. Using a ruler and a line tool, you could effectively reconstruct any basement you may have seen on another site but without the legal malarky.

    • I think I have the MS Paint skills to throw up an example of a “good room” fairly easily; as that is pretty easy to visualize. Anyway, isn’t half the fun here mocking the disastrous train wreck of a room that I want to avoid? Man, I wish I could throw a few of them up!

  2. I think this is one of the most important information for me.
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