I get asked whether to DIY your own home theater or hire a professional all the time. It’s not an easy question to answer, but I’ll get you 10 guidelines to know whether you’re cut out for it or not. If you can’t answer “Yes” to all of these questions, don’t worry—it may simply guide you into what level of home theater you’re ready to take on. In either case, I hope this is helpful as you decide whether to go it alone or have the professionals come in to handle your home theater installation. If you thought that figuring out what equipment to get from the home theater store was your biggest challenge, it’s actually just the beginning.
1. Do You Have Either Attic or Crawl Space Access?
If you have easy access for running cabling to your speakers, your job is going to be a whole lot easier. There are other methods (like hiding cables behind crown moulding) but getting attic or crawl space access is a serious time-saver and makes for a much faster installation. The cabling we’re talking about includes both the video and the audio cables. For video, you’re talking about HDMI, and you’ll want a cable that’s just long enough to run from your AV receiver to your television or projector. For audio, the chief concerns are running wires to your surround speakers and surround back speakers. If you’re running ceiling speakers for Dolby Atmos, you’ll need to take those into account as well.
2. Is This Your First Time or Are You Expanding?
If this is the first time you have ever assembled a home theater system, the chances are you’re going to quickly get in over your head. If, however, you’ve been running a home theater for some time and you’re simply moving into a dedicated room and adding different speakers, then you will have a good idea what needs to happen and how everything needs to go together. There are a lot of options when setting up a home theater (though HDMI has simplified things somewhat) and it’s good to have a fundamental understanding of how your AV connectivity works.
3. Do You Have Any Experience in Home Renovation?
The other side of the equation is your familiarity with home construction. When you undertake a home theater installation job—even your own—you’ll end up invariably cutting holes for speakers, punching out low voltage boxes, or otherwise having to locate wires in the wall. That means it helps to be handy with tools—which tools I’ll get to next.
4. Do You Have the Required Tools?
There are certain tools that are needed in order to successfully build a home theater—particularly a jab saw, cordless drill, and a stud finder. If you’re completely redoing a room then you’ll need even more tools, but the point is that you can’t really do a renovation of home theater installation build without the right tools. Here’s a quick list of tools we think are essential in a basic home theater installation:
- Cordless drill
- Jab saw (keyhole saw)
- Stud finder
- Fish tape or rods
- Razor knife
- Wire strippers/cutters
- Tape measure
- Paddle bits
- Low voltage boxes, kit
And this is what you’ll likely need (or want) to add if you’re building out a room, including building up false walls, closing in doors, or otherwise installing a bit more than just basic gear and wires:
- Cordless circular saw
- Cordless reciprocating saw
- 4′ level
- Pneumatic nailer
- Electrical boxes, outlets
- Romex (12/2) electrical cable
This is the “Are you biting off more than you can chew?” question. When you’re undertaking a massive home theater installation you want to make sure you can finish the job. It’s likely more work than you think, and, while you may be saving money, none of that will matter if you disconnect with your family for three months. If you have older kids, or you’re an empty nester, then this might be a great time to embark upon your home theater. If you’re going to disappear from the family for an extended period of time, however, then hiring professional installers may be a great way to ensure you have your priorities straight.
6. Are You Budgeting, and Are You Budgeting Enough?
A thought that rarely occurs to people is whether they are budgeting enough money for a home theater. It’s easy to think of the gear, but forget the details—like tools, fasteners and wood. The truth is, though, you don’t want to short-change your home theater by a few hundred dollars and miss something big. I knew a guy who spent thousands of dollars on his home theater and a whole home audio system, for example, and didn’t think about ho to control it all. He had everything all wired up and installed before he realized that he was still planning on using 12 different remote controls to get everything working. That’s no way to run a larger, more complex system. Budget in control as well as any electrical work that needs to be done in the course of making everything just right for the theater. Mounts, stands, flooring material and furniture also need to be included in your calculations.
Wrapping it All Up
If you’re ready, then get going! If you’re not, count the cost and see if it makes sense to either wait or contact a local custom installer to help you out. They do this for a living and they’re generally quite good at it. You will be too if you take on this project, but note your answers to the above questions before you proceed and see if you have what you need to pull it off.