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The basement is about as uninviting a room as they come—witness any horror film ever made. The challenges that this home’s basement presented for the custom electronics (CE) professionals from Techlogic, Plymouth Meeting, Penn., were certainly nightmarish, but with a little ingenuity and a lot of elbow grease, the company was able to successfully transform the unwelcoming space into an inviting home theater.
The terrors proved to be mostly structural, requiring an inordinate amount of engineering, planning and design work to meet the homeowner’s requirements and budgetary constraints. The immediate obstacles were two ghastly sump pumps. Adding inconvenience to unattractiveness, obtrusive HVAC ductwork and sewage pipes spanned the length of the project space. “The homeowner made it very clear that he was not willing to pay to relocate these necessary utilities and would scrap the entire project if we couldn’t meet his budget requirements,” says Techlogic owner Bret Schwartz.
Challenge accepted: Schwartz and his team framed the space to hide the sump pumps. A wall constructed at the front of the room was bumped out enough to cover one of the two pumps, and this would also provide enough behind-wall area to tuck in the front surround-sound speakers and an equipment rack. To conceal the second pump at the rear of the room, a storage closet was constructed around it. Techlogic then hid sewage lines behind the wall and strategically rerouted a few electrical lines. The renovated room was ready to rock. Well, almost.
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Now that the structural idiosyncrasies were successfully ironed out, it was time to build out the interior of the room. The room’s centerpiece is a 115-inch Screen Innovations Zero Edge Black Diamond Screen, which Techlogic chose because it offers more screen, less bezel, meaning that the homeowner would get the biggest image possible on the front wall. “If we had used any other screen, we would have had to go down a size because of the standard 3-inch trim on most units,” says Schwartz. “The Zero Edge is a huge screen with a ‘flat-panel’ look that gives the best picture possible … and more of it.”
Many remodeled basement theaters receive air conditioning from the home’s central HVAC system. What many installers and even builders don’t realize is that without the proper ventilation, radon poisoning from prolonged visits to the basement can occur. Radon seeps up from the ground and foundation and is a known carcinogenic. “The Air Exchanger that was installed in this basement is a very important feature that is often overlooked, but one that significantly reduces radon to safe exposure levels,” says Techlogic president Bret Schwartz. “Providing fresh circulated air also minimizes mold and mildew build-up.” In fact, builder and carpenter Tom Horgan always installs air exchangers in basement theater rooms. “Since the rooms are soundproof and relatively airtight, it is imperative to introduce fresh air,” he explains.
While the image is the most obvious star of the show, the audio system plays a huge supporting role. Schwartz credits the Martin Login in-wall speakers and the JL Audio in-wall subwoofer for the room’s amazing sound. “Getting spectacular performance from an in-wall subwoofer can be a daunting task if close attention isn’t paid to installation details. The JL Audio subwoofer is an amazing piece of technology that basically floats in the open space between 16-inch studs in the wall,” says Schwartz. “Vibrations don’t go up to the rest of the house and it sounds amazing.” To contain all that sonic goodness and silence the noisy pipes and sump pumps, the Techlogic team installed soundproof drywall and insulation.
Aesthetically, the homeowner wanted staggered rows of cinema seating to accommodate nine people. To accomplish this in such a narrow space, Schwartz had to put all the seating flush on the left side of the room. “While ingress and egress into the seats are a bit tight, most importantly, the view from the seats is perfect,” he says. Taking into account two 10-inch platforms of seating risers and the existing low-hanging HVAC ductwork, unobstructed views are a true design feat. Additionally, to keep the homeowners toasty warm during cold winters, Techlogic installed radiant floor tile that is attenuated by other acoustical materials throughout the room.
Eschewing complicated control, Techlogic chose a straightforward universal remote control (the MX890 from URC) for simple yet comprehensive operation of a DVD player, Netflix, and Comcast cable. “With this one remote, lights dim and the home theater turns on. The homeowners are as happy as can be because it works, every time,” says Schwartz.
Techlogic was able to make it all work within a strict budget and awkward structural conditions. All of this contributes to this semiretired couple’s frequent use of the room. Now, the homeowners love to hang out in the basement theater with friends and enjoy a movie night with their grandkids, successfully turning their lower-level nightmare into a dream come true.
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