Step 1: Room Dimensions

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series How to Design a Dedicated Home Theater

STEP ONE: Figure Out Where the Walls Go

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? For me, it wasn’t. If your house has only one option for wall placement, or if you are required to use an existing room without altering the structure, this step might be easy. For those of us with multiple build options and various obstacles like HVAC ducts and support poles, this is tougher. For me, figuring out where to put the walls was the single most difficult decision. For starters, I think it might be helpful for me to lay out some basic guidelines that helped me through it:

1) Avoid a square shaped room because of poor acoustics

2) A room that is a perfectly symmetrical rectangle will yield the most predictable acoustic response and will lend itself more easily to acoustic treatment based on various models

3) Related to point 2, symmetry is important for acoustics. Funny star-shaped rooms should be avoided. Remember, perfect rectangles are good! Star-shaped rooms are… not! Having said that, symmetry is more important in front of the listening position than behind it.

4) There are minimum recommended widths and lengths for a room depending upon the number of rows and type of seating. 17 feet from the back wall to the screen is a comfortable MINIMUM for two rows of recliners. (You can get by with less length, but you may find that selecting a screen size in step 3 becomes problematic and doesn’t result in a theater-like feel for all rows. Either that, or you might have to sacrifice leg room.) 11.5 feet of width is a comfortable MINIMUM for the smallest footprint recliners I could find — Berkline 088s. Larger recliners demand more width.

5) If you plan to build a false wall, 2+ feet of room behind it may not be a requirement, but it sure does help with sub placement, acoustic treatments, and speaker placement.

6) If you can manage it, I recommend moving your equipment outside of the theater room. A/V equipment emits light and heat — two things you don’t want in your theater.

7) Spend some time thinking of creative ways to disquise support poles, HVAC, and other obstacles without compromising the symmetry or aesthetics of the finished space.

8) And now is the time to figure out what you’re doing to isolate your room acoustically. Double and staggered stud configurations eat up more floor space and must be accounted for in your drawings.

9) Don’t worry so much about building a room that adheres to one of the golden acoustic ratios unless achieving the ratio is a natural progression of room design or involves minimal alterations. Instead, you might find it easier to avoid particularly bad dimensions — for example, dimensions where one room dimension is an even multiple of another. Keep in mind, your room will require acoustic treatment regardless of whether or not it is built to a specific ratio.

For me, there was no way around the fact that figuring out how to arrange the walls was the most troublesome and time consuming part of design. In an earlier post, I showed you the Design that I eventually decided on, shown below:

home theater final floor plan blueprint

Notice that I have room to recline (but just barely), that I have feasible side-isles (but just barely), that my front row is placed at a good position acoustically, that my room is a symmetrical rectangle, and that my main HVAC ductwork is hidden behind my false wall — none of this was by accident.

But before I arrived at the Design shown above, I went through a ton of alternatives.

In short, figuring out where your walls go may be the hardest thing you have to deal with. Take your time and get it right.

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