Can architects design a home theater?

Home theater

I am sure there are some architects that do soundproofing for home theater well. However, I was called recently to assess a botched job.

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Botched home theater design

A construction manager who is building a 10,000 sq foot high end home called me to soundproof a home theater under construction. When I arrived, I have found the home theater in the basement of the large house virtually completed. The room was framed with 2” x 6” studs and the wall cavities were filled with rock wool insulation. One layer of ½” drywall was installed throughout. The ceiling had numerous air vents with ducts connected to the house’s ventilation system. The ceiling also had numerous recessed lights. A single door separated the home theater from a large rec room in the basement.

The construction manager told me that his client wants to have the home theater sound proof so that the rest of the house is not disturbed by a loud home theater performance. He asked me what kind of wall treatment he needs to achieve this objective,

​It was clear to me that the construction manager did not understand the difference between sound absorption and sound blocking. I had to explain to him that sound absorption that is applied to walls only provides improved listening experience but does not provide sound blocking required for soundproofing.

​In order for a home theater to be reasonably soundproof walls and ceiling must have minimum Sound Transmission Class (STC) 60. The room as it was built had STC 40 at best. It also had numerous other deficiencies that provide path for noise:

  • Recessed lights in the ceiling.
  • Untreated embedded electrical boxes in walls and ceiling.
  • Air supply and return ducts that allow noise to transfer to the rest of the house.
  • Single standard interior door that will never provide sufficient sound attenuation.

The client was not happy when I told him that he needs to virtually demolish what he has just built and redo it correctly.

Proper home theater desing

A sufficiently soundproofed home theater must have the following features:

  • Walls and ceiling must have sufficient sound attenuation, especially at lower frequencies. Ideally, walls with two rows of studs should be provided.
  • On the interior of the home theater, install two layers of drywall over resilient clips and furring channels.
  • Ceiling, at a minimum, should have two layers of drywall over furring channels and resilient clips.
  • No recessed lights should be installed in the ceiling.
  • Air distribution should be designed to minimize noise transfer. This usually requires the installation of silencers in the ducting; both air supply and air return.
  • Entrance to the home theater should be through a small foyer with two doors. Single door will never provide sufficient sound attenuation, unless special soundproof (and expensive) door is used.

Other aspects of the home theater design are outside the scope of this article. These include:

  • Speaker locations.
  • Use and locations of bass traps.
  • Locations of sound absorbers.
  • Locations of sound diffusers.

All of these elements are to achieve optimum listening experience in the home theater.  This article covers more of the issues.

Proper design of home theater requires specialized expertise. Architects and builders should seek the advice of a specialist at the design stage. It is much cheaper to build it correctly the first time than demolishing and rebuilding poorly constructed project.

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About the Author Ivan Koval

The author is the publisher of the Soundproofing.Expert website. He is a soundproofing and building acoustics consultant working in Toronto and GTA, Ontario, Canada. Telephone (416) 471-2130

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