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Dr. G's Humble HT aka "The Escape Pod"

post #1 of 94
Thread Starter 

Well, I am going to start a thread to talk about my home theater build-out. It will be humble - I am in a starter home and have limited space.


First name was "Doctor G's Humble Home Theater".


My latest name is "The Escape Pod".  My wife and I were talking about how it will be nice to go down there, put something on, and escape from the troubles of life for a while.

I have already decided where to put it in the basement, and the framing of the basement is mostly done (soffiting remains). I am working on my electrical plans for the whole basement. I am going to learn the wiring techniques on the rest of the basement, and save the theater for last.

I am running my plans by an electricians forum, my local code authority, and the amazing folks on this forum as well. I have limited budget, space, and options, but I want to do the very best I can with it!

Edited by danielrg - 4/27/13 at 11:03pm
post #2 of 94
My brother is a Daniel G, too. Ha!

You can't start too early with planning, and if you're wiring or thinking about it, now is the time to get your design plans started. The electrical to a theater can vary greatly depending on what you're looking for. Once you have more details like room size, budget, goals, etc, let us know!

My last house was a 900sf main, unfinished basement starter. I always flirted with the idea of a home theater there, but never got to it. I'll be interested in what you do!
post #3 of 94
Thread Starter 

Here's the general floor plan with dimensions, to give all an idea what I am working with. Ceiling is 7'8", joists run top to bottom.

I have attached a couple of diagrams - I'll put up some pictures soon. But I wanted to get started...

I haven't framed the equipment closet yet or any soffiting in the theater space - it's still pretty open to ideas. I do have two pesky electrical panels - one here from when the house was built (2000), and a new one where I added another 100Amps.

Screen will be 16:9 - 106" or 110"
Two rows of seating and a bar table






6/28/2013 - Put in new diagrams.  Removed the ones I had in here for "posterity".  What is current is what matters!

5/5/2012 - I removed the embedded diagrams - they are old and I have better ones below... They are still attached for posterity

5/12/2012 - Added newer floor plans to this post


Edited by danielrg - 6/28/13 at 4:38pm
post #4 of 94
Thread Starter 
I sort of highjacked this post to put some pictures of the basement in. Below is some comments on my lighting plan.

Pictures of the space I'll use for the theater. The black plastic covers our cold storage (to reduce dust getting on our food storage). I embedded a little graphic showing where in the floor plan the pic was taken from.

Looking toward Northwest:

Looking to the Southwest:

Looking to the SouthEast:

Looking to the NorthEast:

Here's where the equipment closet will go:

The screen wall (sort of unexotic at this point: )

These are the panels that must be in my theater space...

Here's the lighting plan I have...

I am planning what I consider a fairly elaborate lighting scheme, and trying to make it something I can add automation too in the future as budget allows.

I want to have minimally grouped banks of lights that I could later choose to group differently onto dimmer switches or control with a computerized system. For example, I have six can lights. Some people I have talked to think I should dim the front four together and back two separately. Some think I should dim the front two together and back four separately. Some say I should dim them all together. In the end, it will depend on how it reflects off the screen and my personal preferences, how I decide to trim the cans, etc.

So I decided I'd run each group of two cans to a junction box, run the switches to a junction box, and then wire the switches to the lights in the junction box - then I could later change the grouping if I decided it should work differently. And I can change which switch controls which lights easily after the fact. This would also allow me later to possibly control the lights with an automated system.

There are some track lights and rope lights, as well as a couple receptacles that would all come back to the junction box where they'd be connected to the switches/dimmers.

The track will be two circuit track and I was planning to put narrow beam halogens in them for reading or eating, etc. with minimal screen glare. My wife loves to read while I watch shows (and sometimes vice versa) so 4 circuits of dimmable halogen on track seemed like a cool idea - better than lamps.

I am bringing in power from two circuits to balance the lighting. I plan to put some of the lights on one circuit and some on the other. The second circuit will run the cans in the back of the room (play area) also - they aren't run into my junction box.

The attached files show my exact plan for each circuit. Note they both share the junction box in the upper right corner of the pictures, they also share the switch banks. This allows me to decide which switches control which lights, as well as decide which lights will be powered on which circuit to balance them properly. Note that the track lights are each 2 circuit track, that's why I'm running 14/3 to each.

I've also attached a diagram from the perspective of the junction box.

I also attached an example circuit on how I plan to use the 14/3 wire.

This is very "electrical centric" at this point, but ideas on lighting or anything are much appreciated!

5/5/2012 - These lighting plans are old so I unembedded them. Files still attached for posterity...
post #5 of 94
Thread Starter 
I was pondering my theater project today. I am planning to run ENT conduit for speaker wire, and running rigid PVC conduit (1.5" or 2") for the projector from the equipment closet, and another 1.5" or 2" conduit to a junction box at the front of the room for specialty equipment for gaming or anything else that would need to be at the front of the room.

I wasn't going to pick my speakers, or my receiver, or my projector, or my screen until later, maybe even after I have put up the sheetrock. I figure that with all the conduit I am okay. And it seems like home theater projectors are generally very flexible in placement, so putting my projector conduit about 15-16' from the front of the room (my screen will be about 100" to 112" in size) would serve me fine for most any home theater projector I'd want (like an epson 8700 or panasonic AE4000 or the next generation of those)

Most of these projectors these days seem to have highly adjustable throw - although they tend to be brighter when mounted closer. So I thought 12 -14 feet would be a good number for throw distance. Plus in the future I expect to upgrade projectors, etc. anyway. I want the conduit to come out far enough back that I don't ever have to run the cables _backwards_ but having to run cables forward a little wouldn't be a problem, so I figured 15' -16' for where the cables come out of the ceiling would be good.

For speakers, I plan to put in 3/4" ENT conduit and junction boxes for a 9.2 speaker placement. Side speakers about 1' below the ceiling next to each of my two rows of seating, rear speakers about 16' back hanging from the ceiling, and a junction box about 1' off the floor for center speaker and about 4' from the floor for front speakers.

I'll draw a picture if people would be interested. My previous post shows the speaker placement approximately.

Any ideas? Thanks!
post #6 of 94
Pretty good idea using a separate junction box for the wiring.

Two suggestions:

1. Consider recessed lighting above the screen on a separate switch. It's pretty common among theaters here on the forum, and I personally think it looks great.

2. Consider running 3/4" ENT to the switch location from the junction box. You are going to have a considerable number of conductors if you use NM. With the ENT you will only need to pull one grounding conductor.

post #7 of 94
Thread Starter 
Mr. Tim - that sounds nice. Would some smaller cans, perhaps 3 or four, right along the front look nice? I was thinking 4 3" cans along the front might look cool - about 8" in front of the screen wall.

If I do it - there's another zone of lighting!

I am planning 6" cans for the rest of the room - because I can get trim that allow the light cone to be wider, and with my lower ceiling of 7'6" I want the light to spread pretty quickly from each can.

I'm thinking I will run the ENT - one 3/4" tube to each 4 gang box for the lighting control.

I'm going to have 4 four-gang boxes total in a 2x2 fashion.
post #8 of 94
Check the Show me Your Screen Wall thread and you will see some different lighting ideas.

I went with 4 3" cans and I do believe mine are 8" in front of the screen. I'm going to use pinhole trims with 10 degree floods.

You could run (2) ENT and chase from one 4-gang box to the next with a nipple or short piece of conduit. I'd recommend the deep gem boxes that are gangable.
post #9 of 94
Thread Starter 
So the room is only 10' 5" wide. I have a door on one side for the cold storage, which my wife goes in and out of often - it's like our "mini store". So we need to push the furniture to the left side of the room.

Should I design the screen wall to be a little further to the left like the furniture will be, or should I just center everything on the wall?

This is my current set of drawings:

5/5/2012 - I removed the embedded drawings, as they are now old. Left the links for posterity

5/11/2012 - Updated drawings

I have it drawn offset. I also haven't worked on it in about 6 months, so ignore the screen brand

I suppose I could do all the lighting centered in the room, and also the junction boxes for the speakers, etc. Then I can always mount the screen offset or centered after the room is finished. I'm leaning toward making the "permanent" stuff centered in the room.

If I added some lights to the front, I'd probably move back the recessed lights by about a foot or so from the front of the room - or should the accent lights on the screen be unrelated to the location of the general can lights?

P.S. - the possible 3" can's on the front that Tim suggested aren't in the drawings...
post #10 of 94
I think you have too much stuff in the room. I'd delete the back row entirely and get a double reclining oversize love seat instead of his and hers chairs. The money seats are too close IMHO.

Get bean bags for the kids on the floor in front of the love seat. If you need overflow seating for adults how about a bar instead of a riser?

I'd also consider a 2.35 acoustically transparent screen with in-wall speakers instead of 16:9. Keep the width about where you've got it.
post #11 of 94
Yeah the seating needs some work. Youre really looking at one row of regular seating plus a bar in that space, or some kind of custom couch where the side seats arent going to be optimal.
post #12 of 94
Yeah the furniture really puts the room into scale. I had envisioned it as much bigger.. Guess I should read the dimensions

The way the seating is set up you really have no seat in the sweet spot. It also looks like your eyes-to-screen distance is pretty close.

Consider pushing the front row seats so the backs line up with the left side of the cold room door. Create a riser on the right side of the cold room door and make the aisle between front seats and riser the walkway to the cold room. Alternatively, the bar idea is a really good one for this space, as I think it will work better with the playroom and take up less space.

A row of three in the front would give you a seat in the middle. You could eliminate the arms in between the seats, depending on preference.
post #13 of 94
Thread Starter 
I have some new layout ideas based on comments. I always had the feeling it was too cramped. We don't even have kids yet - so the playroom isn't that big of a deal - and I might want the kids playing somewhere else anyway!

1- I expanded the seating backwards in a couple plans. I want for sure 2 rows of seating, I'd rather encroach on the rear of the room than not have the 2nd row. If I do a bar it would be way back there and likely just some long table with a couple bar stools way in the back.

2- I made the equipment room smaller by taking out the shelves in the back and using a pantry door (18" wide) for it. (I have always wanted to have easy access to the back of the equipment and also to the lighting junction box. I likely won't go in there much, so it can be a tight space and have a small door)

3- I modified the lighting. I added 4 small 3" cans 12" from the screen wall to wash the screen. I added another row of can lights further back, which I'll put as a "zone" in my junction box. The remaining 3 lights in the rear perimeter will be on their own zone too. I am leaving the sconces the same although I might add a fifth on the right wall between the cold room door and the equipment closet. I'll put in a junction box for one anyway.

4- Ideas on speaker placement? I wanted to wire for 9.2, - I'm showing speakers for 9.1 surround in the drawings. I don't want to do in-wall because I am double-sheetrocking the left wall (and ceiling.) I don't need real fancy surround speakers, I want them to be good, but compact too. I was going to mount them up higher and point them downward a little. Rear speakers would be mounted on the ceiling and pointed about 30 degrees down from horizontal.

Earlier posts show the layout pretty well. This shows the speaker layout pretty well:

Any more ideas on seating/lighting/speakers much appreciated! Already you've been a big help!
post #14 of 94
Originally Posted by danielrg View Post

I am double-sheetrocking the left wall (and ceiling.)

I like the new setup better, but lets chat about soundproofing for a second.

I assume that your plans to double sheetrock the left wall and ceiling are for soundproofing, but you'll need to treat every surface to minimize sound transmission. That means all walls and the ceiling that are within the theater space in any way, so in this case your entire basement.

To put it in perspective, imagine that you build a closet and line the inside walls, floor, and ceiling, with double drywall and a dampening compound like Green Glue. Then you stick a louvered bi-fold door on there. It's pretty obvious that you won't contain hardly any sound in that closet.

The goal of soundproofing a room is to build a sealed aquarium. Sound is like the water, and if there is an opening anywhere in your aquarium it will leak out.

These leaks aren't just untreated walls, they are also holes for outlets, lights, switches, and the door. All of these areas, if ignored, will cause sound to "flank" around your other barriers. It will always find a way to escape unless you eliminate all the pathways.

So I guess the jist of this is that if you want to go to the effort of soundproofing your room, then that's great! From experience I can tell you that it adds a lot to the space and is a very nice thing to have. But if you can't commit to a holistic approach, then it really isn't worth it to do a second layer of drywall on those two surfaces.
post #15 of 94
Originally Posted by aaustin View Post

but if you can't commit to a holistic approach, then it really isn't worth it to do a second layer of drywall on those two surfaces.

post #16 of 94
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by aaustin View Post

So I guess the jist of this is that if you want to go to the effort of soundproofing your room, then that's great! From experience I can tell you that it adds a lot to the space and is a very nice thing to have. But if you can't commit to a holistic approach, then it really isn't worth it to do a second layer of drywall on those two surfaces.

All the other walls in the theater are against concrete. Do I need to double sheetrock them all if I want to block sound?

My plan was this:

-5/8" sheetrock + GG + 1/2" sheetrock on the inside walls and ceiling. Acoustic caulk around the outlets - putting 5/8" sheetrock "boxes" around junction boxes in those walls and ceilings.
-The can lights I was thinking of building boxes for so they'd be better isolated. I read about using MDF with mortarboard inside with IC can lights.
-External door with threshold on the entrance to the room
-When putting in fireblock on the top of the outside walls, sealing the fireblock with caulk and insulating foam to ensure it was airtight so sound wouldn't leak into the ceiling from the walls I didn't double sheetrock.
-Install layer of sheetrock behind/around the electrical panels - but completely sealing off the main electrical panels with gobs of wires coming out may be a tall order
-Stuffing all the walls (even internal ones) and ceiling with insulation

I am already feeling somewhat overwhelmed at the prospect (11 can lights, 2 ceiling junction boxes, 8 outlet junction boxes, 2 electrical panels...) - if I have to double sheetrock the whole room too I may thrown in the towel

I plan to read more about the soundproofing in the dedicated forum too.
post #17 of 94
The walls next to concrete will need to be treated just like any of the others or else sound will travel through the single layer of drywall and up through the floor joists into the rooms above.

You'll need to do sealed solid core doors for all doorways that are a part of the theater or else sound will travel through those "holes" in your walls. That includes the one at the bottom of your diagrams as well as the cold storage room. Doors are generally a weak point either way, however, so even with large and heavy ones they will hurt your efforts somewhat. I realize that this probably can't be helped though.

If you're serious about soundproofing then you will also want to seriously consider decoupling your walls and ceiling. Next to foundation walls, this can be achieved by building your 2x4 stud wall at least one inch away from the foundation and attaching it to the floor joists above with a product such as an IB-3 bracket. For the ceiling you can use a clip and hat channel system (whisperclips are highly recommended). Then for walls that are not next to a foundation, you can either build two stud walls spaced one inch apart, build a staggered stud wall, or use clips and channel like on the ceiling.

Spend some time reading the articles at soundproofingcompany.com to get some more information on all of this.
post #18 of 94
Thread Starter 
So, what minimal should I do to at least make sure sound isn't leaking out and in like a sieve?

I already bought the drywall, so I am thinking I'll at least use the 5/8" drywall. I think I'll still put in a solid core door with weatherstripping and a threshold. I'll caulk around the can lights and junction boxes where they meet the sheetrock. That's probably about it...

If even that's a waste of time let me know!

Any other comments? Thanks aaustin, I appreciate your input, you probably either saved me some good $$$ or saved me from completely wasting my money...

I am not really willing to DD+GG the entire room with all that entails.

Plus having all those can lights... I realized I have 15 can lights in all. Yikes! I think it would be very difficult to keep the room acoustically sealed well with all those holes.

Then I thought about the HVAC ducts...

And the soffits...

As for the exterior walls, I was hoping there was a way to isolate sound entering those walls from the rest of the house without having to treat them to the ground. Couldn't one do something where an external wall meets the ceiling - isn't there some way to stop sound in the wall from getting into the ceiling? Maybe double top plate, seal the gap between the top plates and the concrete, or am I missing something and the sound can still flank around?

Anyhow, with the realization that doing it halfway could cost me a grand and yield hardly any benefit, I think going all the way is out for me. I'd rather put the time and effort into equipment, decoration, etc.
post #19 of 94
Thread Starter 
I put together my lighting zones that I'll run to my junction box in the equipment closet. I'll have 15 zones in all. Circles of the same color are in the same zone.

I decided to run THREE 15 AMP circuits to the junction box - Id rather have an extra 15A circuit and juggle the lights on all of them than switch to running 12 gauge everywhere.

I could do it on two circuits, but I put the third in just in case and then I can keep each circuit under 75% loading, even with high wattage bulbs.

- Honestly though. If I ran 35 amps worth of lighting, this wouldn't be a theater - it would be an OVEN!

So the third circuit might be overkill, but you never know. Maybe I WANT an oven room!
post #20 of 94
That's a lot of light for the space.

Certainly you should build the space to suit your needs, but don't compromise on other stuff just to get a lot of light in there.

Light in my theater is provided by 17 3" recessed cans and I just dropped about $1000 on them this morning (not including any dimmers or other controls). As I was finalizing the order I seriously considered ELIMINATING lighting just to save some $$$. Why spend $1k on lights that will mostly be off. Unfortunately for me, the wiring is already in place and a lot is already drywalled.

Maybe take a step back and take in the whole scenario. 15 dimmers will be a killer on the budget. If you're cool with track lighting, eliminating a lot of cans will improve your soundproofing and make the dd+gg process a lot more attractive.

Not to detract from what you propose, just thought another perspective would be helpful.

post #21 of 94
Thread Starter 
Thanks Tim. That's crazy about what you dropped for the recessed housings! I'd be feeling it. I do every time I make an expensive supply run...

For me, the lighting was the hobby part of all this...

I am not planning on getting 15 dimmers - I am planning to combine zones for control - what I showed is the zones I am running to the junction box, so the idea is that I can combine the zones however I want into control groups.

My dad said the same thing about the lights being off too

So I kind of gave up on the DD+GG after researching more on soundproofing and talking with the wife and aaustins comments. You can see what I decided in my post above the lighting one. She doesn't care about it, and I'd rather put the $$$ into the fun stuff - which being an electrical engineer, is stuff with electrons in them - lights and equipment.

The 6" cans are much less expensive for some reason than the 3" ones - 6" are like $17 each (acoustic seal IC) where the 3" (acousctic IC) are $38 - 2x the cost! I have 4 3" cans, rest are 6". That's at my local home depot.

Overall, I plan to spend about $1500 on all the lighting (including trim and bulbs and 4 halogen fixtures for the track lighting) and that's with buying 8 $33 dimmers.

If I decide to go with automation (GRAFIK eye or something) then things might get crazy....
post #22 of 94
Originally Posted by danielrg View Post

So I kind of gave up on the DD+GG after researching more on soundproofing and talking with the wife and aaustins comments. You can see what I decided in my post above the lighting one. She doesn't care about it, and I'd rather put the $$$ into the fun stuff - which being an electrical engineer, is stuff with electrons in them - lights and equipment.

Yeah, I saw that. I though maybe I could get you to reconsider.

Here in the Home Theater forum it's hard for us to let go.
post #23 of 94
As someone who designs lighting for musicals, I completely understand where you're coming from with the fascination with lights.

That being said, I agree with Tim on maybe cutting back a little to improve your chances of making the soundproofing work. Maybe try to get in more sconces and track lights instead of the cans so that you wouldn't have to build so many backer boxes?

By no means do you have to soundproof, of course, but I always like to say that you can upgrade your equipment easily later, but it is very hard to redo the construction of the room. Throwing your old speakers on craigslist in a year or two is easy, ripping down the ceiling is not.

Just some things for you to consider.
post #24 of 94
Thread Starter 
You guys are awesome, I love the enthusiasm on this forum. Thanks for encouraging me to continue trying to soundproof. I talked it over again with the wife and we are still okay ditching the soundproofing - it's a big room and would be expensive to do right.

We don't listen to stuff very loud - we put a theater in my parent's house in a room right under their bedroom - no soundproofing at all - and even when we have it up "loud" according to our standards, they can fall asleep in their room upstairs. Our theater is under the daytime living space and the other side from the sleeping area. The only problem would be people walking around upstairs while watching a show, and we've decided we could live with it.

We will put up 5/8" sheetrock (since it's already sitting down here) and a solid core door - but that's about it.

Plus we are too hooked on our plans for the recessed lights (we both love them) to give them up...

Hey - that's one area of advice I won't have to pore over, and I can probably put a couple grand into something else nice since my budget is limited. Actually it is kind of a load off. You're right, I'm sure I'll kick myself in 5 years, but that's the tradeoff!
post #25 of 94
No problem. I love the passion and helpfulness present on this forum; it's what makes it so great. Stick around long enough and you'll get to know people's personalities and have some really fun conversations. We're like a big community.

It sounds like you have made a very well thought out decision in regards to the soundproofing. If it doesn't work for you then there is no fault in that. I'm sure the room will still be awesome and I'm excited to see it come together!

By the way, you've put up some nice diagrams but I haven't seen any pictures of the actual space yet. We're picture fanatics here so make sure you take a lot throughout the build to document your progress. Plus it will be nice to have them later so that you can show people all the steps between the beginning and end.
post #26 of 94
Thread Starter 
I just added pictures of the space to one of my posts above. Here: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...5#post21956655

So this is the space I have to work with. I updated my floor plans in the 3rd post also.

I am thinking of adding a soffit through the rear of the room to separate the "theater space" from the "L" shape area at the back of the room. You can see it in the floor plan:

The paint color in the "L" area would be lighter than the painting in the theater area proper. The soffit would allow the ceiling to be broken up so the ceiling color can be darker in the theater area and lighter in the "L" area.
post #27 of 94
Love your floor plan looks good
post #28 of 94
Thread Starter 
Thinking about automation. Getting quotes on the Grafik Eye QS. Can't decide whether to go wired or wireless. See this thread:

Grafik Eye QS for home theater control - wired or wireless?

I wish I was posting more updates - but I have to really focus on getting the rest of my basement ready for sheetrock before I get too sidetracked with more theater planning. Isn't easy to stay on task!
post #29 of 94
Thread Starter 
I have been very excited to get other parts of the basement done so I can really start planning the theater. It's been hard to stay focused on the "boring stuff" - bedrooms, the bathroom. I'm working toward the framing/rough electrical-plumbing-hvac inspection which will include the theater but wanted to get everything else ready for the inspection first, then dive into this. After that inspection, then on to sheetrock.

As you can see from previous posts, I have done a fair amount of planning already, but I got a bug in me to put the current state of the basement into Google Sketchup so I could do planning at my desk and have a good tool to visualize.

I actually put in all the framing and anything that might be in the way of stuff that goes in the ceiling/walls (like can lights or conduit).

Here's some screenshots from my current Sketchup drawing. Note that I have the field of view VERY wide, so the perspective is a little misleading.

Looking toward the screen wall from the very Southeast Corner:


Looking toward the screen wall:


Looking from the screen wall to the back of the room from NW corner:


These electrical panels are going to get a fun thing to work with. They'll get painted or covered with fabric - or something. I just don't want them to rattle or cause weird reflections:


Lastly, here's where the equipment closet will go. That drain coming down from the kitchen may end up being a pain. I think I'll put a false wall inside the closet so I can route around the pipe, since I am pulling all my zones and conduit to this corner. Note also the very busy joist cavity and the double joists. Fortunately I plan to have soffits that run to this area. With those and a false wall, all the junk in the walls/ceiling won't be in my way:

Note the 4" duct up in the corner. That's a vent to the outside. I plan to have a 90 or 110CFM super quiet Panasonic fan in the equipment closet that will draw air through the equipment and outside. There wasn't a good way for me to get this air back into the HVAC system without much pain, so I decided just to vent it outside. I don't have a separate HVAC zone for the theater either, which worries me a little, but I just didn't want to foot the bill or fit the ductwork for that.


On with the planning! Some of the build threads so far have been invaluable. If you have any ideas for my space, let me know!
Edited by danielrg - 7/13/12 at 10:49am
post #30 of 94
Thread Starter 
This is what I plan to do for my equipment rough in:

I like the Middle Atlantic Slim 5 rack, but I don't know if I want to spend that kind of money. There are other less expensive racks that are wider out there. Also, I may just go with a DIY option.

I started with the 19 1/8" rough opening for an MA rack, then widened it by 3 inches , then 1 1/4" again. This allows me to put in up to two 2x4 to reduce the rough in opening, and up to two 5/8" wood panels, MDF, or something like that, even after sheetrock, since I could just cover with molding.

That would get to the min size of 19 1/8" for an MA rack, but leave the rough-in large enough for all sorts of other options.

I planned to do the height the same way. I designed for a 29U MA Rack (total height 54.5 in), added 3 inches for 2x4, 1.25" for 5/8" paneling.

Rough in opening came out to be 23 3/8" x 58 3/4"

Here's a drawring of the rough opening:


Any thoughts?
Edited by danielrg - 7/14/12 at 5:22pm
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