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Help getting around bad builder decisions

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
Hey guys, so I am planning on moving my TV from a TV stand on one wall in my living room to mounting it above my (false/electric) fireplace. Unfortunately this is way more complicated than it sounds and I'm looking for any input or insights from the experts smile.gif Let me start off by saying I'm not new at this by any means, I've wired the house for Ethernet and centralized the power supply and network interface for my DirecTV setup, and I work in IT/data center ops in my alternate life. I'm just kind of banging my head against the wall, so to speak, about how to do this particular job as cheaply but more importantly as cleanly as possible.

First, the equipment:

50" Samsung Plasma TV, about 4 years old, so it's not particularly thin. 75lbs, 4 HDMI inputs, optical only for audio output
Samsung bluray home theater in a box. Anynet+ between this and the TV, optical only for audio input.
Xbox 360
DirecTV Genie DVR (main box, not a client box)
Apple TV
Wii (with a Wii to HDMI adapter)
A stack of vintage video game systems (about 4 or 5 old RF, S-Video, or Composite sources)

I also already have a 4x2 HDMI matrix from Monoprice as well as a set of HDMI over Cat5 baluns (the set that require two cables and are powered at the receiving end) leftover from a previous since abandoned plan to distribute living room sources to my bedroom.

Next, the wall:

The fireplace is an electronic unit, so there is not a real chimney (that I know of) and the neighborhood does not have gas, so it's not even intended to have gas logs. The living room has a high ceiling. In the attic, the "floor" of the attic is at the point that the angled raised part of the ceiling starts, so I have access to the wall of the ceiling above the standard height. The problem arises in that there is a plywood "box" behind the raised part of the ceiling where the fireplace is. In other words, if you look at the image, in the attic, I can stand behind the green part and drop things down the wall, but the red part is blocked completely between the external wall and the inside of the living room all the way to the roof.

(green area I can stand behind in the attic, red area is blocked in the attic, orange lines are studs according to my stud finder)

When I bought the house, the builder had planned on people putting their TV above the fireplace. As a matter of fact it was the only place in the living room with a pre-existing RG6 drop. I ended up putting the TV elsewhere and put pictures above the fireplace (hence the 3M strips). The builder put an electrical outlet, an RG6 drop, and a telephone outlet (kind of strange). The telephone wiring was kind of weird too. The RG 6 homeruns from each location to outside, but the telephone is daisy chained Cat5 (or 6, don't know for sure) from each outlet to the next. This means I have two Cat5/6 cables dropped to this location.

The problem with this, is, that they are in the middle of the inaccessible part. They were obviously put in before the drywall and snaked sideways (in the picture, they enter at the red dot). Not only this, but they are stapled in the wall, so I cannot tie off to one end and pull it out.

SO, here's the problem: I need to get at a very minimum one HDMI, one optical digital audio, and three speaker wires (front right, left, and center) to this location. I think I should just be able to use the HDMI over cat5 baluns for HDMI (which I already own). For the digital audio from TV to receiver, I was going to do optical to coax conversion, RCA to F-connector, get the run to my receiver, and then F-connector to RCA and coax to optical conversion. (this bit would cost about $30 in adapters from monoprice). I'm at a loss of how to get the speaker wires down. I suppose I can run them around the baseboards, but that will be less than elegant.

My other option, which I have been considering heavily but am reluctant because my equipment is not going to be right next to the fireplace, is a cable tray running along the baseboard, up the wall, and behind the TV. I can match the paint perfectly (I have the color code for sherman williams) but this is a last resort, I think.

At this point I'm not worried about the number of sources, or even the format of those sources. I am not above buying a bigger HDMI matrix switch and composite to HDMI converters to get everything into HDMI and then into a single HDMI.

Any input from the peanut gallery? Did anyone actually make it this far through my post? Is it clear as mud? I'm happy to answer any questions anyone has, and I'm more than grateful for any input anyone has.
Edited by mixduptransistor - 1/6/13 at 11:11am
post #2 of 19
What do you mean by "inaccessible" and "false chimney box" - is there drywall boxing in that area? I'd think you could cut into that (assuming it's there for code, not *actually* a chimney) to get access to the space to fish wires, then patch it back up.

You could splice the cat5e wires to remove that location from the phone loop, and then re-purpose the two drops to that location.

Other thing to check is what can you see when you take off the low-volt plate above the fireplace? Can you see into that cavity to understand the fireplace construction better?

post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 
In the attic, the area behind the red lines is boxed in with plywood. Here's a picture:

There's a box behind the wall plate, so I can't see what's in the wall behind it. I'm sure there has to be some insulation in there somewhere since it's an exterior wall behind it. The "chimney" extends up above the roof line, and, the exterior wall bulges out behind the fireplace. If it weren't an electric fireplace, you'd think from every other view outside, that it was a real fireplace with a real chimney

I have considered cutting the plywood in the attic to look into the wall, but that is a little scary, but it's looking like that may be my only option--or pay someone to do it and pay a ton of cash.
post #4 of 19
Well, it's wood, so it's not the chimney. biggrin.gif It's got to just be a box built for code or convenience to prevent the blown insulation from filling in the cavity, and provide whatever air gap/space is required away from the flue.

If you can pry off one of the OSB sheets, you'll be able to put it back without having to cut and patch...
post #5 of 19
Thread Starter 
So I went up and checked it out. It's two pieces of plywood (on the side visible, the other sides aren't very accessible). The top half goes up beyond the roof line, obviously into the false chimney stack that is on top of the house. The bottom half can't really be pried off, it's stapled on pretty good and was about to break when I tried prying on it. Looks like I'm borrowing my father's reciprocating saw and going to work on it soon.

I guess I just needed confirmation from someone other than myself that cutting it wouldn't be the end of the world smile.gif
post #6 of 19
You can remove a junction box, usually, with a screwdriver, without damaging any drywall, if you're careful, prying it away from the adjacent stud. Just let it fall into the cavity. Of. Course, it's easier when there are only unused LV cables in the junction box, and not line voltage. Replace the junction box with a LV ring - but only with LV. You can use an old work box if the j-box is line voltage. So that's one way to peak into the space, from the interior of the house.

If you need to see more, from the attic, I'd cut a double gang hole into the plywood, and fill the hole with a double gang old work j-box. This keeps the fire rating of the structure, as opposed to a LV ring.

You'll probably end up cutting a larger hole in the plywood for better access, but that's how I'd start e ploring that space.

I have similar 'boxes' around my chimney flue, one at each floor. I obtained access to these boxes through closet walls, at each floor, and concealed the holes with large drywall access panels, so I can get access later, if needed. These 'boxes' are large enough for me to stand up in, and walk around inside, perfect for retrofitting cables (inside conduits I added, attic to basement).
post #7 of 19
A keyhole saw would probably be fine, for a small double gang hole in plywood.
post #8 of 19
Thread Starter 
Yeah, there's only low voltage cable in that box (two cat5, one RG 6) but there is power in the wall nearby...the power outlets next to it do not have an intervening stud.

I think I'm just going to cut a hole in the plywood and then when it's all said and done, plug it back up with a new piece of plywood.

I just hope it's not a pain to fish a wire down into the middle of that thing. If there's a 2x4 across there, drilling a hole/holes into it is not going to be fun.
post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 
so it turns out that plywood box doesn't even go all the way down to the ceiling below. there's a one inch gap between the 2x4s it's resting on and the sheet rock of the ceiling. The bad news is that the plywood of the front sits on top of the 2x4 across the top of the wall, so I don't think I can drill up or down into the wall directly. It started getting dark and cold so I gave up for the night.

At this point I'm considering fishing down beside the fireplace and either putting a plate with a grommet and then going 3-4 inches with a racetrack to the TV, or notching out the drywall to fish it sideways. Fishing it sideways doesn't sound like fun because I've never dealt with drywall and I don't want to end up with holes I can't fix.
post #10 of 19
Having just gone through a convoluted wire fishing project in my basement, if I was in your shoes, I would go to a big box store and buy a set of fiberglass line fishing rods. Then cut one access hole in the drywall at the top of the center orange stud wall and drill through the top plate into the box. Then cut an access hole in the side of the plywood box in the attic and feed the wires from the side of the box over to the center stud. Once you feed the wire in from the side, you should be able to use the hook end of the fish rod to pull the wire through the topplate. Then, from there it should be pretty asy to feed it down to a new access hole (single or double dpending on how many wires you pull) behind where the TV will be. Then patch the hole at the top of the wall and install an old work box to terminate the wires behind the TV.

Good luck!


If you cut an access hole in the center of the plywood box as near to the bottom as you can, you might be able to drill through the top plate from there and feed your wires from the center of the box, through the topplate and down to an access hole behind the TV. No access hole at the top of the wall to patch.
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 
Unfortunately the "box" is sitting on top of the wall below, so I can't drill through the top 2x4 going horizontally across the wall frame, or else I'll just drill straight up into plywood. I'm thinking if I can go at an angle, I could get through it, but I want to be careful I don't go through the wall in the living room. This may be a case of having to knock a small hole in the drywall. I almost got to the point of removing the electric fireplace unit last night but decided against it. I don't want to mess it up and not get it back in correctly and I'm positive that cavity is stuffed with insulation behind/above it anyway.

Edit: now that I re-read your post it looks like that's exactly what you suggested. What's involved in patching a hole in drywall? if I have to end up hiring someone to do that, I might as well hire someone to do this whole project for me
post #12 of 19
If you go to a big box (HD, Lowes, etc), they have drywall repair kits. It's a metal patch with an adhesive back. You get the size to cover your hole, press the patch over the hole and then spread a couple of thin coats of drywall mud, sand and paint. It's really not that hard. You can get a couple of the cheap plastic drywall knives (spreaders) for a one-time use. Supplies shouldn't run more than $25 or so. Hardest part may be matching the paint color. You may be able to catch a class/seminar in drywall repair at HD where they let you try it out.
post #13 of 19
There is probably a big 'box' behind your fireplace, just like in the attic, below the attic box.

To find out, cut a double gang hole in the slanted roof of the attic box, near the attic floor. If the floor of the attic box is plywood, use a 1.5 - 2" hole saw to cut a hole in the floor of the attic 'box', and look down inside. If you see drywall in the floor of the attic box, don't cut it, it's ceiling - but I don't think it will be.

I think this is very easy to explore, and may allow you to avoid any drywall repair.
post #14 of 19
If there really is a big box behind your fireplace, similar to the attic, the you can reach the existing LV box from that attic box floor hole.
post #15 of 19
Thread Starter 
Well, there is plywood at the bottom of the box in the attic. I did consider going through it with a drill/saw to see what's in there. It's going to have some insulation at some point because it's an exterior wall.

After watching a video or two on youtube and talking to my boss at work today, I think I'm OK with doing a drywall patch. Matching the paint won't be a problem, as the builder left some buckets of paint in the attic. It's probably no good anymore, but it does have the color formulation code on the lid so I can get another batch made up.

Right now my plan is to notch out the drywall at the "top" of the wall, where the floor of the attic is, which would be where the red area and orange area on my picture meet, in a straight line above the current LV box . Then, drill upward, at an angle, through the 2x4 above. At that angle, I should either poke through the floor of the box in the attic or through the plywood wall of the front of the box. 3 or 4 of those holes in a row and I should be able to feed the optical cable, speaker wire, and 5 or 6 cat6 cables through. Also plan to notch out a second space so I can put a two gang plate where the current LV box is now.
post #16 of 19
Your existing LV junction box is another very easy option for exploration. Pry it away from the stud with a screwdriver. Replace the box with an old work LV ring.

If you are going to use that same LV cut-out anyway, for the new cables, then start there. Don't cut any drywall until you see what's behind the drywall.

If you will be using a double gang old work LV ring next to or above the current LV box, make that cut first, and look.

I don't think you will need to cross any studs, as I think there is a 'box' behind the fireplace; the back of each stud 'cavity' should be open. Pass cables behind the studs, not through them.
post #17 of 19
I use these Carlon old work LV rings from Home Depot.

post #18 of 19
I bought my keyhole saw from HD or Lowes.

post #19 of 19
This is what the area above your fireplace probably looks like, without drywall.


Even though you have an electric fireplace, the 'box' in your attic tells me that the construction could have allowed a gas or log fireplace, and there is probably a large open area through which you can run cables, without cutting drywall.
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