Home plans -- modify existing or full custom? Basement or Ground level? - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 07:09 AM - Thread Starter
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Home plans -- modify existing or full custom? Basement or Ground level?

My wife and I have begun our search for our 10th and final home. I've been wanting a dedicated theater for a pretty long time but it's never been in the cards, that is going to change when we finally get to build what we want. We've been looking through zillions of plans and we've gotten a lot of ideas how we want the home to look but none of the plans are perfect. Having read through a number of the builds here, I know we're not even close to unique in our situation so I was hoping to get some advice for those who are either going through the same process or who have already made the decision and have some good lessons learned to share.

First, any chance we're just looking in the wrong place? Are there some specialized architects/builders who already have full home plans that feature a quality theater? Seems like the theater or add-on room is an afterthought in all the plans we've found so far. Assuming I can't find exactly what I want, are builders able to (significantly) piece together parts from existing plans you can buy online or will I need to hire an architect and start from scratch? I suspect the answer will be hire an architect, can anybody provide a ballpark figure for what I can expect to pay to pay for a full set of home plans (and possibly recommend somebody who has already played this game and done a good job, PM is fine)? I will be hiring one of the forum experts to design my theater, I know I want them involved from a very early stage -- would you recommend I speak with the theater designer before even contacting an architect/builder? Are banks willing to roll the theater costs into the home mortgage?

We want to build a single level home on a basement. We'll probably have a fairly standard open concept kitchen and family room for casual TV watching and background noise while cooking and the theater will be dedicated to watching movies, streaming series, and playing console video games. From a design perspective is there much of a difference in cost and quality of a theater between a ground level and basement construction? From my point of view ground level is great for convenience (which probably means it would get used more) and no people or pets walking above the theater. Any issues permitting a windowless room at ground level? The basement would be a little less urgent since I wouldn't have to complete the theater as part of the initial home build and I could just reserve a space for my theater builder to work in once the home was complete. Basement square footage is a lot cheaper to build and maintain and if I can build the house for less then there's more money for the theater and other toys . Am I overlooking anything major between the 2? Any other major considerations I'm ignorant of?

Thanks for looking.
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post #2 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 08:27 AM
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You should get a lot of advice, but before it comes pouring in based around others needs and wants maybe you can describe yours in more detail. HT being built into a new home is much like having a pool or a gym or even a custom garage workshop. For some these things are a must and others they have no desire. So resale may or may not be of concern as you say it is your forever home.

A truly dedicated HT can have quite a range in price some here could easily budget $250k just for that one room and all that goes with it. The top of the line designs use more power than a full size house and require extensive electrical and mechanicals supplied. How many people do you want to seat and based on the number of rows of stadium seating screen size needs to be much larger. The construction of the room is also very technical both in terms of acoustics and also sound proofing.

In short there is a very wide span of what is HT. I myself had a dedicated basement theater at my old home and opted for a main floor media room in this home. A lot of young people are not into the idea of a dark room front projection theater and thus the reason we are seeing huge flat panels and even The Wall.

Tell us more of your vision.
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post #3 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 01:32 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by bud16415 View Post
You should get a lot of advice, but before it comes pouring in based around others needs and wants maybe you can describe yours in more detail. HT being built into a new home is much like having a pool or a gym or even a custom garage workshop. For some these things are a must and others they have no desire. So resale may or may not be of concern as you say it is your forever home.

A truly dedicated HT can have quite a range in price some here could easily budget $250k just for that one room and all that goes with it. The top of the line designs use more power than a full size house and require extensive electrical and mechanicals supplied. How many people do you want to seat and based on the number of rows of stadium seating screen size needs to be much larger. The construction of the room is also very technical both in terms of acoustics and also sound proofing.

In short there is a very wide span of what is HT. I myself had a dedicated basement theater at my old home and opted for a main floor media room in this home. A lot of young people are not into the idea of a dark room front projection theater and thus the reason we are seeing huge flat panels and even The Wall.

Tell us more of your vision.
This place is amazing when it comes to advice. I'm at least 2 years away from building this, but buying a piece of land and either picking a floor plan or hiring an architect and shopping for a builder might be something I do in the next year. Ideally the theater will be on the ground level and my basement will be confined to storage, a home gym, and maybe a guest suite but my job has mandatory retirement at age 65, so whatever I build needs to be fully paid by then (16.5 years from now). If there are too many sacrifices with a ground level theater then I'm not dead set against putting it in the basement.

If I could snap my fingers and magically have a theater it would look very similar to the White Oaks build. I just love the simple, tasteful, and classic look of his theater (btw, he moved and is doing another one!!!). I don't think Auburnu008 used his for gaming and I would like to add that capability to the room. https://www.avsforum.com/forum/19-de...ter-build.html

You're correct regarding resale, I plan to die in that house and my kids can worry about selling it after I'm gone. Regarding its use, it would usually be just my wife and I watching something on Plex or Netflix or me playing games. I want WOW factor and a completely immersive experience, it's not worth doing if I can't have that. We've got a senior in HS and a sophomore in college and have no idea if they will stay in the local area once they get out of college (or god forbid move back in with us!) nor do I know if either of them will ever have kids of their own. I'd prefer it be a little bigger than what I'd normally use it for if the price doesn't go up exponentially -- the 3/4 seating looks good but I could probably get by with 2/3. We haven't had family or guests at the house in nearly 2 years so it doesn't need to be block party-ready. I don't want it so small that I lose that immersive WOW-factor experience but not so big that I've spent 3x more than I need to for 99% of its planned usage.

Hopefully that answers the vision question .
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post #4 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 01:57 PM
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Unless you work out a ground-level room with no exterior walls, you'll have a hard time with a windowless, ground-level room.

Code requires that any "sleeping room" have an emergency egress window. So if your room has an exterior wall, you'd need to justify to the inspector why there was no chance that room would ever be used as a bedroom. (My understanding is that basements are a little more flexible in this regard because it's easier to justify that nobody will use the basement as a bedroom.) If you're already planning on building on a basement, that's probably your best bet.
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post #5 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 02:07 PM
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Getting a classic home builder to adapt to the unique sound isolation, wiring, HVAC, and finishing details of a high performance home theater has proven to be a nearly impossible task. Unless the builder is related by blood and willing to learn. I think the best approach is to set aside a properly sized space in the basement and finish later with a contractor with the right experience or DIY. Be aware that basement floor plans rarely show what they plan to do to your ceiling by running plumbing and duct work. Many rooms that looked good on paper were ruined after the HVAC Contractor did his thing. Details regarding free and clear ceiling heights need to be spelled out in writing in the plans and your construction contract.
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post #6 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 02:13 PM
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The White Oaks is a beautiful build and is a great model to follow. I wouldn’t rely on a builder or regular architect for the details of the theater. The architect can work with you on the look you are going for but as to the actual build you want someone with home theater expertise.

If you want a single row theater that resolves a lot of problems right off with immersion and not needing a super massive screen size. I would say a single row of 4 or 5 if you want that perfect center seat location and the side seats will not be overly off center. You could get away with keeping the screen size 16:9 x 130”-140” and design around a CIH+IMAX form of presentation or something similar. Keep in mind there are more and more IMAX releases going on and much of the streaming content is 2.0:1 now. Even Amazon just released The Aeronauts and it is an IMAX feature and deserves IMAX immersion. You will have to determine what immersion level is correct for you. I personally like 1.5 x screen height for IMAX and that works out to 2.0 x screen height for CIH presentations. I do use the zoom method for some content to alter immersion so starting with too much screen is better than not enough. Most high end HT that do this have some method of 4way masking and automatic is the best. The only movies then a problem are the movies that change AR and that is becoming more and more common.

Try and start with the visual and audio basics and tell your designer this is what I require and then work out from there to what the room has to be. That’s opposite of how most of us DIYers do it as we are given a room and then have to fit into it what we like best given what we have to work with.

To some extent the property will guide the home design and the theater location in the house will be in the least desirable location for views etc. If zoning or local restrictions object to no windows in the appearance outside they can install dummy windows just for road appeal just like they do on gables all the time.
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post #7 of 13 Old 01-13-2020, 10:04 PM
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You're correct regarding resale, I plan to die in that house and my kids can worry about selling it after I'm gone. Regarding its use, it would usually be just my wife and I watching something on Plex or Netflix or me playing games. I want WOW factor and a completely immersive experience, it's not worth doing if I can't have that. We've got a senior in HS and a sophomore in college and have no idea if they will stay in the local area once they get out of college (or god forbid move back in with us!) nor do I know if either of them will ever have kids of their own. I'd prefer it be a little bigger than what I'd normally use it for if the price doesn't go up exponentially -- the 3/4 seating looks good but I could probably get by with 2/3. We haven't had family or guests at the house in nearly 2 years so it doesn't need to be block party-ready. I don't want it so small that I lose that immersive WOW-factor experience but not so big that I've spent 3x more than I need to for 99% of its planned usage.

Hopefully that answers the vision question .
First off, congratulations on the upcoming build! Nothing beats building your own house to get what you want, and having a dedicated room to watch movies is a much richer experience than just watching them in a living room.

I'm not a builder or contractor, but my wife and I went through your same process about five years ago. We met with a few of builders, and found one who really understood what we wanted and he was able to modify one of their standard plans to incorporate the theater. One of the things that came up was whether the theater would be on the main floor or in the basement. We chose the first floor for a couple of reasons:

  • Age: No, we're not senior citizens yet, and we're in relatively good health. But this is our forever house, and the prospect of going downstairs 20 years from now just to watch a movie was something we gave great consideration to. Often with age comes arthritis or other joint-related mobility issues, and we'd hate to see our sanctuary inaccessible due to physical ailment. One builder tried to talk us into installing an elevator (about a $20K investment), which would have eliminated this concern. That has other drawbacks, such as maintenance, but could also be considered a plus for all the other things you may want to access in your basement
  • Moisture: This can be a bigger problem in some areas than others, but before we decided to build we looked at a lot of existing houses, and the majority of them had that musty basement smell. Please note that we've been to numerous home theater get togethers with basement builds where this hasn't been a problem, but it's something to consider. Regardless of whether you put the theater in the basement, I recommend asking your builder about adding EPS insulation under your basement slab. Not only will it keep the floor temp comfortable, it can also reduce moisture problems be cutting down on the condensation effect during humid months
  • Flooding: As above, but a much bigger concern, especially if you build on a lot that has any kind of drainage problems. One failed sump pump or overflowing toilet and you could have a disaster on your hands, both in equipment cost and reconstruction. Again, it doesn't happen to all basement installs, but if you read through the forum, it has happened to a number of members here, so there is real risk involved
  • Aesthetics: There's something non-tangible about having a first-floor theater, rather than going down into the basement. The room feels more connected to the house, and more easily accessible. Plus, my wife has a thing about basements since she was a little kid, so having it upstairs was a big plus to her.
  • Accessibility: This might be considered a minor thing, but how does the prospect of carrying a few 125# subwoofers downstairs sound? Or 100# amps? Or bulky theater chairs. This is typically a series of one-time activities, but for anyone that likes to upgrade, it may be a concern. Or, you may be in the position where you're hiring someone to do all of this for you, and then it's also immaterial. The other access concern is for things like concession and bathroom access. These can also be alleviated by adding bathrooms and/or kitchenettes to the basement, but that's an extra cost
The biggest drawback to having it on the first floor was the extra cost. Putting it in the basement would have been less expensive (less excavation, smaller foundation, etc.), and as one builder put it, you're basically getting the square footage for free (this doesn't include finishing the room, just the area), but that didn't outweigh the benefits to us.

Local building codes vary, but we had no issues building a room with no windows or secondary exit. It was clearly marked "Media Room" on all of the floor plans, so that may have helped. The builder added fake shutters to the outside of the room to help disguise the lack of windows.

A few things that we wished we would have done or could change:

  • Size: We settled on a room that was 26' x 17' x 10', and if we had the option, we would have made it wider and the ceiling taller. Even with a smaller number of seats, there's a big benefit to greater side and ceiling speaker distances that I feel we're missing out on
  • Lobby: Having a nice buffer area between the general living area and that theater would have been a nice touch, and really given it a special feel. If this is primarily for the two of you, this isn't a big deal, but it's great to have an area to put memorabilia, posters, etc. on the outside of the theater rather than on the inside of it. This is much easier and cheaper to add if you go with a basement build.
If you'd like to know any specifics of our costs or any other build details, please feel free to PM me.

Scott
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post #8 of 13 Old 01-14-2020, 06:01 AM - Thread Starter
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First off, congratulations on the upcoming build! Nothing beats building your own house to get what you want, and having a dedicated room to watch movies is a much richer experience than just watching them in a living room.
Scott
Scott,

Thanks for the reply. Did your home builder actually build your theater? I will want a reputable firm that can be found on this forum to build my theater, not the home builder. I mean, if I can find that rarity of a builder who is willing to listen and learn then I'm willing to give it a go but I was having a room remodeled in my current home and when I was telling my GC about the process to build a box in a box and green glue, his eyes kind of glazed over and he just started nodding and grinning. Any chance you did a build thread, and if so can you link it?

Mike
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Reputable firm to build you theater?

Steve Kujala. He built mine. Heartwood Custom inferiors. CHeck out his work.
https://youtu.be/hsdOwhJy7HA
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Goodbye to a great audio and video genius and writer... JOHN GANNON. I enjoyed your friendship, wit and a nice long run we took around Indianapolis at CEDIA years back... and for buying my Runco 980 Ultra years back... you saved my ass! Rest in peace.
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post #10 of 13 Old 01-14-2020, 06:45 AM
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Steve is top notch, he builds for Quest Acoustical Interiors and Dennis Erskine. After taking measurements he fabricates a lot of the theater off site and can build your theater in record time. Not cheap but well worth it.
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post #11 of 13 Old 01-14-2020, 09:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Reputable firm to build you theater?

Steve Kujala. He built mine. Heartwood Custom inferiors. CHeck out his work.
https://youtu.be/hsdOwhJy7HA
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Steve is top notch, he builds for Quest Acoustical Interiors and Dennis Erskine. After taking measurements he fabricates a lot of the theater off site and can build your theater in record time. Not cheap but well worth it.
Thanks guys. Steve has been to my current home (if my failing memory serves correctly) and he's the guy I have in mind to build my theater. Not sure if you remember Big, but I paid you for a 1 hour facetime consult on my existing home. The basement is a hot mess with support walls and ducting all over the place. In the end it was too complicated and expensive to get what would've ultimately been a compromised space so I skipped doing it all together.

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post #12 of 13 Old 01-14-2020, 08:28 PM
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Scott,

Thanks for the reply. Did your home builder actually build your theater? I will want a reputable firm that can be found on this forum to build my theater, not the home builder. I mean, if I can find that rarity of a builder who is willing to listen and learn then I'm willing to give it a go but I was having a room remodeled in my current home and when I was telling my GC about the process to build a box in a box and green glue, his eyes kind of glazed over and he just started nodding and grinning. Any chance you did a build thread, and if so can you link it?

Mike
We went more for the DIY route, so our builder built the shell of the room, with the idea for me to finish it (that's been delayed due to a lack o time because of family issues, hence the lack of a build thread - someday, though). The builder I dealt with was more sympathetic to the goal since his son happens to be in the recording industry and has a solid background in acoustics. What I did was draw up dimensions for the room (based on lots of research here), added details for riser, light placements, door location and specs, etc. Then they allowed me to run all of the low-voltage wiring myself, before the drywall was put up, and my wife painted the room and all of the molding after the drywall was put up. Let me be clear, though, our room was not designed to be anywhere near as elaborate as the White Oaks build. In contrast, our main goal was to have a dedicated room with decent dimensions, a dark interior, a large screen, and 7.1.4 sound system. Hence, no coffered star ceilings, no columns for the speakers, etc.

We did not go with a room-within-a-room, and instead opted for an ICF build, with the idea of 6" think poured concrete walls would hold in our sound and keep out any outside-world noise. We had gotten a quote for using green glue and clips and channels just for the ceiling, but the cost was ridiculously high. I think the builder just didn't want to deal with the hassle. And, reading some of the threads here, it's quite easy for a disinterested builder to do the install incorrectly, so the benefit to cost and risk ratio didn't work for us. Instead, we opted for a layer of 3/4" OSB between the drywall and ceiling joists, both for some sound dampening and also for unlimited attachment point options for ceiling speakers and sound clouds.

Even though our two general goals are the same, I think our budgets are quite different. With a larger budget, we would loved to have gone with a more elaborate route, and hired a professional to do it all for us, but that room would probably have come close to the entire build cost of our house. So I'll let others give you the advise on who to hire and look for when it comes to architecture and design, but just wanted to share some of the thoughts we had gone through when planning the house.

You have a great advantage of having lots of time to plan things out. One negative I should have mentioned was that if you do build the theater on the first floor, it will affect either how large of a lot you need, or how much yard space you'll give up.

Scott
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post #13 of 13 Old 01-15-2020, 05:17 AM - Thread Starter
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We went more for the DIY route, so our builder built the shell of the room, with the idea for me to finish it (that's been delayed due to a lack o time because of family issues, hence the lack of a build thread - someday, though). The builder I dealt with was more sympathetic to the goal since his son happens to be in the recording industry and has a solid background in acoustics. What I did was draw up dimensions for the room (based on lots of research here), added details for riser, light placements, door location and specs, etc. Then they allowed me to run all of the low-voltage wiring myself, before the drywall was put up, and my wife painted the room and all of the molding after the drywall was put up. Let me be clear, though, our room was not designed to be anywhere near as elaborate as the White Oaks build. In contrast, our main goal was to have a dedicated room with decent dimensions, a dark interior, a large screen, and 7.1.4 sound system. Hence, no coffered star ceilings, no columns for the speakers, etc.
./.

Scott
I'm not made out of money and costs will definitely factor in. Your build sounds great and I can't wait to see your thread when you get around to it.
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