Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


How Far Should You Go?

Proper design and engineering of a home theater is essential, but just as crucial is the documentation of the design. Its important to know exactly what level of detail to go into on a project design.

After designing more than 150 rooms, I can safely say that I have experienced the process of translating plans into actual, finished home theater products. Sometimes the end result depends on the quality of the design, sometimes the detail in the drawings, and sometimes the thoroughness of the builder. In most cases these three factors combine to affect the final outcome of the project, but they can also work entirely independently of each other.

I have seen roughly documented designs get executed to perfection, and meticulously drafted plans turn into complete chaos. Here are some reflections and observations from the field:

1) Understand that builders are used to certain types of construction. They go through the same motions and processes day in and day out. Construction of a home theater can be really different in process from regular residential construction, even if the building materials themselves are similar. You need to work with the builder to explain the intent and help him or her see how construction phases can be different from the norm.

2) Document phases of construction. There are typical phases in a residential construction project: foundation, framing, electrical and plumbing, sheet rocking, and finishing. Often, home theater projects dont fit that formula. You may need to do a phase of sheetrock between framing stages, requiring the builder to rotate one of his sheetrock crews in early. For example, the riser in a home theater needs to go in after walls are sheet rocked to ensure proper sound isolation. Someone needs to predict when the sheet rocking will be needed and outline it for builder.

3) Be prepared to use colors and multiple views in your documentation. You need every tool at your disposal to communicate your design intent. Use as many actual photographs of real projects as you can. If past projects relate to the current one, paste in a few pictures as examples of what you are telling the builder to do.

4) Use your intuition in determining if something is sufficiently described. If anything in a design seems vague to you, it will most likely be dense fog to the builder. Remember: youve done this before, the builder hasnt. He or she has no past experience on which to base an interpretation of the plans.

5) Document chronologically. Start with a full plan view and one elevation of the room. Then go on to drawings that build chronologically per the phases of construction.

6) Describe precisely every device, fastener, and bracket. If a part or piece influences the final result of the project, make sure a monkey couldnt mistake it for something else. Use as many pictures, model number references, cut sheets, and sketches, as you need. Paper is less expensive than re-dos.

7) Be prepared to do a briefing meeting with the builder and architect. Spend a few hours presenting the plans and construction process as you see it. Be prepared to take feedback from the builder, and be prepared to modify your ideas accordingly.

8) Plan as much as you can, but realize that the best-laid plans have to be altered. Once construction starts and errors and omissions are discovered, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate the character quality of flexibility. Theres no way that anyone can fully predict all the factors involved in one of these projects.

9) Plan on frequent site visits. The number of things that are uncovered during site visits that werent communicated by phone, email or carrier pigeon always amazes me.

Heres the catch: If you over document the project, you run the risk that the builder wont read through the whole darned design. Ive seen it many times: a crucial piece of info is outlined in a note at the bottom of a page, but goes unread. The project may end up with a major flaw. Is it the fault of the builder, the project manager, or you? Realize that you all probably share the blame. Ripping into someone rarely helps because everyone is already defensive, feeling some amount of guilt over the mistake. Experience will teach you how much information to dish out before you start losing your audience and how to highlight the really import stuff and not sweat the small stuff.

Chase Walton contributed to this article.

Anthony Grimani is president of Performance Media Industries in Fairfax, California.