Custom HT Tips to Maximize Your R.O.I. by Jason Dorazio
We have all seen the design magazines showcasing luxurious custom home theater rooms with tiered seating and expensive accessories. While the images in these publications are indeed beautiful, even as an audio/video professional, I have to ask myself, just how practical are these rooms for most homes since they only have one solely designed purpose?
With prices of these types of rooms spiraling upwards and above the cost of a luxury automobile, and theater seating being a serious cottage industry (adding a cup holder to a traditional leather recliner and charge $900.00 for it!), trying to accomplish the custom theater dream can sometimes seems like a recipe for financial disaster. This isn’t even to mention the fact that when it comes time to sell your home, the components may be antiquated and/or unwanted, and the buyer will have to renovate the space, at their own expense, to suit their lifestyle. When it comes time to designing and building the home theater room of your dreams, it is fiscally sound to approach this addition as you would any other home improvement project. Here are some tips to maximize your custom home theater without breaking the bank and risking the return on your investment.
Do as much of the work yourself. Hiring an audio/video professional adds cost to your project, and the reality of it is that all of the wiring needed to make a home theater functional can be run yourself if you are handy with a few basic tools. You should consult with a professional, though, in order to make sure your wiring locations are correct and you are using the correct wire for the job. Many audio/video professionals will be more than accommodating in answering your questions. If they are unwilling to provide answers, or insist on doing the work themselves, look elsewhere for a pro that will.
Allocate more money to sound over video. Because of the rapid advancements in video technology, an expensive projector purchased today will be outdated and replaced with a better model, which costs less, and have no return on investment whatsoever. Speakers and their amplifiers really never go out of style (for more on this topic, read An Audible Investment). Again, you may want to consult with a professional when choosing the right system components and speakers. Every room is different, and every customer is different. An audio/video professional will be able to help you find the perfect system for your specific room and your specific listening and viewing tastes. If you encounter a retailer who just wants to sell, sell, sell a cookie-cutter, “this is the room and this is the system for you,” look elsewhere for a pro who will listen to you and your needs.
Buy a system you can take with you. While we all think we are going to live in a certain home for a reasonable period of time, anything can happen. If potential buyers do not see the value of having a custom theater room, or have a system that they are bringing with them, your system must be able to travel with you.
Design a room with practicality and functionality. Yes, tiered seating makes your home theater look like a theater, but shouldn’t everyone have the best seat in the house, and really, if you wanted to hear someone eating behind you in darkened room, wouldn’t you just go out to the movies? With these things in mind, a full-sized sectional makes a perfect seating choice for your theater. Not only will it bring the comforts of a traditional living room to your theater, but everyone will be able to share in the full audio/video experience. After all, this is a home theater, and ideally it should be a comfortable and social environment for your family and friends to enjoy a movie, sporting event, or gaming marathon in. Designing the room for more than one purpose creates an additional living space in your home, which adds resale value. If the new owner wants to change the room’s layout for another use, they can do so easily and cost-effectively. If you absolutely insist on having tiered seating, though, finish the floor completely and install a removable riser, or risers, for your rows of seating. Again, this way the new homeowner can change the room easily and effectively without having to do a complete remodel of the space. Set a budget and stick to it. Today, many high-performance home theater products are affordable. If you are unfamiliar with what is out there, a fair amount of research can be done with the help from nationwide magazines such as Sound & Vision and Home Theater. Be careful not to over-research, though, or you may end up with purchase atrophy. After doing some research, if you are unable to find a complete system within your budget, you may consider starting with a core 2.0 or 2.1 system that can be built upon to achieve the system you really desire. With this approach, obviously, you won’t be able to get the whole theater experience right out of the box, but in the long run your ears will be rewarded. Talk with friends who may have already tackled a similar project, or talk to a retailer you are comfortable with and who is not trying to sell you all the time (yes, they do exist).
Don’t overdo it. The more custom your project gets, the more expensive it gets. Any real-estate expert will tell you that if you make a room too custom and personalized, it will affect resale and your return on investment. Custom accessories to any theater room, like acoustic treatments, do have their purpose but can come at a significant cost. There are many easy DIY acoustic treatment projects that will save you money, but even simple things like drapery, furniture, or even a bookshelf filled with books, media, and decorative touches, randomize and absorb troublesome reflections. These methods not only improve the sound but also match your room’s aesthetic and cost less than many manufactured acoustic panels. Remember to keep it simple and not only will you be rewarded with a nice theater room, but you will also be rewarded at sale time.
In this economy, we all must approach any project in our homes as one that is not only equitable for us to do at the time but also equitable to the value of the home. Far too many times, in the world of custom audio/video, people go over the top with their theater rooms, breaking the budget and doing almost nothing for the equity of the home. The reasons, in many instances, are a strict adherence to the pictures of custom theaters in magazines and a disreputable retailer looking to maximize their bottom line at the expense of an unwitting client. This does not have to be the case. In these times, as many of us begin looking at projects to improve our new at-home lifestyle, it is possible to achieve a custom home theater without the custom home theater prices. A little sweat equity, and dealing with an honest audio/video professional who values clientele over profit, will deliver years of enjoyment to you and your family as well as pay dividends at closing time.