Building the Hi-Fi House Page 4

Mechanics
The house was designed to be constructed of normal wood frame and drywall on a slab foundation---no concrete block, plaster, adobe, or basement. For the walls of the house I specified 16" stud centers throughout, 2x4s for the inside walls, 2x6s for the outside. The added cost here is trivial as a percentage of the total. If you don't specify this, your builder may be tempted to use 24" centers if local codes allow it---for builders of entire subdevelopments, the savings quickly escalate for every stud saved. Every time I cut loose with a bass-laden recording or listen to the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park boogie through my living room cum Home Theater (discussed in Vol.17 No.5, pp.98-99), I'm thankful I demanded the more solid construction.

Although I wasn't able to afford adobe and hand-troweled plaster (both less common even in Santa Fe than they used to be; they're expensive), I still wanted solid walls in the listening room---not too rigid, because that can also cause problems, but more solid than the typical 1/2" Sheetrock. I therefore specified double Sheetrock (1" thick total) for the listening room, glued and screwed to the studs. But the builder misread my plans, and only double-Sheetrocked those walls adjoining other interior spaces; the windowed, short, front wall and long wall adjoining the garage were of 1/2" Sheetrock. The already-in-place window framing precluded adding to this. But at least these exterior walls were on 2x6 studs. I'd also specified several crosspieces to be placed between the studs, to spread out the inevitable resonant characteristics of the wall cavities.

A few additional features were included: Two separate 30A electrical circuits were run for powering the equipment, with more outlets than are usually furnished in a room of this size. I also ran several empty plastic 4"-diameter conduits under the slab floor for unobtrusive cable runs; so far I haven't used these much, but I'm glad they're there (except for the nut driver I recently dropped into one of the holes).

While I don't anticipate using surround-sound in this room any time soon, I also ran some leftover cable from my living-room/Home Theater in the walls of the listening room from the most likely equipment-rack location to the most likely locations for surround speakers.

Santa Fe is a fireplace-builder's heaven, but I never even considered putting one in the listening room, as fireplaces severely limit your flexibility in system setup. I do have a fireplace in my living-room/Home Theater, but it was carefully situated to allow at least one decent audio/video arrangement.

My listening room has a large window on one of the short walls, two smaller ones near the corners of the adjoining long walls, and several skylights to lighten the back of the room. The back of the room---about 5' of the room's length---is tiled, and doubles as an open hallway to the garage. Since it's raised one step, it has an overall ceiling height that's about 6" lower than the rest of the room.

Ah, yes---ceiling height. I visited my construction site after the stud walls had been put up, but (mercifully) before the roof was in place, and had the uncomfortable feeling that the walls in the listening room were too high. They were. The builder had misread the plans (he argued that they were ambiguous) and built the walls 9" too high in three of the rooms, including the listening room!

The good news is that I got taller ceilings in my living/Home Theater room and master bedroom; the bad news is that lowering the listening-room ceiling cost me bucks. But it worked out okay. The builder had actually shortened the room width and length by a few inches than planned (among other things, he apparently didn't allow for the thickness of the Sheetrock, as I had requested). When I recalculated the modes for the new width, I found that an 11' 4"-high ceiling was actually better than the originally planned 11', so I had it adjusted accordingly---which cost me nothing extra.

It might appear as if the builder made some royal foul-ups, but he actually did a very fine job, overall, and I would use him again. A glitch-free build is probably unheard of. Construction tolerances are something you'll have to live with.

Moral: Insisting on tolerances to a small fraction of an inch isn't practical. Half an inch won't likely be that important acoustically, but will run up the cost considerably and cause friction with your builder. Be precise in the planning stages, however---accounting for wall thicknesses, etc.---to avoid misunderstandings or compounded errors.

And when you draw up your plans, don't use terms like "Dedicated Listening Room" or "Home Theater." "Media Room" is probably okay; "Recreation Room" (my term) or "Bonus Room" are probably even better. "Listening Room" or "Home Theater" are liable to raise flags with the bank or city planning commission---they might wonder if you're planning to have people pay to see concerts or movies in your home. Really.

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