Surround Sound Installation – Weekend Project

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Home Improvement, Music, Technology, Weekend Project
Tags: ,

When we bought our house a little over a year ago we decided to add an upgrade for surround sound wiring in the family room. Although this was a fairly expensive upgrade considering the much lower cost to put in wires before the drywall was even up. However, it was not expensive compared to what it would cost after the drywall was up, so we went for it. We did save about a third of the cost by only having the wiring installed, and not adding the speakers. I’m comfortable cutting drywall, connecting wires, and repairing any drywall that needs to be patched. The upgrade was supposed to include “caps” on the ceiling, which I assumed would make my life even easier because I would know exactly where to cut the holes for the speakers, but there were no caps in place when we did the final walk through on the house. Although there was a little push back the developer agreed to put in caps when I pointed out that the title of the upgrade was “Surround Sound wiring with caps”

Last month I bought a set of 6 inch two-way speakers so I could install the speakers. I got out the tools/supplies I would need: a utility knife to cut the drywall, a stud finder, a ladder, a wire cutter, a wire stripping tool, a drop cloth, and a Phillips head screwdriver. The speakers came in pairs and each speaker pair included a set of instructions, a tool to remove the grills, and a template for cutting the speaker hole.

Like most of my weekend projects, I have never done this before, so I expect I will learn somethings along the way and have a few surprises. Once I had everything I needed handy I got right at it.

Step 1: Climb the ladder and remove the first cap.
Step 2: Close your mouth when the amazement of no hole under the cap fades…

Removing Surround Sound Pre-Wiring Cap

Apparently (at least it was apparent after I removed the cap) the installer had screwed the cap directly into the ceiling. Since, this was not what I was expecting it caused me to immediately become more cautious. Even though I was less comfortable I decided it would be fine as long as the caps were positioned on the ceiling in the same locations as the speaker wires. They looked like they were right but I wouldn’t know until I cut the hole.

Step 3: Mark the studs around the cap location with a stud finder to properly place the speaker.
Step 4: Use the provided template and a pencil to mark the cutout location.
Step 5: Use a utility knife to cut the drywall along the line.
Step 6: Stop cutting when you feel a stud behind the drywall as you push the utility knife into the drywall.
Step 7: Remark the studs in the correct location (even if it is in the center of your first marked cutout).
Step 8: Redraw the cutout in the correct location.
Step 9: Be thankful you didn’t cut further before you found that stud!

Locating and marking the first speaker hole.bmp

Step 10: Double check there are no studs behind your marked cutout. OK, triple, then quadruple check that there are no studs behind the marked cutout.
Step 11: Carefully cut along the correctly marked cutout lines with your utility knife and remove the piece of drywall.
Step 12: Note the speaker wires behind the cutout.

Speaker wires behind the first cutout

Step 13: Sigh of relief… only 4 more to go!

Before moving on to the other cuts I wanted to complete the process on one speaker, by installing it, connecting it, and hearing the sweet music come from it!

Most ceiling speakers do not “mount” to anything in the ceiling. They clamp on to the ceiling using turnout clamps that move into position and tighten up as you tighten the screws on the front of the speaker.

Step 14: Pull the speaker wire down through the cutout.
Step 15: Separate the wiring and strip about 3/8 inch of the sheathing from the wire.
Step 16: Remove the speaker cover so you can access the screws for clamping the speaker to the ceiling.
Step 17: Connect the speaker to the wire from the ceiling.
Step 18: Ensure the rotating clamps are rotated in and insert the speaker into the cutout.
Step 19: Tighten the screws in the face of the speaker until it is held firmly in the hole.

Connect and install the speaker in the ceiling cutout.bmp

Step 20: Remove the cover from the speaker wire cutout near your media center.
Step 21: Connect each speaker wire to a “hot” speaker wire coming from your stereo receiver until sound comes from the newly installed speaker.
Step 22: Mark the wire to match the speaker location if it is not already marked.

That’s all it takes to do one speaker location! Not too bad, but a couple of lessons learned.

For the second speaker I was more careful. After marking the cutout location and before cutting I checked the cutout location for ceiling joists very carefully. Of course I found an unexpected one. Due to the width of our family room there was a support beam running across the house right where I had marked my cutout. Although the speaker cap was on the side of the beam closest to the wall, it didn’t look right, so I cut on the other side of the beam = jackpot – second set of speaker wires located. I installed the speaker, connected it, marked the appropriate wire and prepared for speaker 3.

Speaker wires were on the opposite side of the support beam than the surround sound cap

I had gotten lucky with speaker 2, but the fact that the speaker caps were not marking the actual location of the speaker wires was a big concern. The last 3 speakers were all lined up so they would be in the same void between joists. If I got the first one right I would be good to go for the rest. Unfortunately, when I pulled down the cap and marked the joists I found that the cap was almost perfectly centered on the junction of a joist and the beam! I was pretty sure which side of the beam to look on, but had no idea which side of the joist the wires would be on. This time, ignoring my previous logic, I guessed that the speaker would be closer to the wall. I think I let my “wishes” get in the way of logic. I wanted these speakers closer to the wall, so that is where I check. No joy – my first empty hole.

Third cutout with no wires in sight

It was time to call the builder and complain about the way the speaker caps were placed and get some assistance locating the wiring before cutting any more holes! It took about a week to get the speaker wire installation technician out to locate the wires, but he was very helpful. He located the wires, drilled an access hole in the ceiling joist, and pulled the wires into the void I had placed the cutout in. While he did that for the first one, I cut the last two holes. He quickly pulled the other speaker wires and I had the last three speakers installed less than 30 minutes later. Once I connected and tested the whole system I installed the speaker covers and then took a break to enjoy the fullness of the new sound system.

Sorround Sound speaker with cover installed

I still have to patch the holes from the speaker caps (and my one small extra cut) and do some touch up painting, but we were able to enjoy the surround sound while watching a movie that night. As expected there were some surprises, and I learned a couple of lessons along the way, but I’m glad I saved some money on the speaker installation, and we’re very happy with the way it turned out.

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