INSTALLING IN-WALL SPEAKERS

Audio manufacturers generally design their in-wall speakers for ease of installation in both new construction and existing structures. The typical in-wall speaker mounting technique is not difficult, and is well within the realm of the average do-it-yourselfer. However, the challenging part is not the speaker mounting itself, it is the necessary preparation that occurs beforehand. This preparation varies greatly depending on the building structure itself, and whether you are installing the system in a building as it is being built (new construction) or an older, existing building.

New construction. The obvious advantage of installing in wall speakers in a building during the construction phase is that you can "prewire" the speaker cables into the walls. This saves an enormous amount of time compared with snaking them through the structure post-construction.

The general prewiring method starts with visiting the site just after the framing is completed and deciding roughly were you want the speakers to be mounted and the audio equipment located. Next, you run the speaker wires from audio equipment location, up to the stud bays where the speakers are to be mounted Do this through 1/2" holes drilled in the center of the framing members (see diagrams below for a visual tutorial on how to route A/V wires. Bottom line: don't run them next to 60hz power wires or you are asking for interference problems).

Let a length of speaker wire hang down free in each bay. Another thing many installers do is draw a diagram of the room and indicate the distance from the wires to the nearest reference wall. This makes finding your buried wires (and studs) much easier when you come back later to install the speakers.

Old construction. The process of installing in-wall speakers in an existing building can range from a simple exercise, that is not much worse than in a new building, to a great deal of work. You may want to assess the work involved if you plan to install an extensive system in an older house. Remember professional installers do this all the time and they know all the shortcuts and tricks of the trade. You can achieve the same results, but it probably take a lot more time.

Let's have a serious talk about snaking. Snaking is the colloquial expression for the seemingly impossible task of getting things from point A to point B through the structure of an existing building. You know it's going to be interesting when point A is in the basement and point B is the master bedroom, and you want to pull a coax cable between the two with the cable hidden completely from view.

Many home construction and repair professionals are expert snakers. In particular, electricians, alarm technicians and A/V custom installers do it virtually every day, and as you might imagine, are really good at it. For the do-it-yourselfer, though, snaking comes a little harder. After all, learning to snake is an experiential process. The first few times are typically challenging, but after that most do-it-yourselfers have the hang of it. The main ingredient necessary is just a good dose of patience (try this as you are working: picture the dollar bills you are saving every hour, gently floating by and accumulating into a big pile. This is what we do.)

Note: if the structure is less than 50 years old, the walls most likely consist of gypsum-based wall board. This substance is easy to cut with a drill and a keyhole saw. If the house is older, you may find plaster and lath wall construction. Cutting a hole in this material is tricky because it is often old and dry, and crumbles when you cut through it.

Now, let's take a look at a typical in-wall speaker installation step-by- step. In this example we are installing an in-wall speaker in a first floor room and snaking the speaker wires up from the basement. Some of the tools you will need are: a 3/8" or larger electric drill, an electric saber saw, installer's drill bits (long, 1/2" to 5/8" drill bits), a standard wire snake and a sharp utility knife.

Step One: Decide approximately were you want to locate the speaker in the family room. We emphasize approximately because you may have to move them over several inches if there is an obstruction (like a wall stud) behind the wall. Mark the location.

Step Two: Find out what is behind the wall in that spot. The standard method employed by custom installation professionals is to tap horizontally across the wall surface and listen for the dull reverberation of supporting wall studs. (You can also use an electronic stud finder). Once you have the approximate location of the studs, drill a 1/2" exploration hole in the center of the bay (between the studs) stopping as soon as the drill perforates the back side of the front wall surface.

Step Three: Cut the speaker mounting hole. Once you know where the wall studs are located, you can put the speaker's paper template (supplied with most in-wall speaker models) against the wall and draw the cut-out pattern. Hopefully, this is close to the spot that you originally wanted to install the speaker.

Before you actually begin cutting the hole, double check all your measurements. It is far better to find an error now than after the power tools have had their way. If everything looks right, start by carefully drilling a 1/2" hole in all four corners of the speaker template tracing. Then using a key hole saw, slowly cut from corner to corner and remove the cut out wall section. Illustration number two shows this procedure.

Step Four: Drill a hole up into the stud bay. A stud bay is a carpenter's term for the area between any two 2x4 wall studs. In our example, we are installing an in-wall speaker in a first floor stud bay and snaking wires up from the basement. The first thing to do is pinpoint the location of the stud bay overhead on the basement ceiling. This is easily done if you take several measurements in the room above and apply them to the basement ceiling. Be extra careful with these measurements or you could find yourself in drilling into unintended areas, such as hardwood floors, etc.

Step Five: Snake the speaker wires through to the speaker cut-out. Insert the end of a wire snake into the hole you just drilled. The object is to twist and probe your way up the wall section until it appears in the speaker cut-out (see illustration below). At this point, having an assistant upstairs looking into the speaker cut-out can be helpful.

Step Six: Use the snake to pull the wires up through. Once you have successfully pushed the snake wire from the basement to the cut-out, you can tape the speaker wires securely to the snake (use electrician's tape) and pull them through from the basement to the cut-out hole (see illustration above).

Step Seven: Mount the speaker in the wall cut-out. Congratulations, the snaking is done. Now, you can attach the wires to the speaker and follow the manufacturer's suggestions for mounting the speaker in the cut-out hole.

Are you are ready to try it yourself? Well, go to it. The primary thing to keep in mind is the patience part. Keep in mind, professional installers do this all the time and they know all the shortcuts and tricks of the trade, but you can achieve the same results, it's just going to take more time. Well, maybe a lot more time.