TV Wall Project (page 1)

After many years of squinting to see our TV set properly, we (that’s my wife, Angela and me) decided we had two options.  Get new glasses, or buy a bigger TV.  Needless to say, we gave our money to Currys rather than Specsavers, and after lugging home the 60 inch beast in the back of the car, set about building a place for it to live, which from here on in I shall simply call ‘The Wall’.  The following article will take you through the entire journey.  (Not the journey home from the Grimsby branch of Currys – I’ll save that story for another time).  And please be warned, I intend to go into excruciating detail.  Not so much because I like the sound of  my own computer keyboard, but because I hope that if anyone else is embarking on a project like this, it may in some way be useful.  At the very least, you might learn from my mistakes. Here’s how the living room looked before we started:

Before

The TV, although not tiny, was stuck away in the corner, too far away from the sofa at the other end of the room to see it clearly, and at an awkward angle for viewing from other parts of the room.  You could sit closer at the risk of getting neck strain by having your head turned to the side for too long.  Also, the main intended focal point of the room, the fireplace, didn’t actually have a fire in it.  As we’re not connected to gas, we had the fire surround installed and intended to put an electric fire in it.  But in the space of eight years since moving into our house, we never actually found an electric fire we liked.  What is it with electric fires that make them look so rubbish?  The fake flickery flame effects haven’t really improved much since the 1970′s.  Anyway, I digress – the fireplace is going to disappear to make place for the new TV, and call it vulgar if you like, but that’s going to be the new  focal point.  The electrical supply intended for the fire will come in handy for the AV equipment as I’ll discuss later on. So the first step in any kind of DIY project is the planning – or at least you’d hope so.  We started by creating a 3D computer model of the living room using a free piece of software called Sketchup which, if you haven’t come across it before, is pretty awesome.  It’s very quick to learn and very intuitive, I find.  So, here’s our living room in Sketchup.  Doing this was really quite fun (although as a self confessed computer nerd, it would be for me).

living room empty

And with this as a blank canvas, we began to think about what we wanted to build. There were a few criteria we had; I particularly wanted the TV to be flush mounted into the wall with no visible cables for that floating TV effect, and Angela wanted some nice alcoves for putting ornaments/photos/knick-knacks/whatever-girls-put-in-alcoves into. And we both wanted a cinematic experience when watching movies, so yeah – a big screen and surround sound kind of deal. To get both the TV flush with the wall, and to have alcoves recessed into the wall, it meant we would need to build the wall out a little from the existing wall – a sort of false chimney breast is what we had in mind. After a few different attempts, this is what we came up with in Sketchup.

living room idea

The colour on the wall isn’t quite right yet, so don’t worry about that for the moment.  On a soft and squishy level, putting the TV in this position has another advantage over being stuck in the corner, which is that it will encourage me, Angela and both the kids to all cuddle up together on the sofa for the best view of the TV.  Previously we all picked our favourite spots for sitting which were dotted around the living room and it just wasn’t all that cosy.  That’s right – this TV is going to bring us closer together as a family – isn’t that nice? Back to that paint colour;  I imported my Sketchup model into a program called Unity which is an amazing piece of software which I use for work – it’s primarily intended for game development, although as you can see here, it’s a pretty nifty bit of kit for rendering 3D scenes too.  We were able to play around with the colours and the lighting of the model to get a better idea of how we wanted it to look eventually:

living room

Yeah!  Now we’re talking!  All we have to do now is build it – how hard can that be?

At this point it would probably be a good idea to talk about my DIY skills.  I once assembled a wardrobe from MFI (what ever happened to them?), I’ve put up a few shelves in my time (some of them have even stayed attached to the wall), I’ve fitted a few curtain poles here and there and I once managed to replace a kitchen tap.  I’m not totally inept, but I guess I’m not particularly experienced either.  I’ve certainly never attempted anything on this scale before.  In fact, Angela was very keen on the idea of paying a professional to come in and do the whole thing for us – but where’s the fun in that?!  After a number of slightly heated discussions I managed to persuade Angela that we should tackle the whole project by ourselves and that not only  were we capable of pulling it off, but we’d have fun in the process.  Not only that, but it would save us a ton of cash too.  (I also said she’d be suppressing my manliness if she didn’t let me, which is I think what clinched it).  Angela did have some basic conditions, though.  Firstly I’d have to research and learn all the necessary skills to do the construction, the electrics and the plastering, and secondly I’d have to practice everything I did first using scrap pieces of material until I was good enough to do it for real.  Sounds fair enough to me.  Oh, and we’d also need to invest in some new tools. So, where to start with the learning?  The library?  Evening classes?  Nah – YouTube of course!  These days there’s practically nothing on this Earth you can’t learn with the help of the internet.  (Ok, perhaps I’d still prefer heart surgeons and airline pilots to have a formal hands on training, but you get the gist).  The first step of constructing The Wall was to learn how to build a stud wall, which I did largely from watching this guy here:

With my new found knowledge for the principles involved in building a stud wall, I went back to Sketchup and designed the underlying timber structure.  It took a few attempts to get it right (well, right in my opinion at least).  The design took into account the actual thickness of the timber and plasterboard sheets I knew I’d be using (that’s another great thing about Sketchup, you can design things to a precision of within fractions of a millimetre, meaning you can get very accurate results).  I also modified the design slightly to account for a few things I hadn’t previously considered; the height of the speakers I already had for putting into the tall side alcoves, the depth of the deepest piece of AV equipment to go in the bottom long alcove, which turned out to be my AV tuner/amplifier at a depth of 40cm including room for plugs/jacks/cables at the back, and finally, (gosh this is a long sentence), I wanted to make sure that the bottom of the top three alcoves were above the average person’s eye line, so that I could install some led up-lights which would be out of direct sight (more on the lighting later).  All things considered, here’s the design for the framework: framework There are two layers of wood along the bottom, the so called base plate, to allow for something solid for the skirting board to be attached to later on.  The other parts in the design where you can see two pieces of wood layered side by side are not actually for strength (although it definitely helps), but because it provides the thickness needed between the pieces of plasterboard in adjacent alcoves.  I chose the alcoves to be two thicknesses of wood apart from each other to keep things simple.  If they’d been any further apart, those two layers of wood would need a gap in the middle which would make things more tricky.

With the design of the framework complete, it was finally time to get hands on in the living room.  I started by laying out the tools I thought I’d need on some tables – it helps to be organised, although I have to admit the tools didn’t stay this neat for long.P1030192 I then set about removing the fireplace surround with a combination of screwdriver, hammer, chisel and pry bar, and a section of the carpet (which will eventually be replaced with wooden flooring anyway).  I also removed a portion of the coving where the wall meets the ceiling, using a Stanley knife and the hammer and chisel again, taking care to measure and mark exactly which bit needed removing first. P1030177 You’ll notice in the above photo that we also bought some paint and tried it out on the wall.  It’s called Sicilian Summer 4 by Dulux – it’s a little more pink than we thought it would be, but we’ll give it a go and see how it turns out.

With the mess from the broken coving all cleaned up, I then began building the timber framework.  First the base plates, screwed to the floor with 4x75mm Ultra Gold screws from Wickes.  I got on very well with these screws for nearly all of the stud work – no pilot holes are needed with these, you just drive them straight in with a drill driver.

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You’ll notice the cable hanging down from the ceiling – that’s the cable running to the switch for the intended electric fire.  After removing the switch from the wall, it became clear that the cable ran vertically up the wall behind the plasterboard.  In fact, two cables.  One is the feed, spurred from one of the other sockets in the room, and the other is the load, which runs to the fireplace and will eventually be attached to some new sockets for the AV stuff.  I cut a small hole in the plasterboard just below the ceiling directly above the switch, located the cables and carefully pulled them up and out of the wall before reattaching the switch plate and taping it up out of reach, ready for relocation later.  Oh yes, I turned all of the electricity off before I did this!  I’d like to thank the extremely helpful members on the electrical section of the DIYnot.com forums who helped me to figure out how to do the electrics safely and legally.

You’ll notice a new tool has appeared too – a combination mitre saw and table saw.  The idea of using a hand saw for cutting the timber did cross my mind briefly, but aside from the arm ache it would cause and the extra time it would take, the benefit of an electric mitre saw is that once properly set up and calibrated, it makes perfectly straight and accurate cuts.  Once I got the hang of using it, cutting the pieces of wood and screwing them together got quicker and the structure started to take shape.

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Wow – it looks like I’ve actually built something.  What’s more, it  feels very sturdy.  It doesn’t move, or even creak when you push or pull on it.  I’m pretty sure you could climb up it without too much problem, so I guess I must have done something right.  When I started the structure I used the computer model for the measurements.  Towards the end, though, I was finding that the actual spaces where certain pieces of wood needed to fit didn’t exactly correspond with the model.  At worst, things were off by about half a centimeter.  I put this down to slight inaccuracies creeping in when putting in the vertical joists and relying on a spirit level to make sure they were truly vertical.  If I were to do this sort of task again I’d certainly consider buying a laser level.  Anyway, half a centimeter isn’t too much to get worked up about, and with a natural material like wood, you have to accept that there might be some pieces which are very slightly bowed or twisted.  In the odd case where the pieces of wood were slightly too long to fit, I just took a thin slice off the end with the mitre saw, and where pieces didn’t quite meet up, it was easy enough to fill the gap with those same thin slices of wood.

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 With the framework now built, it was time to tackle the problem of mounting the TV.  There were two options here.  The first idea would be to mount the TV onto the wooden framework.  The problem with this, though, is that the long open alcove underneath where the TV would be mounted forms a weak spot in the structure right where the TV’s weight would be exerted – look two photos up and you’ll see what I mean.  I could have added vertical pillars rising up from the floor and through the bottom alcove alcove to give the vertical support needed for the TV, but that would ruin the look of the alcove.  The better option was to mount the TV onto the existing brick wall at the back, using this extending arm:

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Now here’s a clever little trick, if I do say it myself, which I invented.  I cut out a big piece of cardboard exactly the same size as the actual TV, and made four holes in it at the same positions as the screw holes on the back of the TV.  I then attached the mounting brackets which came with the arm onto the cardboard.  The cardboard is now an exact representation of the TV, but only weighs a fraction of the amount, so it’s a heck of a lot easier to hold up to the wall and play around with the positioning/levelling before marking the location of screw holes onto the wall.

In order to fix the back of the arm to the wall, I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of screws or rawl plugs to use, as I wasn’t entirely sure what was behind the plasterboard.  I assumed there would be an air gap and then breeze blocks, but how much of an air gap I didn’t know.  Rather than guess about what I was screwing into, I thought it would be a good idea to remove a section of the plasterboard so I drill directly into the brick.  I’m SO glad I did, because what I discovered were not concrete breeze blocksat all, but some kind of soft and crumbly thermal blocks with a consistency similar to meringue.  Angela has baked biscuits which have been harder than this – you could literally pick bits out of it with your fingernails.  If they’d used these bricks to make the prison walls in The Shawshanks Redemption, Tim Robbins would have been out of that place in a couple of hours, never mind nineteen years.  These blocks are obviously very strong under compression, just not great for mounting heavy objects onto them.  So I had a bit of a dilemma.  After a lot of research, I discovered something called resin anchors.  You drill holes in the blocks and fill them with a resin and insert a metal threaded stud.  The resin soaks into the pores and fissures in the material and then hardens to become rock solid, with the stud fixed firmly in place.

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 Here’s a little tip – after drilling the holes and before inserting the resin, you have to make sure that the holes are completely free of debris and dust , otherwise the resin may not bond properly.  To help with this I attached a drinking straw to the end of the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner using duct tape, which was a very effective way of sucking out all of the debris.  I think two or three of these anchors would be strong enough to hold the TV, but I decided to go for complete and utter overkill and put ten of them in – with more of them at the top as that’s where the main pulling force is exerted.  Over the top of the anchors then went a thick (2cm) piece of plywood, secured with steel nuts, and the extending arm was screwed into the plywood using six heavy duty coach screws (four at the top, two at the bottom for the same reason as above).

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 The result is an arm that will not only hold the TV, but I’m confident would hold the TV with me sitting on top of it too.  It’s not going anywhere.  If the entire house were flattened in some kind of cataclysmic event, I’m pretty sure that TV arm would still be attached to that piece of wall after the dust settled.  Yeah – it’s perhaps a bit over the top for a TV which in all honesty isn’t even that heavy (about 20Kg, a lot lighter than most old fashioned CRT TV’s), but it’ll help me sleep a little better knowing that if I hear a bump in the night, it’s not the TV falling down, it’s probably just burglars trying to nick it.

With the TV arm in place, I thought it would be a good idea to do a full AV test to make sure I knew where I wanted all the cables to go and check all my cables were actually long enough.  In fact, a number of them weren’t, such as the satellite and broadband cables which had to stretch from the corner of the room where the TV was previously.  I also had to buy some longer HDMI cables.  Here’ s a little tip when buying HDMI cables:  Never ever buy them from Currys.  They will charge you anything up to around £120 for a single cable – and no i didn’t mistype that.  Even their cheapest cable is about four times more expensive than the same thing on Amazon, which you can pick up for a couple of quid.  Their sales guy might even try to convince you that their cables are better quality and will give you a better picture ….. well, it’s nothing short of a scam.  HDMI cables carry a digital signal,  and there is no such thing as a good or bad digital signal – it’s either there or it isn’t.  Sometimes I wonder why people are surprised why high street stores like Comet couldn’t survive.  The answer is simple to me – don’t rip people off, and don’t employ staff who know less about the products they are selling than any reasonably clued up customer.  I mean, if I can spend five minutes doing a bit of research on the internet on a particular product, and find myself having to  explain how it works to the store guy, then something is wrong.  Okay, rant over.  Here’ show things looked all wired up:

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 The subwoofer will eventually go on the other side of the room hidden behind the sofa.  As the low frequencies produced by the sub are omnidirectional, nobody will be able to tell where it actually is.  The cables are in a bit of a mess at the moment, to say the least, but I’ll sort those out later on.

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In the photo above you can see that as well as the six-gang trailing socket I’ve attached to the cable originally intended for the electric fire, I’ve also added another four way extension lead which comes from a socket in the corner of the room.  I don’t think I’ll actually ever need that many sockets, but it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of future proofing.  Besides that, it allows me to spread the load of all the appliances more evenly to make sure I don’t go anywhere near the 13 Amp limit on either set of sockets.  It’s worth mentioning here that, although I said above that I’ll be tidying up the cables later on, I made a conscious decision to leave the cable for the four way extension lead sprawled out as much as possible.  Coiling it up might have been neater, but firstly, coiling up extension leads is a bad idea as it can cause a build up of heat and potentially catch fire and secondly, nobody is going to be able to see this cable anyway.  An alternative would have been to cut the cable to the right length to avoid the excess, but unfortunately this particular extension lead was a sealed unit and therefore non rewireable.

Something else I did which you probably can’t see form then photos, is I ran some five core cable through each of the alcoves for connecting the led lighting later, and fitted an led dimmer control unit on the side of the framework next to the power switch.  More on the led lights later on.

If you’re still with me, congratulations – you’ve made it to the half way point!  The next job, and probably the biggest job so far, was to give The Wall an outer shell.  Join me on the next page to find out how i got on.