Home Theater Electrical Considerations

This article is part of our Home Theater Design Series that covers virtually everything about designing a home theater. In addition to our world-class home theater design tool, we've given you everything you need to begin your home theater journey in Home Theater Central.

When you are planning your home theater or media room, thinking about the electrical needs may seem pretty boring compared to picking out the right screen size or choosing what will be your ultimate speaker system. While we agree that selecting the gear can be a lot of fun, we highly recommend you put a little thought into your home theater electrical specifications, especially if the room will be getting new wiring.

Why do you need to think about the electrical system, heck all of the gear just plugs into an outlet and it will all work, right? Well, not exactly.

There are three big reasons to get things right from an electrical standpoint. Those are:

  • Not having enough power to supply your audio video gear
  • Audio and/or video hum
  • Noise from other electrical components

Have Enough Power

Let’s first talk about a lack of power. If you have ever tripped a breaker while you were running a vacuum cleaner you’ve experienced one after-effect of an overloaded electrical circuit. You certainly don’t want your home theater electrical system shutting down in the middle of a great movie, right?

For simple systems with a minimal number of components, power draw is not typically a big deal. When you get into systems with larger amplifiers or separate components, it’s a good idea to do a little math. And it’s possible your simple system may be on the same circuit as some other electrical components that draw a lot of power.

You want to make sure the draw from your components and/or other things on the circuit do not exceed the power rating of the breaker they are on. Most electrical breakers in a typical home are rated at 15 amps. There are two ways to figure out how much power your gear or other items are drawing. One is to look at the back of your components and make a note of the wattage they state on the rear panel. The other way is to simply look them up online, especially if they are recent models. Most electronic manufacturers will have the power consumption listed for their components on their website. You simply add up all the numbers, divide by 120 (in the USA) and that will give you the amps. If you are unsure about any additional components that might be on the same circuit, flip the breaker off and observe any other electrical items that turn off with your system.

As an example, most TV’s are around 300 watts, AV receivers around 400, and things like Roku’s and Apple TV’s are minimal. With this component list, even with several light bulbs on the same circuit, you are well served by a single 15 amp breaker.

Another thing to remember when considering power requirements is you will probably have more than one outlet on the same circuit breaker. This means you typically will not be able to split things up using two outlets on the same wall.

If you do need more power than one 15 amp breaker can supply, you’ll need to have an electrician add a circuit for you. And that is where we get to the next important thing.

The Right Breaker Plan

The electrical panel box inside your home that supplies power to the 120-volt outlets gets its power from two different legs of the incoming 240-volt service coming into your home. It is really important to make sure all of the components in your system get their power from the same leg (sometimes called phase) in the breaker box. Usually, breakers right across from each other are on the same phase, but its a good idea to have your electrician check.

Why is this part of your electrical plan important? At Audio Advice, we call it “Demon Hum”. We have seen situations where we could not keep a subwoofer that was on a different wall from the main system hum like crazy. It always turns out that the subwoofer and the other gear were on two different circuits that were not on the same leg. We’ve seen terrible video hum bars on a television or projector caused by the exact same issue. Take it from us, having different parts of your home theater electrical system on different breakers can cause all kinds of issues if those breakers are not on the same leg. You’ll have zero problems if you keep everything on the same leg.

So, if you need to add another electrical circuit for your system, make sure your electrician knows to put that circuit on the same leg as the other one serving your system.

The Argument for Dedicated Circuits

You have all kinds of electrical devices in your home that can introduce noise into your system. From the motors in refrigerators to microwave ovens, to hairdryers and lighting dimmers, all of these can add noise to your system. You’ll sometimes even hear it as a slight buzzing in the background or the noise on the electrical line keeps your gear from performing at 100%. It is always a great idea to isolate your system from the noisy electrical gear in your home.

A dedicated circuit is one that is not shared with anything else in your home. Your electrician will pull a line to a single outlet from a dedicated breaker. We like to see dedicated circuits done for any serious home theater or home audio system we install. Now if you get two or more of these, what are you going to tell the electrician to do? That’s right, make sure they are all on the same leg!

If you have the ability when designing your home theater electrical layout, it’s a good idea to consider putting all of your lighting circuits on a different leg than your home theater gear. This will keep your gear even more isolated from potential noise from dimmers or fixtures.

Adding It All Up

We hope this short article will enable you to have a better home theater or music system experience. It’s really pretty simple: have enough power, make sure your electrical circuits are all on the same leg, and if you can, use dedicated circuits and isolate your system. If you have any further questions about your system, feel free to reach us via chat, phone, or visit one of our stores in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC.

To read more Home Theater Planning and Buying tips, read our Home Theater Buyer's Guide here.

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