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Joinery design considerations for AV systems

Installing custom joinery is a considerable investment. The right piece of cabinetry will be a part of your home for many years to come, so it’s important to make sure the design is right for your needs now and into the future. This is especially pertinent if you intend to install audio visual or data equipment.

Consideration 1 – what needs to fit into the cabinet?

Depending on the scope of your installation you may have only a small amount of equipment to house, or you may have a lot. This will have a huge impact on how much space needs to be allocated.

It’s wise to involve your AV integrator from the start of the design process so as to be aware of the space requirements for equipment. Looking up specifications on the internet is a good start, but won’t tell you about small details such as subwoofers which require air space, or connections which poke out the back of amplifiers.

More is more. Allow space not only to fit the equipment in, but also to turn it around and access the connections during installation and servicing. If you plan to expand your AV system in the future, you’ll likely need extra space for extra equipment.

Consideration 2 – allow proper ventilation

Build up of excessive heat is one of the most common reasons for premature equipment failure. Most equipment generates heat when it is operating, and some items even when they are in stand by. It’s very important to avoid this heat building up inside a cabinet.

The ideal solution is to provide an opening at the base of the cabinet where cool air can enter, and a small fan at the top of the cabinet to exhaust the hot air out of the cabinet. DLE sells a range of silent cabinet fans from AC Infinity which are ideal for this application. Cabinets with a recessed kicker panel can have a scallop taken out of the front of the base panel to allow for air ingress. Of course there needs to be a way for air to pass around and through any shelves too!

In some cases, fans are not a practical inclusion for joinery. In such situations, passive cooling via vents at the base and top of the cabinet are the next best option. Smaller spot fans can be placed onto any items which are prone to running especially hot.

Consideration 3 – practicality

Think about how you intend to use the joinery. If you plan to hide your television behind doors, will you have an unimpeded view of the screen with the doors open?

Some televisions now require a separate media box to operate – this must be housed within a certain distance from the screen (usually limited by cable length). Is there somewhere to place the media box?

Cabling will need to be run between the screen and other equipment – some cables have large non-removable connectors on the ends which require big gaps to pass through! Do you plan to mount the television on a joinery panel? If so, allow a 50mm gap between the panel and the wall behind it for cables to be fed up or down.

Some cabinets use lifter mechanisms to conceal televisions – these mechanisms require extra depth in which to house the workings. It’s very important to make sure the cabinet will accommodate the mechanism, as well as allow proper access through which to fit and calibrate it.

If you plan to conceal speakers inside joinery, the doors on front of them will need to be fitted with either mesh, or an acoustically transparent cloth panel. Solid doors will prevent the speakers from working properly. Cloth panels should have metal mesh behind to prevent damage.

Speakers must be elevated to provide a clear path for sound to exit through the acoustically transparent area – this may require a plinth beneath each speaker.

Consideration 4 – backup plans matter!

Cooling fans are the perfect solution, but as with every mechanical solution they are subject to potential failure. The best cabinet designs allow for natural convection cooling even when fans are nor running.

Consideration 5 – the worst ideas

Here’s a list of things to AVOID in your design because they’re impractical, silly, or just plain pointless:

  • Really small cabinets – they’re virtually impossible to install wall-plates, connectors and equipment into. Save these spaces for storage.
  • Really deep cabinets – unless they’re big enough to climb inside of the same problem applies
  • Flip-down doors are typically hard to remove, susceptible to misalignment, and they make it difficult to reach inside the joinery. On top of that they don’t look any better than side-hinge doors, which are a mechanically superior choice.
  • Doors which hinge open and then slide backward (pocket doors) – these are typically used around televisions and again the combination of hinges and runners makes them less robust than alternatives such as sliding doors. Worse yet, because they need to slide into the space next to the screen this means the panel onto which the screen mounts can not be anchored at the sides.
  • Crowded equipment layout, poor ventilation, excessive heat build up. Probably the fastest way to guarantee the equipment will fail prematurely, and absolutely one of the worst design choices that can be made.