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Install an Outdoor Sound System for Backyard Entertaining

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, if you’re still carting around your old boom box outside just to get some tunes in your outdoor entertaining space, it might be time to consider investing in an outdoor speaker system.

    This Old House landscaping contractor Roger Cook.

    Welcome, Roger.

    ROGER: Thanks for having me. Does my 8-track still count as a boom box or something?

    TOM: Well, sure, if you bring it outside.

    ROGER: Yeah.

    TOM: And speaking of which, the outdoor room has really become sort of a big selling point for homes these days, not to mention it’s the center of family relaxation and enjoyment. It’s kind of where we love to be whenever the weather permits. Music, of course, is a big part of that, right?

    ROGER: Yeah. And you’ve got to be careful on how you locate the speakers. I mean there’s so many different ways to use them. They have the box types, which we still all have on the inside of the house.

    TOM: Right.

    ROGER: They have them for outside now.

    TOM: So weatherproof, sort of (inaudible at 0:23:09).

    ROGER: Yeah, semi-weatherproof, yeah.

    TOM: Right.

    ROGER: They should be mounted where they’re fairly dry.

    LESLIE: But under a cover?

    ROGER: Great, perfect.

    TOM: Yeah, like under a soffit? Under an overhang?

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm.

    TOM: OK.

    ROGER: But the big thing to consider is where you want the music to be out of those. Because you don’t want to light up the whole backyard with noise. Number one, the neighbors won’t like it and number two, you won’t enjoy it as much.

    LESLIE: Sounds like a fun party. I don’t know.

    ROGER: Yeah. But some of those nice, little speakers they have – the ones that look like rocks or something like that – those can be situated in a nice, strategic spot.

    TOM: Right.

    ROGER: And they work very well. And they’re supposed to be waterproof.

    Now, some of this I take with a grain of salt. If possible, if you could disconnect those outside speakers and bring them in, you’re not going to be out there in the wintertime, at least here in New England, doing much.

    TOM: Right.

    ROGER: Bring them inside and then put them out again. I have had speakers that were supposedly waterproof become waterlogged. And they don’t play so well when they’re waterlogged.

    TOM: Yeah. So a little bubbly, I would expect.

    ROGER: Yeah.

    TOM: Now, how do you plan the speaker system? Because, as you said, obviously you don’t want to deliver rock music, if that’s your choice, to all of the neighbors. It’s going to make you the least popular guy on the street. But you also, to more practically, want to be able to deliver the music where everybody’s going to be congregating.

    And just like home stereo speakers, if you don’t have them in the right spot, if they’re not aimed in the right place, you’re going to lose a lot. There’s a lot of inefficiency in the delivery of that sound, correct?

    ROGER: Right. You hit it right on the nose. You want to know where the people will be so that you can direct the music in that way and not have to crank it. The more you crank it, the more distorted it gets, the worse it sounds. Plus, the neighbors again.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Those darn neighbors.

    ROGER: The neighbors are always a problem, yeah.

    LESLIE: They’re always ruining the good time.

    ROGER: It’d be a great neighborhood if it wasn’t for the neighbors.

    No, so think about where the people are going to be so that you can put the volume there without making it distorted.

    LESLIE: What about the wiring? Is that something that’s difficult to do? Can that be a do-it-yourself project?

    ROGER: The wiring is very, very simple, for the most part. What we do is we – in anticipation of having speakers – and when we do a patio or something like that, we’ll run pipe so that you have a little pipe to fish the wire through.

    LESLIE: Oh, very smart.

    ROGER: You don’t have to dig anything up. But most of the time, it’s low voltage, so you can just very simply dig a trench, put it in and put disconnects on it. That’s where I was talking about earlier, so you could disconnect the speakers right there, take them in the house and next spring just hook them up again.

    TOM: And of course, when you’re planning those acoustics, sound’s not going to bounce very much outside.

    ROGER: No, no.

    TOM: So, it really is – it’s really kind of line of sight, isn’t it, in terms of designing where these things go?

    ROGER: It is. You know, it seems like the landscaping absorbs it so that there’s no reverberation.

    TOM: Right.

    ROGER: I love that word.

    TOM: That’s a good word.

    ROGER: So there’s no reverberation, so everything just gets sucked in and you just get that single tone. Well, that’s why it has to be somewhere near you. It’ll bounce some off rocks but for the most part, the landscaping seems to absorb the sound.

    TOM: Now, if it seems difficult to run the wiring for the speakers, any wireless options that you like?

    ROGER: Oh, of course. They have all the blue this or blue that, any type of …

    TOM: The Bluetooth?

    ROGER: The great thing about that is you can take your existing system and bring it outside already loaded with all your music you want and then just take it in again.

    TOM: Great advice. Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor from TV’s This Old House, helping us design an outdoor sound system so that we can enjoy the great outdoors all season long.

    Thank you.

    ROGER: Thank you.

    LESLIE: Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing.

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