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Installing ceiling speakers with blown in insulation in the attic


zaphod

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I am about to install some ceiling speakers.  I have access to the attic and have been planning things out.  Most parts of my attic have blown-in insulation.

  1. How do you clear a space that is free of insulation and kept free of insulation during the installation process?  Do you do something like clear out the area and then put a box with no bottom to isolate the area while you are doing the installation so that you don't get more insulation falling in? Or is there a better method
  2. After the speakers are installed can you put the blown in insulation back on top of the speakers?  Or should I put the blanket type of pink insulation on top?  I live in Toronto and we get cold winters and hot summers so it probably makes sense to have some type of insulation.
  3. Are you best cutting the hole from below or from the attic above?  I am guesing from below?
  4. What do you do to prevent making a huge mess?  Do you put a drop sheet? How do you do that when you will be on a ladder pretty much directly under the hole you are cutting? Won't you get a face full of gypsum dust?
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Here’s what I’ve done in the past and would do again. Leave the insulation alone. Drill a small hole where the speaker will go and shove a tall glow rod through it. Then go in the attic, tape your wire to that glow rod and pull it through the hole. Now you’ve got your wife. 
Mark where the speaker will go, and starting in the center drill holes outward in an X shape until you get to the perimeter of the speaker. This will help you make sure you’re not going to hit a truss. 
Next, around the perimeter at the ends of the X you just did, cut a 2.5” long slit in the drywall along the edge of the speaker. After those cuts are in, put painters tap across the slits going from the ceiling to the piece that you’re cutting out for the speaker. This will hold that piece of drywall in place while you cut the rest of the hole out. Once the tape is in place, cut the rest of the hole...the tape will hold the drywall in place. 
Now, hook the speaker wire up to the speaker. Hold the speaker up against the ceiling where you’ve cut out the hole and with that holding the drywall in place, carefully remove the tape from the ceiling and push the speaker up in the hole (the drywall will basically sit on top of the speaker). Have someone hand you a screw gun to tighten the tabs on the speaker. Done. No messing with insulation. The mess on your floor will be almost non-existent. 

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On 10/24/2020 at 11:25 PM, zaphod said:

I am about to install some ceiling speakers.  I have access to the attic and have been planning things out.  Most parts of my attic have blown-in insulation.

  1. How do you clear a space that is free of insulation and kept free of insulation during the installation process?  Do you do something like clear out the area and then put a box with no bottom to isolate the area while you are doing the installation so that you don't get more insulation falling in? Or is there a better method
  2. After the speakers are installed can you put the blown in insulation back on top of the speakers?  Or should I put the blanket type of pink insulation on top?  I live in Toronto and we get cold winters and hot summers so it probably makes sense to have some type of insulation.
  3. Are you best cutting the hole from below or from the attic above?  I am guesing from below?
  4. What do you do to prevent making a huge mess?  Do you put a drop sheet? How do you do that when you will be on a ladder pretty much directly under the hole you are cutting? Won't you get a face full of gypsum dust?

For what it is worth, I installed speakers in our master from the attic as you're planning to do - great project.  Here are my experiences as they relate to your questions:

1.) In my attic we have blown in insulation but it is blown on top of the bat insulation which had two or three layers crossing over perpendicular.  So I had to rake away the blown-in, then pull up the bat insulation layers to access the dry wall going to the ceiling in the master.  This pulled back insulation basically kept most stuff from falling back down the holes.  

2.) Even though it it low voltage, I didn't think it was a good idea to put the insulation in direct contact with the speaker so I bought a flexible plastic cover from amazon (I think) that protects the back of the speakers then I layered the insulation back on top.  I live in Maine so you and I have similar winters and summers and that insulation is critical so I tried to put it back exactly as it was but honestly not a bad idea to get a bit more blow-in insulation to layer over the stuff you move because it settles after being disturbed.

3.) Cutting from the attic was much better for me because coming from below you don't know if you're too close to framing.  I pushed a straight piece of a metal coat hanger up from below through the dry wall in the rough place I wanted the center to be - then went into the attic to adjust for spacing from framing and cut from attic.

4.) I hung a large piece of plastic painters plastic close to the ceiling all around the area I was going to cut in - and sealed the edges with painters tape.  This way, as the dry wall dust and any stray insulation falls down it doesn't make a huge mess in the room.

Hope this is helpful for you - good luck! 

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Thanks Dueport.  I installed one pair yesterday and have two more pair to go.

I did my sawing from below.  In order to make sure that I didn't have framing in the way I drilled a tiny hole for the exact center from the attic after I cleared away the insulation.  I put a box in the attic to "fence off"  the insulation.  I then used my speaker template to ensure that this hole was in the exact center while I traced my circle prior to sawing.  To minimize the mess I put some newspaper down and I held a my vacuum up to suck up as much drywall dust as possible.

In terms of keeping the insulation off the speaker - on my first pair I reinstalled the loose insulation on the speakers which may not be a good idea. Can you post a link to the type of speaker cover that you have?  I tried looking on Amazon but I only see front grille covers.

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1 hour ago, ILoveC4 said:

Here’s what I’ve done in the past and would do again. Leave the insulation alone. Drill a small hole where the speaker will go and shove a tall glow rod through it. Then go in the attic, tape your wire to that glow rod and pull it through the hole. Now you’ve got your wife. 

Thanks, ILoveC4 -  I will incorporate some of this into the next ones I install.  You probably don't even need a glow rod as you could just any rod or a straightened coat hanger.

On a related question - what is best practice for running speaker wire for the second of the two channels.  I have run four conductor speaker cable.  When I get to the first speaker, let's say it is the left, how do you then extend that wire to the right channel?  I was just going to cut all four conductors ath that spot, install the left wires onto the speaker terminals and then twist a two conductor speaker wire onto the right channel wires from the four conductor cable and secure with a twist on connector for the right channels.  Is there a better way to do this?

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45 minutes ago, zaphod said:

On a related question - what is best practice for running speaker wire for the second of the two channels.  I have run four conductor speaker cable.  When I get to the first speaker, let's say it is the left, how do you then extend that wire to the right channel?  I was just going to cut all four conductors ath that spot, install the left wires onto the speaker terminals and then twist a two conductor speaker wire onto the right channel wires from the four conductor cable and secure with a twist on connector for the right channels.  Is there a better way to do this?

Make a loop of the 4 core cable at the first speaker, then run on to the second speaker. If you are careful you can strip a section a few inches long of the outer sheath off without damaging the insulation on the inner cores. Cut two cores for the first speaker (at the end of the stripped section furthest from the source), but leave the two cores for the second speaker uncut so they run on without interuption. You can then make your connection, put the speaker into the hole, and then move on to the second speaker. 

If you do need to cut the cores that go to the second speaker, joining them back together with a twist connector wouldn't be an issue however.

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My electrician in Kerrville had a very nice hole saw that had an integrated clear plastic cover. It caught all the drywall dust and insulation that fell through. It basically had a bar, with clamped on saw blades (about the size of a jigsaw blade) -- so it could cut anwhere from a 4" hole to about an 18" hole. 

Because I could not get to the area very easily in the attic, I drilled a pilot hole in the center of where I wanted the speaker. The speakers required an 8 1/2" hole, so I got a clothes hanger and bent it 90* with one end about 4 1/2" long. I stuck it through the hole and spun it to see if it hit joists. Got lucky on one, and hit a joist on the second. Moved over about 2" and tried again. Ended up having to move over again about another inch. As long as you don't have to move more than the radius of the hole, the pilot holes will all get cut out.

I used 4 wire speaker wire, so I only had to pull one wire to the AV closet. Just split it in two at the speaker end. I push the wire up through the holes with long glow sticks and then use another set with a hook on one end to retrieve it in the attic if it is hard to get to. 

I'm about to do this all over again, so if I can find that hole saw I'll post a link. 

The speakers I used (Yamaha IC-NS800's) have a case so I just let the insulation rest on them. 

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https://www.amazon.com/Adjustable-Hole-Klein-Tools-53731/dp/B00529WW6O

His was like this but bigger and the cover slid on the shaft. So you could start the pilot hole in the center and then hold the plastic cover against the ceiling. Main thing the plastic over on his looked a lot more sturdy and the plastic was flat so it didn't distort your view of what you were doing like this one appears to do.

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2 hours ago, zaphod said:

Thanks, ILoveC4 -  I will incorporate some of this into the next ones I install.  You probably don't even need a glow rod as you could just any rod or a straightened coat hanger.

On a related question - what is best practice for running speaker wire for the second of the two channels.  I have run four conductor speaker cable.  When I get to the first speaker, let's say it is the left, how do you then extend that wire to the right channel?  I was just going to cut all four conductors ath that spot, install the left wires onto the speaker terminals and then twist a two conductor speaker wire onto the right channel wires from the four conductor cable and secure with a twist on connector for the right channels.  Is there a better way to do this?

I run 4 conductor to the first speaker and connect it there, the use butt connectors to put a 2 conductor wire on the remaining 2 conductors and jump over to the other speaker. Just adopt the same method for coloring so it’s not hard when you get back to the rack to know what’s left/right on each speaker and which speaker is left and right. 

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4 hours ago, zaphod said:

Thanks Dueport.  I installed one pair yesterday and have two more pair to go.

I did my sawing from below.  In order to make sure that I didn't have framing in the way I drilled a tiny hole for the exact center from the attic after I cleared away the insulation.  I put a box in the attic to "fence off"  the insulation.  I then used my speaker template to ensure that this hole was in the exact center while I traced my circle prior to sawing.  To minimize the mess I put some newspaper down and I held a my vacuum up to suck up as much drywall dust as possible.

In terms of keeping the insulation off the speaker - on my first pair I reinstalled the loose insulation on the speakers which may not be a good idea. Can you post a link to the type of speaker cover that you have?  I tried looking on Amazon but I only see front grille covers.

No problem - glad your first pair went well!  I was able to locate the cover I used: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000PELN0C/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.  Worked very well as far as I can tell.  Good luck with the other pairs!

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1 hour ago, Elvis said:

https://www.amazon.com/Adjustable-Hole-Klein-Tools-53731/dp/B00529WW6O

He's was like this but bigger and the cover slid on the shaft. So you could start the pilot hole in the center and then hold the plastic cover against the ceiling. Main thing the plastic over on his looked a lot more sturdy and the plastic was flat so it didn't distort your view of what you were doing like this one appears to do.

Thank you for posting - this is brilliant.  I'm going to pick one up for future zone installations.  I'll probably modify my method by cutting from below with this thing rather than from the top.  I prefer moving the installation as described earlier so I know I have enough clearance from wires etc - at least for rooms you can access from the attic.  Downstairs zones I do use a method similar to yours @Elvis - though after that first coat hanger trick, I open the hole up a little and put a bendable camera up to confirm there are no framing, wires, etc. blocking where the speaker needs to go.

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Also, if helpful to anyone, I've run a ton of this cable: https://www.htd.com/2-Conductor-Speaker-Cable-14-Gauge.  I've had great luck with it wiring a media room at our old house, and all over our home now - including out to the pool.  14 gauge, full copper, and shielded so never had problems with interference of any kind (also still careful where I run it in relation to other wires), CL3 and UL.  Very flexible and easy to pull.  Only issues are 1.) it is a little large and, 2.) the outer jacket is good and thick but a bit soft so when pulling through other cables sharing the same conduit you need to be careful that the outer jacket on this cable doesn't get worn into badly. 

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49 minutes ago, ILoveC4 said:

I run 4 conductor to the first speaker and connect it there, the use butt connectors to put a 2 conductor wire on the remaining 2 conductors and jump over to the other speaker. Just adopt the same method for coloring so it’s not hard when you get back to the rack to know what’s left/right on each speaker and which speaker is left and right. 

Pretty similar to what mine plan is.

For coloring I saw someone a standard for 4 conductor speaker wire:

Red L+
Black L-
White R+
Green R-

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2 hours ago, Elvis said:

It looks like this only works for holes up to 7" which may be too small for a lot of speakers.  My speakers are 6.5" speakers but the hole diameter is 8.25".  I have other speakers that were installed over a decade ago on my main floor and they are 8" speakers with a hole diameter of around 10".  But this would make the hole cutting prices much easier and cleaner - using a manual drywall saw over your head is very tiring! That cover almost looks like the cover that they put over dinner plates at restaurants to keep your food warm.

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1 hour ago, Dueport said:

No problem - glad your first pair went well!  I was able to locate the cover I used: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000PELN0C/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.  Worked very well as far as I can tell.  Good luck with the other pairs!

Thanks - this gave me an idea - I wonder if you could use the covers that are used in a microwave to keep food from splattering.  They would be much cheaper than this.

Something like this:

71OlSaLshCL._AC_SL1500_.jpg

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9 minutes ago, zaphod said:

Pretty similar to what mine plan is.

For coloring I saw someone a standard for 4 conductor speaker wire:

Red L+
Black L-
White R+
Green R-

I saw that, too... but I just couldn't keep from Red being Right speaker.

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54 minutes ago, Dueport said:

Downstairs zones I do use a method similar to yours @Elvis - though after that first coat hanger trick, I open the hole up a little and put a bendable camera up to confirm there are no framing, wires, etc. blocking where the speaker needs to go.

The other thing that I have found very useful in this work is an endoscope with a long cable.  I bought one a few years ago on Amazon for about $30 and it is great to be able to see inside walls.  My final task is going to be getting a flexible drill bit to drill through a 2x4 to be able to run a cable down from my kitchen to the room below to put in speakers and to then drill outside for speakers on the deck.

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Just now, OceanDad said:

Be careful - a lot of those adjustable hole cutters are a real bear to use.  I've not found one yet that I trust.

I second that -- these look flimsy which is why I'm still looking and didn't buy any I've found on Amazon. My electrician's was very sturdy, but you really had to keep a firm grip on it. Piece of cake on drywall.

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19 minutes ago, OceanDad said:

Be careful - a lot of those adjustable hole cutters are a real bear to use.  I've not found one yet that I trust.

They're not worth it unless you have one of the REALLY expensive ones for installers (at which point, using ones specified by size is more efficient) - if all you need is two speaker holes cut in a place hard to reach in the attic, a cheap one will last for those two speakers (and nothing after)

Honestly, unless adding speakers in a finished house, a drywall saw is just the easiest....well and a shop vac.

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4 hours ago, Cyknight said:

They're not worth it unless you have one of the REALLY expensive ones for installers (at which point, using ones specified by size is more efficient) - if all you need is two speaker holes cut in a place hard to reach in the attic, a cheap one will last for those two speakers (and nothing after)

Honestly, unless adding speakers in a finished house, a drywall saw is just the easiest....well and a shop vac.

I used to work for a company that had the adjustable hole cutter...we called it the salad shooter. Basically every tech used it once, then never again.

Agreed. Just use a drywall saw & shop vac. It’s worked fine for me thousands of times.

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