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Wall Mounting a TV

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Wall Mounting a TV

Question: Our TV is so old that news reporter’s faces all have a strange green tint, it doesn’t have the new plugs on the back to connect to the internet for Netflix, and I have finally been able to convince my husband to buy a flat screen TV! We both really like the way the new flat TV’s look that are hung on the wall like a picture and have a perfect spot picked out on our family room wall. Can you tell us what all is involved with putting a flat screen TV up on the wall?

Your Handyman: The prices of flat screen TV’s have really dropped over the past 5 years or so and they are rapidly making the old picture tube style of TV an antique much like the rotary telephone. A wall mounted flat screen TV has a very modern look and can also help to make a smaller room seen less cluttered. The job of wall mounting a TV typically consists of 3 parts.

The first part involves attaching the TV support bracket safely to the wall. Make sure that the bracket you are using is specifically designed to support the size and weight of your TV. There are 2 basic styles of brackets with the most common being a flat bracket where the TV mounts to the wall much like a framed picture. Most flat brackets don’t allow for any angle adjustment of the TV, some will allow a slight tilting up or down, and this style of bracket usually costs around $75 or less. The other style of bracket is a fully articulating bracket which allows the TV to swing away from the wall, to be tilted up or down, and may cost several hundred dollars for a larger TV. Both styles of brackets are fastened to the wall using at least four large lag screws that are screwed through the drywall or plaster and into the wall studs. It is not safe to attempt to fasten the bracket onto drywall with any type of toggle bolt, plastic molly or an expanding anchor. Finding the wall studs can often be a bit of a trick and I personally have given up trying to use electronic stud sensors and instead rely on the low tech old style magnetic stud finder that reliably finds a drywall screw or nail every time.   If you are drilling a pilot hole for the lag screw make sure that the hole is not oversized which will weaken the connection of screw to stud, and it is best to use an impact driver and no pilot hole. Be cautious of any utilities that may be concealed in the wall especially if there is a bathroom or kitchen on the other side and if your plumbing runs down from the attic.

The second part of the installation is to provide a power outlet on the wall behind where the TV will be mounted. Usually a homeowner will not want to have an unsightly power cord hanging down below the TV, but you can purchase a plastic cable channel at any hardware store that sticks to the wall concealing the cord from view, and usually a renter will choose this less expensive option over installing a new outlet. Installing the new outlet is easiest if there is an existing outlet directly below the location for the new TV and then the electric cable is simply run vertically inside the wall to the new outlet location. If the existing outlet is not directly below then the job is going to require openings in the drywall each time the power supply line passes horizontally through a wall stud, and then drywall repair and painting to finish the job. It is unsafe and is an electrical code violation to simply snake the power cord or an extension cord inside the wall to reach a nearby outlet. If you hire someone to install this plug they will need to either be a licensed electrician or a general contractor, and most of the installers who work for the big box electronic stores are not licensed for electrical work.

The third and last part of the installation is to conceal the low voltage signal wires for your home theatre hardware, DVD player, TIVO, and the coaxial cable that carries the signal from COX or a satellite. These signal wires are best concealed via a conduit installed inside the wall which opens at one end behind the TV and opens at the other end at the cabinet or credenza that houses your hardware. The greater the distance this conduit travels through the walls the more openings that will need to be made in the drywall, and the job becomes more time consuming. Often this conduit can be run through an attic, soffit or crawl space which will minimize opening up and patching the walls. There is also the option of using a wall mounted plastic cable channel to conceal the signal wires as an inexpensive option to installing conduit and simply housing the home theatre hardware in a cabinet directly below the new TV.

There are devices that can be purchased at any electronics store that are called “remote control extenders” which can allow you to put all the electronic hardware in a closed closet or cabinet and still be able to use the remote control even though the hardware is out of line of sight. This can be an inexpensive option if there is closet or cabinet space on the other side of the wall or nearby the TV.

If your home was built prior to the early 1950’s, be aware that some of the new flat screen TVs have a very high wattage rating, which basically means that they use a lot of electricity. If you live in an older home that does not have modern wiring, especially if your home has the old “knob and tube” style wiring, then it may not be safe to add this additional electrical load to your old wires and you should consult with an electrician before plugging in.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259