Fireplaces and TVs

I am about to start work on a family room for a new client. The room will be used for TV watching and enjoying fires (and occasional napping). It has a gas fireplace with a stone mantle that is about three feet wide. I am not kidding. This mantle could probably hold my family room TV, which looks like a screen stuck on the front of a VW Beetle.

My client’s TV is a 42″ flat screen. It currently sits on a nice stand in the corner of the room. She would like to mount it above the fireplace. It would certainly be convenient for me: something that is 40-46″ inches wide (screens widths are measured corner to corner and not horizontal across) is a bit of a challenge to work into a design. The large fireplace wall lends itself well to handling the height and width of the TV.

But as a decorator, I must ask myself: is this really a good idea?

There are two key things to consider when mounting a TV over a fireplace: heat and height.

You can read lots and lots of complicated information about how heat affects plasma and LCD TVs differently (believe me. I have. It’s been a slow Monday).  But I will keep this simple: heat and electronics don’t mix. You need to know how hot it really gets around your fireplace after you build that roaring fire and settle back to watch two hours of American Idol.  To determine the heat, do a simple test: place a thermometer on the wall above your fireplace.  Now light a fire and kick back and enjoy. After it’s been going for a while – a couple of hours at least – check the temperature. If it’s above 90 degrees farenheit, congrats! You now know where NOT to place your television! It may take a few fires, but if you insist on mounting your TV here despite the heat, eventually your flat screen will look like those tapes you used to leave in your car in the sun all day. (Yep. I said tapes. I am showing my age here but you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

The other consideration is how high you should mount your TV. After reading a lot on this subject I’ve decided I should start handing out cards for my chiropractor friend when I visit people’s homes and I see flat screens mounted above fireplaces. Why? Most TVs are just hung too high. TVs should be placed at eye level. Anything above this and you are either straining your neck or you are slumped down in your sofa so far your practically sitting on the floor. If your fireplace wall passes the heat test and you still want to mount your TV there, then spend a bit more money and get a wall mount that allows you to tip the screen down, minimizing the strain a bit.

The last thing to consider when deciding to mount your TV about the fireplace is how far back you should sit from the screen for proper viewing. This post won’t go into the intricacies of that because it depends on the number of pixels your tv is and whether you have a plasma or flat screen and quite frankly, all that math makes my brain hurt. My best advice there is to google the type of TV you have and follow the recommendations given by the manufacturer. For example, if you have a 1080p 40″ LCD flat screen, then you could sit about 5 feet away and get a great picture. But if your sofa is five feet away from your fireplace wall, and your TV is mounted about 4-5 feet up the wall, you’re straining your neck to watch TV. But if you are sitting 10 feet away, it’s easier on your neck but the picture might not look as good. See what I mean? Math.

So what will my decorating plan be for this job? I think am going to look for a lovely piece of art to hang about the fireplace and keep the tv at eye level  – somewhere else in the room. I’ll just create two seating areas: one for tv viewing and another for enjoying fires. My client can then use the money she saved on wall mounts and hiding wires on wireless surround sound. Or perhaps some more decorating.