Keep your cabinets cool
By David Lee

Cabinets are functional, decorative, and made to fit homes in all different price ranges. Cabinetry is used for storing everything from fine china to sports equipment and almost anything else.

We will focus on cabinets housing electronic equipment including home theater systems, boardroom systems and computers. The makers of cabinetry make special pieces of furniture, but a common shortcoming in the design and construction of today’s cabinetry that houses electronic equipment is proper ventilation for the heat generated by these modern technology systems.

The trend in electronics is to hide these systems by concealing them in cabinets and closets where they are out of sight and out of mind. Well, they are out of mind until they shut down due to limited air circulation.

Fortunately for the cabinetmaker, the first call is often made to the installer of the equipment. Then they will detail how there is simply insufficient airflow in the cabinet. At that point the process will begin to determine whom to call and how to fix the issue with the ultimate result being some sort of modification to that special cabinet.

Even worse, such modifications will usually be made by someone who may know electronics but not woodworking. Is this really who should be cutting into your expensive cabinet? Will homeowners, IT professionals or the buyer of your cabinet question why ventilation was not considered in the design and construction of the cabinet?

Cabinet and furniture makers need to be aware of the advances and trends in electronics and not only for dedicated entertainment centers. Computers are frequently installed in desks, lecterns, kitchen cabinetry, and bedroom closet organizers. No doubt that technology is present at every turn so today’s cabinetry, no matter the design and aesthetics, should consider ventilation and accessibility of equipment.

Most furniture makers understand the need for wire access in such cabinets and why wire pass-throughs are needed to the outside of the cabinet and through shelves. The same thinking should apply to airflow. Air should be allowed to flow between cabinets (in multi-bay cabinetry) as well as between shelving and to the outside of the cabinets. Since another trend in electronics is that more and more components are microprocessor controlled (essentially a computer), these newer components put out more and more heat. Heat shortens the life of equipment and also causes thermal equipment shutdowns.

The best practice is to consider and create airflow paths in cabinetry and also to consider not only passive venting (natural airflow without fans) but also options for the use of fans to cool systems in more demanding applications. Not even the best passive cooling will be adequate for today’s more advanced systems. Don’t think that just because there is some passive venting that the problem is solved. It may work for the most basic systems but the heat generated by today’s whole-house audio amplifiers, basic home theater receivers, cable and satellite DVRs, and media servers will individually challenge even the best passive cooling and when several of these components are installed in one cabinet, fan-based cooling is essential.

The best case scenario is to create a pass-through that could be used for either passive cooling or for a fan unit. Cut a hole about the right size for either a passive grill or a fan unit. Grill options are available including wood grills, plastic grills in various colors and cabinet vents that fit in a round 3-1/4-inch hole so audio-video installers can install the fan. The better idea is that the cabinetmaker could include it as a standard feature or optional accessory to add value to the cabinet.

Another tip is that shelving should be notched in the back for both airflow and wire management as this creates a great pathway for both. While this can be accomplished on site as in the illustration, it would be best to do this during the construction of the cabinet and prior to finishing and definitely instead of just drilling round holes.

With just minimal modifications cabinets can be configured for proper ventilation and if considered during the design and integrated into the production process, realistically very little additional effort is required to provide cabinets that will be ideal for today’s electronics.

Cabinetmakers can also capitalize on the addition of cooling by advertising the fact that their cabinets are “technology friendly” and perhaps even offer cooling solutions to their customers.

This article was written by David Lee, of Cool Components Inc., which offers a wide variety of grill options, from wood to plastic in various colors and their Cabinet Vent (VS-CV) that fits in a round 3-1/4-inch hole. Cool Components is based in Tampa, Fla., and specializes in cooling solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial fan-based cooling systems. For those interested in additional information and for a review of design plans, Cool Components is available to assist in custom or mass produced cabinet projects. Cool Components can be reached at 813-322-3814 or here.

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