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Protect your electronics from heat damage by installing a cooling fan in your entertainment center

01 Jun

Entertainment center exhaust fanReach your hand behind your receiver or TV. Do you notice that it’s warmer back there? You’re feeling the residual heat given off by hard-working electronic devices. Unfortunately, high temperatures contribute to the failure of all kinds of small electronic components, from printed circuit boards to resistor, capacitors, and batteries. It’s a conundrum: audio and video electronics produce heat, and yet heat is seriously hazardous to their health. Between the receiver, two video-game consoles, and the TiVo, my entertainment center can get quite hot, especially during the summer. Since the TiVo (and, to a lesser extent, the consoles) is on at all times, it never really cools down inside the cabinet.

Computer designers tackled this problem long ago: most PCs include a rear exhaust fan and one or more open grills near floor level to admit fresh air so the computer does not overheat. Now that we’re putting PC-style devices in our living rooms, we need to treat the entertainment center like a giant PC case.

To keep my equipment cool, I installed an exhaust fan in the back of my entertainment center. Adding an exhaust fan that pushes air out of the case creates an effective negative pressure in the case and draws in new air from every open point. Of course, you need an inlet hole for air to enter the case for this process to work. Hot air rises, so you want an exhaust hole near the top to remove heated air and an inlet hole near the bottom of your container to draw in cooler air.

You spent a lot of money on this stuff! Make sure your equipment keeps working for as long as possible by keeping its critical parts cooled. All you need to do is cut a minor hole in the back of your entertainment center, find a suitable fan, and decide how to power it. I promise to make it simple.

Fan and partsRed and black wires stripped

Necessary supplies:

  • Case fan: Fans intended for computer cases and heavy electrical equipment are easy to find from places like Parts Express or NewEgg. Pick a fan that suits your desired power supply. I chose a 12V fan with the deliberate intent of undervolting it; feeding it a lower voltage would make the fan run slower but would not damage it. My 12V fan will run happily on 12V, 9V, or 5V, just with different levels of performance. Other fans may have different voltage requirements or different overall measurements. Pick a fan that is quiet enough for your own tastes. Mine is plenty quiet compared to the sound coming out of the speakers when I’m using my TV or stereo.
  • Power source: There are lots of ways to power a small electric fan. I recommend one of three power sources: batteries, USB, or conventional AC. My favorite so far is USB because of the easy power requirements, but all four are economical ways to extend the life of any electronic equipment you have in your living room. I’ll demonstrate how to use a USB connection or USB charger to power a fan. A 9V battery or appropriate AC adapter can also serve the purpose.  I use a standard USB charger (plugs into the wall and provides 5V over USB) to power my USB fan. You could also plug the fan into a USB port on a device in your cabinet. If you’re using batteries or an AC adapter, make sure you aren’t exceeding the voltage or amperage ratings on your fan.
  • Mounting hardware: My fan has four threaded sockets at each corner, so I used long machine screws to mount the fan to the inside of my cabinet. There are lots of other ways to attach your fan to your cabinet; you’ll want a secure mounting method that doesn’t allow the fan to vibrate against the cabinet walls and make noise. Make sure it is blowing air out of the cabinet, not back inside.

Considerations:

  • Safety: You’ll need a safety grill to protect little fingers or paws from your exhaust fan. Just as fans come in standard sizes, so do fan grilles. Buy (or build) one that matches your fan.
  • Fan location: Air needs to flow freely throughout your cabinet in order to reach the fan and provide efficient cooling. In my cabinet, none of the shelves extend all the way to the back, allowing hot air from every piece of electronics to be cared for by a single fan. Remember that hot air rises, so the fan should be at or near the top of the cabinet in order to remove the warmest air.
  • Inlets: Make sure there are open spaces in the walls or floors of the cabinet to allow air inside (preferably near the bottom of the cabinet to ensure full circulation from the bottom up to the fan at the top). There is a hole in the rear of my cabinet for A/V cables, which allows some air inside. The hinged doors on the front of the cabinet also allow fresh air inside. If you have no way for air to enter your cabinet, you may need to drill some discreet holes for airflow purposes to make your exhaust fan effective..

Wires and power connectorTesting fan power connector

Before splicing any wires, I tested bare wires with the power connector to make sure my fan and power supply would work well together. If the fan makes a solid breeze when the power supply is connected, you’re in business.

Spliced wiresSpliced wrapped wiresFan ready for mounting

Splice the positive wires together and the negative wires together between the fan and the power source. Wrap any bare connections individually in electrical tape, and then reinforce the entire junction with another layer of tape.

Hole for exhaust fanMounted fan and grill

Once you have the hardware, the process is easy. Cut a hole in the back wall of your entertainment center that allows the air from your fan to flow freely. Use machine screws or means to attach the fan so it blows out. Add a safety grill to protect curious fingers.

You’re done! It’s up to you whether to run the fan continuously or to only turn it on when you’re using the equipment. I plugged my USB charger into the same power strip as the TV. That way, I can turn off the fan easily whenever I’m finished with the equipment.

 

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