How to wall mount a TV: Tips and tricks to cut down on frustration

If you’re finally replacing that 70-pound TV you bought back in the go-go ’90s — or, more realistically, that plasma that finally bit the dust — then you’re probably considering wall-mounting your new television.

Sure, you shouldn’t mount your TV over your fireplace, but there is nothing wrong with standard wall mounting. Mounting a TV on the wall makes a lot of sense for most people, as it frees up space in the home. But the project can be intimidating for some.

So how do you wall mount a TV, anyway?

Mounting a TV can be as quick and easy as brewing a cup of Joe, but it can feel as complex as a triple mochaccino. The process involves putting four bolts in the wall to hold a bracket, hanging the TV on it, and … well, that’s it. Voilà, you’re done. Simple, right?

To help you out, we’ve put together this list of expert tips. We’ll help you avoid common mistakes and overcome the silly obstacles.

Your stud finder is a liar

wall mount stud finder

Electric stud finders are tricky little tools. They can be one of the most helpful tools in the box or the reason you put a dozen extra holes in the wall. Simply put, they’re liars. But here are four tips that help ensure they never trick you again.

  1. Go slow: To be effective, stud finders need to be properly calibrated. First, place yours on the wall and turn it on — you can usually do this by holding in a button. Let the stud finder read the density of the material (this will only take a second or two), then slowly move it from side to side. Go back and forth over the wall a few times, starting from a different spot with each pass. Mark each stud you discover with a piece of painter’s tape. We recommend finding three and using a tape measure to make sure they are the same distance apart. This will help you avoid false positives.
  2. Popcorn ceilings defeated: Have you ever tried to run a stud finder across a ceiling with popcorn texturing? Not only do you ruin the texture, the stud finder doesn’t work well. An easy way to overcome this problem is to place a piece of cardboard over the area you want to scan. The cardboard gives the stud finder a smooth surface to slide across and will allow you to easily find the joists.
  3. Don’t forget fire blocks: Before drilling any holes, run your stud finder vertically up and down the wall to ensure there are no fire blocks running horizontally between the stud bays. Fire blocks can make fishing wires down the wall very difficult, even for experienced installers.
  4. Always double-check: Stud finders can be fooled fairly easily. They’ll often read a seam in the drywall as a stud. After you have marked your studs and where you want to drill your holes, you should use something to poke into the wall to ensure you actually marked a stud. We normally use a small precision screwdriver, but a cutoff coat hanger or piano wire will work fine. We would recommend doing this by hand, rather than using a power tool, as you will have a better feel for what’s inside the wall. You can also tap a small nail into the wall; get past the drywall without the nail “falling in” and you’ve found a stud. The last thing you should do before drilling is poke a little hole to the left and right of where you want to drill and make sure you are still on the stud. This will ensure you are centered on a stud, and not just clipping its side (and possibly hitting electrical wiring).

We’re doomed, the studs are in the wrong spot … or there aren’t any

You found the perfect spot to mount a TV in your home. You’ve read all of our tips on using a stud finder, and are ready to go. But after 20 minutes of scanning for studs, you can’t find any, or the results are inconsistent, or they don’t line up with the holes on your wall mount. There are a number of solutions that don’t require much, if any, extra work to fix your little problem.

  1. Take off covers: If you can’t locate the studs with a stud finder, locate an outlet on the wall (or any other fixture, like a cold air return). All outlets are attached to studs, unless they were added after the wall was up (not common). By taking off the wall plate, you can stick a thin tool into the gap between the side of the electrical box and the drywall, and then feel which side the stud is on. From there, measure over 16 inches and you should find another stud. Keep going 16 inches at a time until you are in the area where you want to mount the TV. Then use a small tool to poke a hole in the wall to see if a stud is actually there.
  2. Make your own holes: What if you found studs, but they don’t line up with the holes on your bracket? Easy: Make extra holes on the wall bracket. The best way to do this is to use a step drill bit (like an Irwin Unibit) and a powerful drill. A good step drill bit will quickly cut through a steel wall mount.
  3. Use a toggle: If there simply aren’t any studs where you want to mount the TV, then you need to use some sort of hollow wall anchor. These can be extremely strong, but as a general rule should not be used with full-motion, or articulating, mounts. The quarter-inch Snaptoggle is hands down the best hollow wall anchor on the market, and a few of them can comfortably hold new 55-inch TVs on a single sheet of drywall. Mounting a TV on drywall or plaster without attaching to a stud can be a very safe and reliable solution IF you know the limits of the wall and the toggles. As a professional home theater installer, I’ve used toggles many times and never had a TV fall off the wall. We know of other installers who overestimated the strength of the wall and ended up with a TV on the ground. In the end, if you aren’t comfortable performing the install, consider hiring a professional.

Please, hide ALL of the cords in the wall

wall mount IWPE

Nothing ruins the look of a nice TV mounted on the wall quicker than a tangle of exposed wires. Luckily, hiding cables inside the wall is fairly cheap and easy. The simplest way to achieve this is with an IWPE (in-wall power extension) or a power bridge kit. These kits come with everything you need to run power up to your TV while hiding all of your signal wires (some even come with a cutting tool). You might be thinking: “Why not just drop an extension cord in the wall instead of installing an outlet?” Well, it’s actually against National Electric Code (NEC) to drop a power cord or extension cord inside the wall. It’s also not legal to put low-voltage cables like HDMI inside the wall unless they’re CL3-rated for in-wall use, which is one reason expensive HDMI cables are worth buying.

You may not need the extra HDMI ports on your TV now, but you may want to add components to your home theater system in the future. Put in extra HDMI cables and run them through the wall so that you have them when you need them.

An IWPE is exactly what it sounds like, an extension cord rated to go inside the wall. In the end, you will have an outlet behind your TV, and what’s called an inlet down by the floor (at the same height as your other outlets). In order to provide power to the kit, you connect an extension cord from an existing outlet to the inlet. Confused? Check out these diagrams.

Before you begin installation, ensure your low-voltage cables are rated for in-wall use. The next thing to know about IWPE kits is that they come with a predetermined length of electrical wire, typically 6 to 8 feet. Also note that they should be used only in a single stud bay, and they are not designated for use above a fireplace. Of course, these limitations can be overcome or ignored, but we don’t recommend bending the rules.

If you can’t hide cables inside the wall, then try installing a paintable wire channel. Most of these simply stick to the wall, and allow you to hide all of your cables inside, providing for a clean look. Just know that when you remove the wire channel, you will likely also remove the paint.

Maybe if I pull harder, the cable will reach

wall mount wires

Always buy longer cables than you think you need. This is the most often ignored piece of advice we give people. It doesn’t matter if your TV is going on a wall or sitting on a stand, buy longer cables than you think you need. Extra wire can be wrapped up, stuffed in a wall, or otherwise hidden. If the cables are too short, you risk them falling out, simply not reaching, breaking, or worse yet, damaging your equipment.

For a typical flat panel installation, with a tilting wall mount and equipment located directly below the TV, 8-foot cables will work nicely. Twelve-foot cables will allow you to make connections before the TV is on the wall, or pull out the equipment once it is hooked up. If you’re mounting a TV higher than normal (the bottom of the average TV is between 36 inches and 46 inches from the floor) or using a full-motion mount, you need 12-foot cabling. If that seems excessive, consider this: On a typical full-motion mount with a 20-inch arm, you will use 3 to 4 feet of cable before even reaching the wall; that is, if it’s properly routed to allow safe movement of the TV on the arm.

A final note on cables: Try to avoid those with bulky connectors. These types of cables might not fit properly behind a slim LED or even plug in for that matter.

Wait, that doesn’t look level

wall mount level

Everything is cut, drilled, assembled, tightened, and otherwise wrapped up. You step back to take a look at your newly wall-mounted TV, but something isn’t right. The TV isn’t level. What do you do? Do you need to pull it down? Drill new holes in the wall? Cry? Cry really hard? Probably none of the above. There is almost always a way to level a crooked TV. Just know that sometimes a TV will never look level if the ceiling, floor, or mantle isn’t level. Check these other areas before you go mad trying to level the TV.

  • Put your back into it: Walk up to the TV as it hangs on the wall, grab onto the sides, and then try to force it into being level. No, really. Your success here depends on how snug the bolts are that hold the wall mount arms on the back of the TV. If they aren’t over-tightened, you should have a little wiggle room to help level the TV. As a side note, if you do this and the TV comes off the wall, you did something wrong … so be careful.
  • Loosen, push, tighten: Take the TV off the wall, loosen the bolts holding the arms on the back of the TV, then push up/down on the arms as you tighten them back down. Put the TV back on the wall and see if it’s level. If it isn’t, then do the same thing with the wall plate.
  • Improvise: If you used up all of the wiggle room available and it still isn’t level, make more wiggle room. You can use the step drill bit we talked about earlier to round out the holes in the arms or wall plate. This may give you the little extra space needed; just don’t go too crazy and make the holes unusable. If you accidentally make the holes so big that bolts slip through, you can always buy larger washers.

Conclusion

All of the tips listed come from years of firsthand experience mounting hundreds of TVs on wood studs, steel studs, plaster, brick, from the ceiling, you name it.  Some of them are common sense, but almost none will be found in an instruction manual. If you have the right tools, a few hours, and patience, then you can mount your own TV. Do be sure to budget your time appropriately. A simple wall mount (tiling mount, drywall, exposed wiring) might take a professional only 20 minutes from unboxing to finished install. A novice should plan to read the instructions, proceed cautiously, and free up an afternoon. After all, it’s never fun to break a TV.

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