I’ll confess — I love having a television on. I have a television on in the background most days, and it’s a little luxury of working at home — I’m able to catch up on shows, watch movies, or simply see what’s going on in the world while I work. Plus, when the house is quiet, it serves as my “inter-office chatter.”
We already have more televisions than family members around the house, including one in our bathroom — mainly because I’ve never gotten rid of any of our old-school tube televisions. (Hey, they still work!)
I should write a separate post about this sometime, but when we built our house, I even put a television in the master bathroom wall behind a two-way mirror– fourteen years ago, long before flat-screen TVs inside bathroom mirrors were a thing..! The remote works through the glass, and I still love flipping the news on while I’m brushing my teeth each morning.
Anyway, I’ve been spending a lot of my work days this summer outside on our deck, which led me to think about setting up a television outside.
If you’ve ever researched outdoor TVs, you’ll find articles like this one claiming that you cannot simply put a modern flatscreen TV outside, even if it’s protected from the elements, because plasma and LCD televisions have trouble with temperature extremes and humidity. There are only a few manufacturers making televisions that are fully weather, water, and heat resistant — and they’re quite pricey. You can expect to pay more than $1000 for a smaller outdoor-rated television, and large outdoor flatscreens run into the $4000 range.
Being the bargain-lover that I am, buying an outdoor TV was not an option. Instead, I had another idea.
My parents have had a television outdoors for decades. Their house has a large roof overhang that covers their patio, and my dad installed a shelf for the TV, as well as an outlet and an antenna line in a high spot tucked under the soffit. The overhang of the roofline is wide enough that there is never an issue of water getting to the television, and there it sits, viewable from the whole patio.
While new televisions may not be tough enough to withstand the heat, humidity, and moisture changes of being outdoors, tube televisions are more robust. Knowing how long my parents’ television has lasted outdoors, I started thinking about putting one of our old tube televisions outside. Because I am the kind of person who gets rid of nothing that still works, we also currently have three 13″ tube televisions sitting around our house. Why couldn’t one of those TVs live outside too?
Unfortunately, our house doesn’t have a large roof overhang, and mounting the television up high by the soffit would probably not be enough to keep it safe from rain.
I found one company who makes clear weatherproof boxes to put flatscreen televisions inside for outdoor use, but the boxes themselves also cost upwards of $500 each. I started looking for a similar box for an older tube TV, but I found none.
Then, on a recent Walmart trip, I saw this large tote and had an idea: What if I built an enclosure for a 13″ tube TV which used an inverted clear plastic tote as its weather shield?
- Using an old TV that we already own? Free!
- A plastic tote could protect the television from rain for under $10? Cheap!
- Lower chance of theft vs. having a flatscreen TV outside? Definitely.
(Would anyone even bother to steal a tube television these days? Again, my parents have had one outside for years. )
I bought the tote and brought it home to see if it would fit over the TV. It did.
After seeing that the tote would adequately protect the TV from rain, I had the idea to build a deck table in the style of a small 70s console TV, with a low slat shelf to set the TV and its tote on, and a tabletop above the tote.
I began sketching out what I wanted it to look like to figure out much deck lumber I would need to buy. I planned to leave the tote lid off and build a shelf with sizeable gaps between the slats so the television could get enough ventilation under the inverted plastic tote, and also so the cords could pass out the bottom of the table. Additionally, I wanted to be able to hear the television too, and keeping things open on the bottom would allow the sound to come out.
Then, on an unrelated trip to the Goodwill store, I spotted something that completely changed my project plans: This $10 end table!
As soon as I saw it, I wanted it just for its metal base — it looked almost the same size as I was envisioning for my table/TV stand! I snapped it up and brought it home to test-fit everything.
Finding this table this completely changed my plans to build a custom enclosure for my “tote TV.” I had some concerns about an indoor table withstanding the elements though, so I painted the base with multiple coats of Rust-Oleum to protect it.
I also had some outdoor-grade spar urethane in the garage, and I put several coats on the tabletop to help protect it. I suspect the wood on the tabletop is a veneer and will not last long outside, but I figured I’d give it a try and see what happens. If it doesn’t last, I’ll make a new tabletop out of treated lumber for this table base at some point — the base is what really caught my eye as the size was just perfect!
With my original table design, I had planned to put a piece of window screen on the bottom of the television’s slat shelf to discourage insects from flying under and up into the plastic tote if the TV was on at night. So, I cut a piece to fit this table’s stand for the same purpose.
I also ran coax cable from our existing rooftop television antenna’s panel through the house wall and out to the corner of our deck, so the TV could receive a signal.
When I set everything up, I used an outdoor-rated power strip, which is connected to an outdoor GFCI outlet. This is also a switched outlet, so it has no power running to it unless we turn the switch on from inside our house — another reason I felt fine with leaving a television outside protected only by a plastic tote. Even if water somehow got up and under the tote, I would simply leave the power off until everything dried out. However, the television has been outside through multiple days of rain, and it’s fine.
The only small drawback to this setup is that, cosmetically, it’s still a TV in a plastic tote. With my original sketch, I had planned to frame out the sides and front of the enclosure so that the plastic tote would only be visible from the front, with a lift-off tabletop to access the tote and TV. However, I couldn’t resist the $10 price of the table, which made this project a real bargain. I’m good with that!
Want your own outdoor tote TV setup? Here are a few other things to consider:
- When selecting a tote, take some time to choose one with no scratches. You will be viewing the television through the tote wall, as well as using your remote control through the tote, so choose one that’s nice and clear. I am using a 70-quart Sterilite clear tote that I found at Walmart. The picture is also clearer and brighter than it appears in photos.
- An old tube television that’s pre-HDTV era (before 2009) may need something to provide a modern television signal to it, such as an HDTV converter box, a cable box, or an internet device like a Roku. I’m using a HDTV over-the-air tuner that I scored at the Goodwill store for $2.99 on yet another lucky bargain-hunting trip. (If you need a converter box, they’re under $20 new on Amazon.) My converter box fits inside the tote too.
- To me, nearly everything about this project is “expendable.” If the television doesn’t weather well outdoors and dies, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. (We have two more old televisions this size that could fit right in its place!) If the tote cracks after being outdoors at some point, I’ll just replace it with another — totes are cheap.
- If you’re inspired by this idea and decide to put one of your old televisions outside inside a plastic tote, remember that the risk is all yours. I’m sharing what’s worked for me, but everyone’s situation, setup, weather, temperature, and humidity are going to vary by location. That said, again, my parents’ home has had a television outdoors mounted under the roof overhang with no kind of weather protection at all for three seasons each year (minus winter, for decades) and it’s been fine.
I already enjoy having a television outside, and I’m not the only one! Our dog seems to like television as much as we do. He watches it inside the house all the time with us, and we always leave a TV on for him too when we go out.
I took this photo less than ten minutes after I finished setting the TV up outside. Our dog came out, checked out the new addition to our deck, and got right down to watching TV outdoors too!