This is the second part in a multiple part series dedicated to helping you understand what to expect when shopping for a professionally installed home technology system. In the initial post I laid out a brief introduction to what this series is all about, drawing analogies to other major purchasing decisions in life. In this segment, we'll dive further into the nuts and bolts of the process. Starting with what ought to be the initial phase of any planned home technology project....
Design & Engineering
Shopping for a fully integrated home technology system can be thought of much in the same way you would think of building a new house. Very few of us would consider it wise to begin pouring foundation, or framing walls, prior to having an architect or general contractor issue a set of engineered plans. And while the consequences of a shaky foundation, or lousy framing could prove far more severe, attempting to implement a custom home technology system without the proper design work is, all the same, asking for trouble.
Smarthome and Home Automation systems, especially at the mid-to-high end of the market, can get very complex, very quickly. This complexity leads to challenges, the types of challenges that can delay construction timelines and blow budgets. One way (I'd argue the only way) to drastically mitigate these challenges is through proper planning. This planning ought to begin the very first time you meet with your integrator. So let's explore what exactly I mean by proper planning...
I'm going to separate design from its latter half, engineering, as they really ought to be thought of and treated separately. Home technology design should be a fairly simple, and fun part of the process. This phase should consist of one or two conversations with your integrator that stay at a very high level. Avoid discussing brand names (Savant vs. Crestron vs. Control4 etc.) Instead focus on what I'll call 'user stories'. This is a term borrowed from the software development world, but works quite nicely here. Some examples:
- When I'm getting ready in the morning I want music playing softly throughout my home
- I want to have a top of the line media room geared for movie viewing
- I want to build a very green home and lower my energy bills
- I want a fully monitored security system for peace of mind
- My kids (Ok, ok, my kids and I) are streaming-media junkies, so I need a really robust network
I could go on, but you get the idea. Don't worry too much about budget at this point, and don't get bogged down in brand names. Simply make a list of desired 'user stories', the more specific the better, and get the dialogue going.
The home technology design phase, so far as the consumer is concerned, is quite simple. Home technology engineering, on the other hand, is where things get tricky (divert your eyes unless you care to see how sausage gets made). This process can take some time, depending on the scope and scale of your 'user stories'. It is essentially the translation of your vision, into an engineered set of plans. It's not important for you to understand the nuts and bolts of how this happens. What is important is to know what the output should look like.
Far too many integrators mistake a simple bill of materials with engineering. This would be akin to a general contractor handing you a shopping list for all the lumber they'll need to frame your home, and calling it a blueprint. Unless you are shopping for a very basic, or pre-packaged home technology system, the set of engineered sales documents provided to you should include at a minimum the following:
- A proposal with line item pricing
- A scope of work written in plain english and separated room-by-room
- A floorplan with device location callouts
- A clear breakdown of estimated labor charges by category
- An explanation of the warranty offered on the installed system
The more information your integrator can give you the better. With that said, the amount of documentation required for your project will vary drastically with the size of your home and projected scope of the technology. It's worth noting that more and more integrators are starting to charge a separate fee or retainer to do this engineering work due to it's increasing complexity. If that is the case, make sure that whatever documentation they produce is yours to keep, even if you do not end up hiring them on for the project. Many integrators will treat this engineering fee as a credit to the contract should elect to hire them for the implementation.
Like any large undertaking, a home technology project will benefit greatly from a proper amount of planning at the outset. In the immortal words of Frank Lloyd Wright "You can use an eraser on the drafting table, or a sledgehammer on the construction site." As you begin the process of shopping for your home technology, make sure you are working with an integrator who pays the proper respect design and engineering.
We'd love to hear from you. Are you in the market for a fully integrated home technology system? Have questions about how to get started? Feedback on this post? Let us know in the comments below...
Check out the next post in this series - The Installation Lifecycle