Research precedes high-tech house

March 13, 2003|By Heather Newman | Heather Newman,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Let's say you're not a techie, but you'd like your home to operate as if you were.

You'd like that to-drool-over home theater system. You want lights that come on when you talk to them or that illuminate your home in preset scenes with the touch of a button. Maybe you'd just like to see who's at the door before you answer it, or be notified when someone walks up the driveway.

Fortunately, there are people who can help.

Professional installers of entertainment, automation and data wiring tend to do all kinds of work, not just one. That makes it important to find a company whose primary specialty is doing the kind of work you think is most important.

Want that killer home theater? You generally don't want a company that specializes in security systems doing the work.

Because fancy electronic systems can be disruptive to install and expensive, it makes sense to do a fair amount of research before you sign any contracts. Start by listing everything you want your new system to do, as specifically as possible.

If you've got the time and inclination, do some early research online to get an idea of what general types of products are available. For automation and smart systems, check out such stores as www.smart home.com. For home audio and video, check out such sites as www.avsforum.com, where you can ask general questions and get expert suggestions.

Once you've refined your list, start looking for contractors who can handle the job. The phone book is one option, where you'll find companies listed under their specialties.

Another resource: the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, the trade group for high-tech installers. You can find them online at www.cedia.org, and in addition to general information, they have a directory of members searchable by specialty and location.

Once you've narrowed your list of companies, start making calls. You can take your list and pictures of your home into a showroom, but many installers will visit your house to get a better idea of what would be involved in putting a system together for you.

Be sure to ask for a written bid, and one that specifies not only what brands and models of components will be used, but what they do. Many installers only work with brands they sell, so you may have to compare capabilities between several systems when you make your choice.

Also get proof of insurance and the names and numbers of local customers you can call as references; ask for ones that had installations similar to yours. Then call them, asking what was promised, what was installed, how it worked and how clean and courteous the workers were. You might be surprised by what they say.

Once you choose an installer, get everything in writing, down to a parts list and sales tax. That way, there will be no surprises.

Include a date of completion, and specific penalties if the work isn't done within a reasonable range of that date. Make a final payment of 10 to 15 percent after the punch list of last-minute items and corrections is handled.

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