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5 Tips for Implementing Home Technology Systems

In a recent conversation with a very experienced builder, it was clear that he and many builders are looking for direction on the best way to have a home's technology systems installed. He admitted it is difficult for builders to wrap their heads around the myriad technologies and brands available today. He said something that resonated deeply, “We don't know what we don't know” about home technology. Yet, technology has undeniably become an integral part of our lives. It is no longer a question of if the home will have technology systems in it, it is a matter of how much technology it will have. Yet, having technology installed in a home has historically been a frustrating experience for many home builders and homeowners alike. Builders that implement the 5 tips in this article will experience a smoother construction timeline, a reduction in change orders, and importantly, clients that are ecstatic with the safety, convenience, entertainment, and lifestyle-enhancing aspects of their home's technology systems. Done right, your clients will thank you for your guidance. As someone who has implemented audio/video, smart home/home automation, lighting control, motorized shading, and surveillance systems in scores of homes since the 1990s, I know the many challenges builders face when implementing technology. More importantly, I know how they can successfully overcome these challenges. Here are our top 5 tips to make your job easier when dealing with home tech:

1. Build a Strong Partnership with a Home Technology Professional

Professionals that install home technology are called by many different names such as low-voltage contractors, integrators, custom installers, and even “AV guys”. For the purpose of this article and to give a more accurate description of the trade, we'll use the term Home Technology Professional (HTP) throughout. Selecting the right HTP is vital, as they are in the critical path of the construction schedule; they are the last trade in the home before sheetrock, and the last trade on site before move-in. They are also one of the few contractors that must interface directly with the client on a regular basis. The relationship with the client will last long beyond the home's completion as there will inevitably be service calls and upgrades needed down the road. Find a HTP that represents your brand well and values customer service. Your clients will thank you for it. Your HTP serves as a valuable conduit of information for you and is a great time saver. As a building professional, you are expected to know a lot about the parts and pieces that make up a home. Keeping on top of the ever-changing world of home technology is a full-time job for HTPs, so rely on them for advice on what technologies and brands are great and which don't live up to the hype. For a list of questions to determine if a home technology professional may be a good fit, see tip #4 below. If you are struggling to find a good technology partner, the Home Technology Association(HTA) makes it easy by listing many of the nation's top HTPs. These certified professional technology contractors have been through an extensive, independent third-party vetting process, and all of their qualifications are listed on the HTA website.

2. Determine Technology Needs as Soon as Possible

Don't you wish you were given all the answers to these questions when you landed the project? Not to worry, a qualified HTP can help you with all of the above and more! This might be a “light bulb moment” for you to know that a good HTP can be your go-to for this kind of information and guidance. If you were not provided with these details, engage your HTP as soon as possible! How soon? Before you get your framing, electrical, and HVAC bids. Why? The engineering documents provided by the HTP will often impact their proposals. I am sure you have dealt with costly change orders and project delays when the HTP was brought to the project too late and only then were framing, electrical, and HVAC needs determined not to be adequate for the home's tech needs. Design and engineering documents take time and cost to create, though they are vital if you want your project to get accurate bids the first time and eliminate or at least greatly minimize change orders. Most HTPs charge for engineering documentation, though the cost is more than offset by efficiencies gained in the construction process. For further information on the value of technology design & engineering documentation, see the sidebar for a link to an enlightening article.

3. Understanding Budgets

Installed costs for technology systems vary greatly. You no doubt have seen how two different homes of the same general size can have technology budgets that are multiples of each other depending on client preferences! The Home Technology Association has created a brand-agnostic home technology budgeting tool to give clients and design/build professionals an objective way to determine budgets. in less than 10 minutes you can determine the installed cost budget. See the sidebar for a link to the tool.

4. Is Your HTP Qualified?

Partner with a firm that works well with your peers, works in similar size and cost of homes you design or build, and delivers a similar level of service and professionalism. If your client is trying to bring in their own tech firm, make sure they are making a wise choice. Raise a flag if it's a bad fit. It is important to understand that there are many installation firms that are simply “tech experts,” yet are not as experienced in working on longer timeline projects with exacting levels of fit and finish requirements. To help vet potential HTPs, here are questions to ask to determine if they may be a good fit for you: It is important to do your due diligence to help ensure the best experience for you and your clients. The Home Technology Association created the industry's first standard of excellence for the HTP. Finding a technology professional that has passed HTA's rigorous criteria is a great place to start. A description of the standard and the three tiers of HTA Certification are accessible from the link in the sidebar. Answers to all of the above questions and more are listed in an HTA Certified firm's company profile.

5. Making Sense of Bids

It is common for builders to obtain multiple bids for each trade. Getting multiple bids for a home's technology systems can often add to frustration and confusion due to the wide range of quality and performance available, as well as the varying capabilities of the HTP as discussed above. You may find the pricing varies dramatically from company to company. Too often the lowest bidder wins, only for you and the client to find out they made a poor choice later. As is often the case in life, most of the time you get what you pay for. We've heard the saying before, price and value are two different things.The advice to find a qualified HTP in step #1 is absolutely crucial. If your client demands multiple technology system proposals, realize it is impossible to get truly “apples to apples” bids. To minimize the variance between bids, make sure all of the bidders meet the criteria established in this article.

Following through with these five steps will definitely make your job as a building professional much easier. You will experience fewer project delays, change orders, and frustration. The end result will be markedly better, and the client will be exponentially more likely to love their home.

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