10 Tips for Working with a Custom Electronics Pro
DIYers really don't have to go it alone on their home electronics installation projects, so here's some advice if you're ready to enlist the aid of a pro.
If your installation requires grueling work and reno plans like digging out more basement space or raising ceiling height, you may want to check with a pro. Credit: Michael Zaccardi
June 24, 2009 by Julie Jacobson

It can be a tricky relationship between a do-it-yourselfer and a professional installer, and some pros are more willing and able to lend a hand than others. Jim Allsopp of Snap Audio & Video in Havelock, N.C., shares some tips on how to make it work.

1. Get the custom installer involved as early as possible. Those architectural plans may call for an equipment closet or some other added nook you may not have considered.

2. Expect to pay for the installer’s knowledge and time. Just as important, let the installer know that you will do so. CE (custom electronics) pros routinely turn down DIY collaborations.

3. Do not ask for things that the integrator cannot legally provide, like a manufacturer’s programming software that is licensed only to him. You will betray the trust.

4. Expect an estimate for design work, detailing exactly what gets put into your hands, such as drawings, parts lists and installation instructions.

5. Pay for walk-throughs and ask for several of them. Have the installation firm mark where your cables, rough-ins, and electronics should go, and do a final check before the walls go up.

6. Ask about a pay-as-you-go plan, in which you can return unused wiring for a refund.

7. Instead of muscling through a new programming environment you may have never used, consider having the pro do the preliminary programming, and pay him to teach you the ropes.

8. If you plan to do much of your own programming, consider manufacturers like Elk, HAI, HomeSeer, Charmed Quark and many others that let anyone buy, install and program their gear.

9. Some custom-only manufacturers won’t let you access their core programming, but will let you make various tweaks to the system after it has already been programmed. Ask your installer about such options.

10. You may think it’s costly to pay a pro a few hundred bucks to calibrate your video and surround-sound audio. But the right tools for the task—hardware, software and experience—are expensive, and a pro spreads it across multiple jobs.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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