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Don’t Underestimate Your Installation Costs
Big-box installations may wind up being pricier than you think, so here are some suggestions and questions to keep in mind.
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July 19, 2010 by Julie Jacobson

It’s become cliché to talk about $99 TV installs from those big-box guys. $99? Where did that come from?

Let’s take Best Buy’s Geek Squad, although the offerings are similar for Zip Installation and other national installer networks. The price for mounting a 42-inch-or-larger TV starts at $350.

For that, the Geeks will unpack the TV (!), mount it, conceal the wires in a wall (assuming a single stud bay and no insulation), hook up two video components, “neatly dress” exposed wires, program a satellite or cable remote to operate the TV, and teach you how to use it.

Add $50 to connect to the home network, and $99 each for anything special, like an additional component, unusual mounting surface, motorization, multiple-stud bay, remote control programming … you get the picture.

So that ends up being, oh, maybe $600 or $700 for a modest install. You bring the mount and the cables. And although they might be able to “neatly dress” your power cords, the Geeks certainly can’t plant them behind the walls. For that, you’ll want to hire an electrician at $100 per hour, bringing the installation to at least $700.

Now, $700 is a great deal for mounting a nice TV, as long as it is done well. It should be a two-hour job for the pros and possibly a four- to eight-hour job for the uninitiated do-it-yourselfer (or in my case a couple of days and a whole lot of frustration, resulting in a crooked TV with cables all over the place, several misplaced pilot holes, and an I-told-you-so look from my TV-deprived husband).

If that price works for you, why not give your local A/V shop a call?

Asked to review pricing from Geek Squad and other national providers, custom electronics pros say their own fees are on par or slightly higher. Often, they’re more capable, better trained and more committed than their mass-market counterparts. Plus, many of them have electricians on staff.

While the national guys usually can only “neatly dress” your power cables, “We would likely install an actual electrical outlet,” says CE pro Michael Philpott of MultiMedia Interiors, San Diego, Calif. “We’re licensed to do it, it’s less expensive, and it looks better.”

10 Questions to Ask the Installer
With all that in mind ... what started out as a $399 job may end up to be much more than that. Here are some questions to ask to keep the price in check:
1. Do you supply the mount? The cables?

2. If the components you hook up don’t work (HDMI issues, for example) will you troubleshoot the system?

3. Do you use finish plates where the wires go in and out of the wall?

4. Do you patch holes made for fishing wires?

5. What if my interconnects are not CL-2 rated for a behind-the-wall installation?

6. Does your “consultation” include the placement of the television for optimal viewing?

7. How long are you willing to “train” me on how to use the system?

8. What happens if something goes wrong in six months, like glitches with cable service? Will you come back out?

9. What if one of my components is an A/V receiver? Will you establish the proper connections and volume controls?

10. If you charge for hooking my TV to the home network, will you guarantee that it will work?

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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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