Times are tough, and the pros who design and install electronic systems are feeling the pinch. Some have closed up shop; others are hanging on by a thread. In an economic atmosphere like this, homeowners can’t help but feel trepidation over hiring someone to put in a home theater, whole-house music setup or some other type of system. What happens if the firm suddenly goes out of business? Who will be there to service my system? How can I get the upgrades I was planning on?
These are a few of the questions the come up, especially when you have a large home or large-scale installation.
The best way to protect yourself from an unserviceable system is by making sure the company that installs it documents everything.
By everything, we mean the locations of every piece of wire, a detailed rundown of every component and a clear, well-plotted diagram of the layout of your home systems, at the very least. Should you ever hire new company to do some work on your existing system (hopefully not wiring messes, but it does happen), that documentation will provide them with a roadmap of your home’s electronics, making it simpler and more affordable for them to add on, modify and service your products.
“When we get calls to finish a system that hasn’t been documented, it can take us two full days to figure out the wiring runs,” says John Stumpf of Station Earth, Fergus, Ontario. “That can easily run $3,000 in labor charges.”
“Documentation also ensures that you’re not held captive by your original integrator should you choose to go with another provider,” says Jay Cobb of Hi-Tech Home in Clovis, Calif. “Obviously, we want to keep our customers forever, but they should have the freedom to hire who they want.”
Even if your stick with your electronics pro for years, documentation still helps … a lot. “We might be called back to put in additional speakers, for instance,” says Stumpf. “We always document exactly where the speaker wire is located behind the drywall. By eliminating the guesswork, we can save time, aggravation and mistakes.”
In addition to the location of the wiring, your custom electronics professional should also document the connection points of each wire and its purpose. For example, a cable labeled 101 might be identified as feeding signals from a satellite receiver in the basement to a plasma TV in the master bedroom. Should you ever swap the satellite box for a cable box, your installer will know which wire to connect the new component to.
Your documentation should also include a rundown of all the electronic components in your house, right down to the smallest widget. The compilation of this list should happen before the products get to your house.
That way, “we’ll know exactly what goes where when we’re ready to install,” says Stumpf. “Plus, it tells the homeowner exactly what they’ve got.”
Cobb goes so far as to print pictures of his customer’s components along with detailed specifications. This information, along with other documentation, is organized in a binder. “They’ll be able to refer to the binder to see and read about what they’ve spent thousands of dollars on,” he explains.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.