The problem with way too many custom electronics installations? They just don’t work.
Or they don’t work as they’re supposed to.
Too often homeowners who hire custom installation “pros” are stuck with systems that don’t operate correctly. A home control system or its interfaces are too complex, or the homeowners were never taught to operate it properly—or both. Or there’s no system documentation when another firm is called in to fix the problems or upgrade the system.
This is a big problem, because there are a lot of guys who call themselves custom electronics installers, integrators, audio/video pros, whatever, and who are doing work for clients without proper training or knowledge. Some are “trunk slammers” without an office or a showroom. Others are just bad business people.
Read 12 Questions to Ask Your CE Pro.
This shouldn’t be happening, but it does.
This isn’t to denigrate an entire industry. There are many very good, reliable and respected custom electronics (CE) pros out there who do fantastic jobs for homeowners. (We write about them all the time.) But just like that crummy contractor you once hired to “fix” something at your house and regretted later, there are way too many electronics guys who don’t finish jobs properly.
“I think there’s a whole group of homeowners who have done this one time already and been burned by it. And people become very fearful of it,” says John Baumeister, whose startup Tech Tonic works with homeowners as a consultant to help them identify the home systems they need, hire the right custom electronics installation firm, and oversee the technology portion of a project, if they choose.
Baumeister is the former owner of Baumeister Electronic Architects, a high-end custom installation company that went out of business in 2009 and was embroiled in a controversy about who owns home control system programming code once an installation business … well … tanks.
Baumeister isn’t the only one offering design and consulting services to homeowners. Firefly Design Group and Doherty Design Group are just two others servicing a growing need to help homeowners sort through the techno-logistics and make sure they’re getting their money’s worth.
And he isn’t the only one in the custom electronics world who thinks there is a problem with systems being finished correctly. “Most homeowners are disappointed with technology,” said Andrew Wale, vice president of marketing for high-end control and company Vantage, at a recent event showing off a Manhattan penthouse outfitted for simplicity. Wale refers to people buying systems for their homes and finding that the latest and greatest high-tech systems are difficult to operate, or don’t work as advertised.
“[Homeowners] say, ‘I can talk to one person instead of three different people, and that person’s not selling me what they can make most profit on.’ We then help that client choose specific tech firms in that area. If they want, we stay on to see if the project is done,” Baumeister says.
“We make sure the job not only creates value for them, we create a value-engineered system and allow them to feel like they’re talking to someone,” he adds.
Fees vary, but expect to pay about 8 percent to 10 percent of the cost of the technology portion of a project for such design and consulting fees.
Is a design/consultant service worth it? If you’re unsure on how to proceed with a high-tech home installation, need some advice and want to be assured that an electronics job is done well and right, paying the extra cost may well be worth the investment—especially if it saves you headaches and money later.
My bet is that we’ll be seeing more of these services.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates