What to Look for in a Professional Integrator

You may be able to set up simple light controls on your own, but there are some things that are better left to the pros.

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You can find bits and pieces of an automation system at your local home improvement store, and you can set up basic control of lights and other devices by yourself. But if your home automation plans are larger, it pays to contact a custom electronics (CE) professional (also referred to as a professional installer or integrator). Even if you don’t hire one right away, a visit to a showroom is a good first step. Here, you can see what’s available, assess costs and asks questions.

How important is it to work with a professional installer? “It is paramount,” says URC’s Jon Sienkiewicz. “Professional custom integrators attend long hours of factory training and install systems on a regular basis. Even the most sophisticated DIY handyman can’t match the productivity that training and experience provide. … Tell a professional what you’d like to do and let him recommend the best path to get there.”

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One of the biggest benefits of working with an installer is that it puts you in a position to benefit from his experience. He has probably worked on something similar to what you’re envisioning, and he’ll know what’s needed to get you there. More importantly, the company may know how to sidestep the land mines you’re apt to encounter. Lastly, a professional may offer some unique ideas for “outside the box” solutions you’ve never dreamed of.

Control4’s Paul Williams offers this example: “Think cold Wisconsin winters, large property and a mailbox a ‘country mile’ from the home. Rather than braving the cold and making the journey to the mailbox only to find it empty, the customer had a wireless contact sensor installed in the mailbox.If the mailman opens up the mailbox, a message plays in the home over the audio system announcing ‘You have mail.’ The touchpanels in the house also display the message, saving the home owner from unfruitful trips.”

As Elan Home System’s Joe Lautner puts it, working with a custom integrator is “the only way to do it.” The alternative, he says, “would be like building a house without an architect.”

Here are four things to look for in an integrator:

  • Listening Skills – Like any good contractor, a quality home control integrator knows that this is your project and your home. Be sure your electronics integrator is willing to listen to your ideas and suggestions, and that he fully understands your needs, wants and expectations.

  • CEDIA Certification – If you just want a Blu-ray Disc player connected or need some speakers calibrated, there’s nothing wrong with the “I know a guy” recommendation. However, a home automation system is a much bigger proposition, and that’s why the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) exists. Ask the custom electronics (CE) pro you’re evaluating if he’s CEDIA-certified. Ask how current he is with CEDIA’s training and continuing education requirements. You can search for qualified professionals using the CEDIA or Electronic House websites.
  • References – You wouldn’t hire an employee without first checking their references, so don’t make that mistake when hiring a custom electronics integrator. Ask to see your prospective contractor’s portfolio and have them walk you through a similar project the company has worked on. Be sure to visit their website and look for photo galleries.
  • Support – When you hire a professional installer, make sure he is prepared to stand behind the work. Programming that controller, understanding its features and quirks, teaching you how to use it and supporting you if it fails is how a custom electronics pro earns his keep.

Check out this awesome home with a 3,000 watt audio system.

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