10 Basic Steps Before Starting Your Renovation Project

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry helps your planning, and we've updated for tech projects.


Bet you didn’t know May is National Home Improvement Month. Not only that, but spring is typically the most popular time of year to be thinking about your home … either selling it, getting it ready for sale, prepping it for summer activity, upgrading and repairing it, and just thinking about renovation in general. So the National Home Improvement Month designation makes pretty good sense. That National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) has offered its top 10 most important steps to prepare for a remodel project.

These are not technology-specific projects, but these tips can certainly be applied just as well whether your fixing your deck or adding a media room. You can replace the word “remodeler” below with “custom electronics pro” and think along the same lines. We’ve also expanded upon NARI’s suggestions with our italicized tips and links to related Electronic House resources for working with your custom electronics pro (CE pro).

Research your project. Taking time to research projects on the Internet and NARI.org will provide a good sense of what is involved such as price, scope of work, return on investment and new product/material options. Also, research property values in your neighborhood to make sure your project is in line with other homes in the area. Do some education on exactly what types of technology systems your home can have — overall automation, lighting, security, climate control, housewide A/V, hidden technology. Here are 10 A/V and Automation Terms You Need to Know.

Plan project around the long-term. How long do you plan to stay in your home? How might your family structure change over time? Life can change quickly—these questions should be answered early on to ensure your project will fit your lifestyle long after it’s complete. When you work with a custom electronics pro, it’s important to prioritize what matters most to your daily lives at home. Is it easy access to music everywhere? Touch-button controls of the security and lighting systems? If you have children at home, these answers could vary significantly. See 9 Things to Consider in a Home Control System.

Set your budget. Deciding on a realistic budget and arranging finances to support your project are essential. This number needs to include everything—the project, products, contingencies, etc. Don’t be afraid to share this with your remodeler; professionals are respectful of a client’s budget and will create a plan around it, not over it. Also don’t be afraid to ask your installer about good/better/best products and systems, and have them explained and demonstrated so you can understand differences in performance and functionality. As an example, look at these proposed 3 Audiophile Systems for 3 Budgets.

Use advanced search for professionals. The online world makes it easy to gather information about strangers. Ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals and then spend time researching that person online. Professional remodelers take their reputation seriously and hold credentials beyond licensing, such as certifications, memberships in trade associations and additional training. Look for examples of press coverage or involvement in industry presentations or events. Check online reviews and social media to see how they interact with past clients and peers. The custom electronics industry can be very word-of-mouth when it comes to finding the right professional for you, and we often hear of projects emanating from casual conversations among neighbors or co-workers who will show off or talk highly of their installer. Our cool homes profiles always highlight links to the CE pro’s website and we have listings of professionals on Electronic House.

Ask the right questions. Time and cost are important, but getting the right information requires the right questions. Ask your professional remodeler about his educational background, training, specialties or past issues with clients. Ask about how the remodeling process will work. There are industry certifications and training by the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, THX, Home Acoustics Alliance, Imaging Science Foundation and other organizations, for starters. Some CE pros will also subcontract work that they don’t specialize in, so make sure you know all the details of whom you’re dealing with. Here are some checklist items to look for in a CE pro.

Verify your remodeler. Don’t take their word for it. Check the information given to you such as references, license numbers, insurance information and certifications by calling providers to verify. Request a visit to an active client’s jobsite. Make it known that you are checking on him—a true professional considers that as a positive sign to working with a homeowner. Along the lines of the previous tips, absolutely get references (as noted, it’s a referral-heavy business anyway). Some CE pros use their own homes as showcases for technology, and many do use active or completed projects to do walk-throughs for prospective customers. Check out these 12 questions to ask your CE pro.

Review contracts word-by-word. A remodeling contract protects you and your remodeler. Homeowners should review this carefully. Professional remodelers have done this before, and know what should go in a contract. Homeowners are not as familiar with remodeling and should ask about terms if they don’t understand. Pay attention to details about change orders, payment, additional fees, timeline and responsibilities. If it’s not in the contract, it doesn’t exist. In short, know what you are getting. Don’t be overwhelmed by techno-speak, and make sure everything is clear. With technology projects, change orders can be frequent, especially as new technology may come out during the time it takes for a long project to be completed — for example, you might want to consider the latest and greatest TVs if they will become available during the project.

Keep design in mind. Your design guides the entire project. Think about what you dislike about your current space and the intended use of the new space. Use Websites such as Pinterest.com (and ElectronicHouse.com, of course) to gather design ideas. Make sure you can articulate specifically what you like about that design when talking to your designer. Professionals don’t recreate a photo—they incorporate accessibility, functionality, ease of modification, style and value into your design. Especially in custom electronics projects, the marriage of technology and design is great. CE pros often work with architects, interior designers, lighting designers and such. Here are 5 ways architects and interior designers need to pay attention for your tech project, and some examples for hiding displays and speakers.

Make your selections. Deciding on products and materials is a larger process than most imagine. With so many options to choose from, product selections are one of the primary reasons for project timelines to get extended. Base decisions on quality, function, price, style and availability. Include selections in the contract to lock down pricing and keep your budget intact. Again, make sure your CE pro and other trades know exactly how to blend in technology with your home surroundings. And not only should they understand aspects such as keeping the millwork consistent throughout, but they should know which areas of the home are most important to maximize the efficiency of your new systems — like perhaps the kitchen as the center of the connected home.

Create a communication plan. A common downfall in remodeling is lack of communication between homeowners and remodelers. Your remodeler should lay out a communication plan at the beginning of the project. If not, ask them to do so. This plan should clarify roles of everyone involved, communication methods, availability, and frequency of communication that is expected. You will want to stay involved, so there are no surprises along the way with your tech project, so here are some more tips for working with a custom electronics pro.


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