A realtor wouldn’t dream of selling you a house without understanding your needs and wants (or “must-haves” as they’re known these days). The same goes for the professional who designs and installs A/V and automation systems into homes. In order to provide a customer with technology that will truly enhance the convenience, comfort and entertainment value of a home, he needs to learn about how those homeowners live in their home now, what they’d like to improve about the house and how they envision life in an automated residence, among other tidbits. (To see home tech requests achieved to their fullest, check out our Home of the Year Award winners.)
“It’s like peeling back an onion,” says custom electronics (CE) professional Tommy Kissell of Texas-based Eco High Fidelity, of his first meetings with prospective clients. “The more we know about a client, the better equipped we’ll be to design a system that suits their habits, routines, schedules and lifestyle.” So what are some of the areas you can expect your CE pro to ask you about?
The House Itself
Certainly, he’ll need to know whether you plan to automate an existing house, will be remodeling or would like to put the system into a house that’s on the drawing boards. Some of your first meetings with a CE pro could take place at your house; this will give the installer an opportunity to gauge the complexity of the job. He’ll need to see if there’s an attic, basement or crawlspace through which to fish cabling; if not, he may investigate other wiring avenues. He’ll be able to see first-hand if there are any materials like concrete and stucco that could make the project more difficult. Also, he’ll probably ask you about current technologies your home might already have: built-in speakers, a computer network, a security system? With a clear understanding of your home’s makeup, a CE pro will be able to determine the types of tools and manpower he will need to get the job done, and what types of products and systems—for example, wireless or hardwired—will work best.
Everybody can rattle off a few items they find annoying or inconvenient about their home. Maybe it’s the closet and bathroom lights that nobody bothers to turn off, or the tedium of locking up and shutting things off before bedtime. A CE pro wants to hear your pet peeves you so he can design your system that takes care of those trouble spots. Don’t hold back, and make sure every member of the family has a say.
Comfort with Technology
How do you use technology in your home now? For example, are you a fan of streaming music and video services? Are you a PC or Mac user? Do your kids do much of their homework online? What about mobile devices? Are they loaded with apps? A CE pro can tell a lot by your current use of and familiarity with technology. For example, if everyone in family is an avid user of an iPad, your CE pro may design a system that lets you use this device to manage and monitor your home systems. If you have thousands of CDs, then those might be prioritized within a whole-house audio system over streaming services, for example (or perhaps you’d rather pare down the collection and simplify to the streaming route).
Way of Life
Lifestyle is a big buzzword in the home technology industry, and for good reason. A candid discussion of your way of life will likely reveal the most important pieces of information a CE pro needs to design and implement a system so in sync with you and your family that you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. At the very least, expect to divulge your household status (single, married, kids, elderly parents), your family’s schedule (work, school, travel), your social life (do you entertain frequently) and your hobbies (sports, exercise, photography, art collecting, etc.). If your daily routine involves a half hour on the treadmill, perhaps you’d like to have some music piped in over in-ceiling speakers rather than be tethered to an iPod; or maybe create the proper lighting environment for displaying artwork.
Do you want to show off your home electronics investment or keep it under wraps? Your aesthetic preferences will help a CE pro decide whether he should install speakers that recess into the walls or models that stand out in the open, for example. If you like the idea of having all of the A/V components (amplifiers, processors, Blu-ray players, etc.) hidden completely from view, by all means tell your CE pro. There are lots of clever ways to hide technology.
On the Clock
Prepare to have an idea of when you’d like the project started and finished. Do you want everything installed by the holidays? Is there a special event by which you’d like the project buttoned up? Based on answers to earlier questions, a CE pro is probably visualizing a system, but when you say you want it done in six weeks, he may have to rethink the plan, or may even bow out if you’re firm on the deadline. Be clear with your timeframe; be flexible if you can.
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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.