Choosing an Installer Page 4

Sticking to a Schedule After you've decided on a system, your job will advance based on the house construction timetable. While installers differ in how they set up a schedule, you can expect the job to progress in three main phases:

  • Prewire. This happens right before the house's insulation is installed, but after the electrical, heat, cooling, and plumbing systems have been completed. Your installer will be careful to avoid the wires for other systems and will use the lighting layout as a guide for positioning in-ceiling speakers. He might want to return after sheetrock has been put in to see if a wire has been cut, nailed, or otherwise compromised.
  • Trim Out. After the painting has been finished, the installer will return to install in-wall speakers, volume controls, and wall plates. The structured wiring panel, which is usually located in a concealed but easily accessible spot like a closet or attic, might also be terminated at this point.
  • Final Install. This is normally done after you've moved in, and it can take hours or days depending on the size of the system and the amount of programming and troubleshooting that needs to be done.

Show Me the Money! You'll need to pony up some cash to pay for your installation sooner or later - probably sooner. But take comfort in the fact that you'll usually have some options regarding how and when you'll pay.

If the installer is acting as one of the builder's sub-contractors, you might be able to roll the entire cost of the system into your mortgage. If so, he'll be paid by the builder from your regular construction draws.

If the installer is working directly for you, he'll likely ask for payments based on a schedule. These are usually based on percentages of the job cost and broken up into three to five installments. A four-payment plan might call for 15% on acceptance, 25% on completion of prewire, 50% before trim out, and 10% on completion. Since it's likely some of the electronics you agreed on for the proposal will change during the year or more it can take to finish construction on your house, make sure you know how the installer handles model changes. If there's a price drop, for instance, will you get to take advantage of it?

A more serious problem occurs when a new model has different dimensions from the one it's replacing. If you're having custom cabinetry built around a TV or speakers, pay for those components now so that a delivery delay doesn't mean you wind up with a potentially larger or differently proportioned model. Many installers will work with your cabinetmaker and will even help you choose one.

Selecting a housewide audio/video/ automated-control system can be daunting, but finding the right person to steer you through the process doesn't have to be. A good installer will work closely with you until the end - and beyond. And you can rely on him to take your ideas all the way from the drawing board to the touchpanel.

John Sciacca is the lead system designer for Custom Theater and Audio, a CEDIA member organization in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.