The Custom Installer: Keep it Moving! Page 2

A modern A/V distribution system has many components, and they need to have a place to go. If your home is large enough for a dedicated equipment room with gear-filled racks, then you're in the lucky minority. Most people, however, house their electronics in cabinetry that's typically built by another trade. Beyond needing the equipment list and the dimensions for the gear, the cabinetmaker must consider thermal issues. Also, how much weight will the cabinet have to hold? How many shelves will it need? How much space will be required for wire management? Besides assisting with this, the custom installer is often called upon to help design the cabinetry. Even then, everything doesn't always go smoothly. I'm in the middle of a project where the homeowner has decided to add a mop closet exactly where our 7-foot audio rack was going to be placed. The builder should have impressed upon the client the ramifications of this change, but didn't. An on-site meeting between the builder, the cabinetmaker, and me produced a workable alternative that kept everything on track, however.

MEETING WITH OTHER TRADES It might be necessary to meet with the HVAC contractor, especially if the automation system will be integrated with the HVAC system or if there are special cooling requirements. The project manager will also need to plan any outdoor audio with the pool builder and landscaper. Time needs to be scheduled to meet with the cable-TV, phone, and Internet providers to integrate their services into the A/V system. Working with interior designers is becoming more common, and they often want to go over the system layout from their entirely different perspective, checking it out for things such as size, location, and color choices.

MEETING WITH THE HOMEOWNER Beyond the initial design meetings, the project manager and the homeowner will stay in touch via personal meetings, phone calls, e-mail, and faxes. Homeowners will sometimes make requests that need to be researched, such as getting the specifications or dimensions for any gear they already own. It isn't unusual for these components to be in storage during construction, forcing the project manager to do some digging to uncover the needed information.

Some homeowners wonder why they should have to pay for all of the above. Aren't these services part of the installation job? Yes, they are part of the job - and just like any other service that the installer provides, they need to be billed.

As gear prices continue to fall (and profit margins erode along with them), there just isn't room for an installer to do all these "little things" for free - especially when he factors in the cost of a storefront, employees, insurance, vehicles, and so on. Time definitely is money, and when an installer is at your house - even if he's just checking to see that an electrical outlet was installed - he's not at someone else's house. Generally, project management fees are charged as a percentage of the total job.

At the end of the installation, a good project manager helps ensure that problems are headed off early. This is especially important when building trades are increasingly busy - and when a hiccup in the schedule of one contractor might mean delaying that important work for a week. Or more.

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