Collaboration Success: 8 Tips for Home Tech Teamwork

Collaboration Success: 8 Tips for Home Tech Teamwork

A homeowner who was building a gorgeous home in Northeastern Pennsylvania contacted Stroudsburg, Pa.-based Pure Sight & Sound to provide audio inside and out, a basement media room, a family room surround-sound system, controls, and TVs big and small throughout.

Ed Kmetz, Pure Sight & Sound

The home was already under construction, and the schedule was moving rapidly. But Pure Sight & Sound President Ed Kmetz got to the site for a walk-through within days, kicking off what would ultimately be a successful home technology project.

In this article, Kmetz recaps this successful job, along with eight tips for ensuring success on your next smart home project.

1. Start early.
The home technology professional should make sure that everyone involved (the homeowner and other vendors) understands the basic home tech pro "modus operandi," the project goals and the ultimate users so that everyone has a level of comfort. In our case this conversation went something like this:
a) All electronic systems will work perfectly upon installation.

b) Anyone in the family, from age seven to 97, would be able to operate the systems with minimum training.
c) We would handle all follow-up calls from the homeowners on the systems we installed. The builder didn't have to be in the support loop unless he wanted to.

In a perfect world, the home tech pro is able to start at the architectural planning stage. By talking with the homeowners, getting a handle on their wishes and interviewing them on exactly who will be using the systems and how, the home tech professional in an excellent position to serve as a bridge to the architect or building designer. The home tech pro can communicate the things specific to this family that will allow the family the maximum enjoyment and use of the various electronic and control systems.

2. Talk with the other vendors.
Communication is absolutely key, and the earlier the better. The home technology pro has to be concerned with the many other "interested parties" who are part of the project - especially the builder, who is the quarterback of the entire project.

On this project, the other vendors involved included the builder, Hemlock Builders, coordinating interior and exterior carpentry/trim, insulation, electrical, plumbing, drywall, HVAC, siding, and masonry; the cabinet makers, Elite Woodworking; and the final designers, Salgado-Saucier.

3. Define challenges early.

The first obvious challenge from our standpoint was speaker location in the great room. The entire upstairs is wide open; with a 36" lam beam spanning the space, so speaker selection and placement was critical. We needed enough even coverage for great sound without overdoing it, all while staying within the owner's budget.

We also were tasked with concealing all the equipment, so once the equipment was agreed upon, we coordinated with the custom cabinet maker, Elite Woodworkers, to ensure we had enough room for equipment placement, wiring chases and adequate ventilation.

According to John at Elite, "On this job, we had the perfect arena...there were two knowledgeable contractors coordinating the A/V and cabinets, and the client left it up to us to figure out how to fit everything together."

4. Communicate with the people actually doing the work.

You may not see them face-to-face, so leave notes everywhere. In stud bays, you may space untouched for a screen or a speaker. Leave mud rings or notes that say "Nothing here." One of my favorite tools is the "X Spot" marking system where magnets indicate wiring locations so other vendors know to stay away from those spots, with stickers written in both English and Spanish.

5. Expect changes along the way.

Ralph Lemp, the owner of Hemlock Builders, impressed upon us that when they were ready for us, we needed to be there exactly on schedule because even a one-day delay in one part of the project may not mean just a one-day delay in the overall project - it can mean a delay of a week or more because of the difficulty in scheduling subcontractors. However, even with the best planning, things are going to change as the project moves forward, so be flexible.

6. Expect surprises along the way.

The biggest shock we got along the way was after the tongue and groove ceiling was installed, complete with speaker cutouts, we got a call from the original interior designer asking if we could move the ceiling speakers about a foot. Move the speakers? Anything's possible, but it would've been a monumental task, involving replacement of much of the ceiling. That designer soon left the project, and fortunately the final designers agreed that the speaker locations were just fine.

7. Remember the good vendors.

It's networking 101, but when you find good, competent, cooperative vendors, keep their contact information. You never know when you'll be able to help each other again in the future.

8. Follow up with the homeowner.

The homeowner had the last word on this project.

His only surprises were "the number of options and choices to make." But he felt that throughout the project, he was able to remain relatively hands-off.

"As long as there was coordination, I was happy to stay out of it."

Ed Kmetz is the President of Pure Sight & Sound, Inc., a home theater and automation design & installation company in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Contact Ed at (570) 992-2992.
From the Fall 2009 issue of Electronic Lifestyles® magazine.

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