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Things to Consider: A Guide to Contractor Selection

RESIDENTIAL SYSTEMS, INC.

Having a custom electronics system installed in your home may sound like a dream come true. Unfortunately for some, however, it can become a nightmare unless the proper due diligence is undertaken when selecting an audio/video installation company. RSI has prepared the following checklist for homeowners and builders to considering when selecting an Electronic Systems Contractor. Enjoy!

Due Diligence

It is very important for consumers to exercise appropriate due diligence with respect to an electronic systems contractor for many reasons:

  1. The underlying technologies change more rapidly than for other trades. This means you need to make certain you are protected for the future. It is unlikely you will want your other systems (plumbing, roofing, etc.) to change in the future. It is virtually certain you will want your electronic systems to be able to change to allow you to implement new technology in your home.
  2. The underlying technologies are less familiar to most homeowners and builders. If you are building, your builder will be familiar with other trades and be able to be your advocate in assessing the contractors. This is less likely with respect to the Electronic Systems Contractor.
  3. The requirements for other trades are typically detailed in construction documents or via municipal code. This provides an objective standard of performance. They are virtually never specified for electronic systems, due in part to the design/build nature of this trade. It is important that the systems contractor be able to design, document and build the systems.
  4. With other trades, it is relatively easy to find a replacement contractor to service or enhance what the original contractor installed. With electronic systems this is more difficult, in part due to the diversity of product and control alternatives; the more complex the system, the more difficult and expensive this becomes.
  5. The electronic systems industry is relatively new and many of the companies are relatively new. As in all business, the companies most likely to fail are those that are three or less years old.
  6. Most building departments do not inspect low voltage systems, other than fire detection, so there may be no knowledgeable independent third party verifying that the systems are properly installed.

Questions To Ask

There are several questions that any homeowner/builder should ask a prospective Electronic Systems Contractor:

  1. Is its pricing detailed, predictable and competitive?
  2. Is the proposed electronic system of appropriate scope, performance and functionality?
  3. Is the company’s approach to installation and service responsive, efficient and minimally invasive?
  4. Can the company complete the project?
  5. Has the company done this before?
  6. Can the company provide adequate service?
  7. Are you protected in the event the company fails during the project or after project completion?
  8. Do you have flexibility for the future?

Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation criteria you should use to help determine the answers to the above questions include:

  1. Are the company’s proposals specific so you know exactly what you are getting and what each element costs?
  2. Are there any costs that you may incur that are not in the contract price?
  3. Is the contract a fixed price contract or time and material? If the latter, what are the labor rates?
  4. What are the payment terms? Are you being asked to be a bank?
  5. What is the company’s warranty?
  6. Does the company offer all the systems you may be interested in, using its own resources?
  7. Was a rigorous system design and engineering process used to create your system design? Is it well documented?
  8. Have you carefully examined and are you comfortable with the user interface being proposed? Will it be easy to use? Is it flexible? Is it convenient? Does it do everything you want? This is a very important matter since this is how you will interact with the electronic systems in your home and will greatly influence the usability and daily value of the home to you.
  9. Does the company use products that are hidden or aesthetically pleasing?
  10. Does the company have the industry relationships to be informed of emerging manufacturer offerings and have the opportunity to provide them to their clients?
  11. Does the company offer 24/7 service?
  12. Does the company offer performance monitoring and maintenance via the Internet? This allows for proactive service and is less invasive than dispatching a technician.
  13. How long has the company been in business? In general, the longer a company has been in business, the longer it is likely to continue in business.
  14. Does the company have a legitimate business location with a credible demonstration facility? This suggests a commitment, maturity and lets you “experience” some of the systems you are contemplating.
  15. Has the company ever provided performance and payment bonds?
  16. Is it in good standing with the Secretary of State and the Better Business Bureau?
  17. What are the credentials of the Project Manager who will be assigned to your project?
  18. Is the company a member of CEDIA and does it have a CEDIA accredited training program?
  19. Does the company have ISF certified video calibration Technicians?
  20. Does the company have THX certified Technicians?
  21. Does the company purchase directly from its manufacturers or through distribution? Does it have manufacturer-trained staff?
  22. Does the company have experience on projects similar in nature to yours?
  23. What do the company’s financial statements say? Is the company profitable? Is the company liquid?
  24. What do the company’s references say? Check independent sources such as Google, Yelp, Yahoo!, CitySearch, etc…
  25. What are the company’s service hours? What is its average response time?
  26. How large is the company’s professional staff? Are they employees or subcontractors? Do they have company vehicles? Is it large enough to ensure installation and service continuity and effectiveness?
  27. What is the company’s insurance coverage? 

    (a) workman’s compensation

    (b) automobile liability

    (c) general liability

    (d) errors and omissions

  28. Have you reviewed the company’s completed project documentation? Is it sufficiently detailed and clear to support future service and enhancements?
  29. Do you own the underlying software when the project is complete? How will you receive confirmed as-built versions?
  30. Are the system architecture and components scalable and can they be upgraded?

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