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Technology
All Systems Go

“Intelligent design” means, for homeowners, working with their architect and systems integrator early in the design process to ensure that the home’s electronic systems are up to date and work well together | BY Alex Sulpizi

Anyone who jumps into implementing a home-technology system without careful planning will soon appreciate the value of intelligent design.

Installing, say, a security or music system—indeed, any technology—into your home without the help of a systems integrator would be like telling your general contractor to dig the foundation before the architect had settled on the shape of the building. Lack of planning for incorporating your home-technology system will cost you money and result in systems that are poorly integrated. For example, you may end up with a TV that requires five different remotes and a master’s degree to operate; a security system that doesn’t fit the requirements of your lifestyle; or the need to reopen a wall after the house is fully painted to get that one feature that you really wanted.

Your architect uses information about your lifestyle and taste preferences to create a design for your home. That design drives the work of your general contractor. But where does home technology fit into the process? Indeed, what is home technology? “Smart home,” “home automation,” “systems integration”—do they all mean the same thing? Ultimately, yes, but having so many industry labels is confusing to the homeowner. 

Does “home technology” mean having one or more computers that connect to the Internet? Does it refer to a robust remote control that turns on the TV and DVD player while simultaneously dimming the lights and lowering the shades? Or does it refer to the colorful wires that run behind the walls and connect to a central control box in the basement? “Home technology” can include any of these things. This article, however, focuses on “home systems integration”—that is, the intelligent interconnection of the home’s electronic systems—including, to name a few, security, climate control, media room, whole-house audio, and lighting.

There are many practical benefits to making this smooth connection. A well-thought-out plan, with detailed design and specification documents drawn up early in the architect’s design process, will save you time and money. Making your technology decisions early and carefully, with a view to coordinating the systems (rather than buying and installing products haphazardly), will ensure that your integrated system meets your needs and is reliable and easy to use. Up-front planning will let your architect make sure that your technology is as invisible as you want it to be. Planning also keeps each member of the project team in sync and allows proactive participation from mechanical contractors, who often have technology options and upgrades available. Knowledge about what’s available will prevent those last-minute decisions on technology that interrupt the normal flow of construction and produce costly delays. When the systems to be controlled have been carefully designed to work together, integration of all your home systems becomes much more cost-effective.

If you have a finished home, must you live with badly coordinated electronic systems? Fortunately, no: Many houses built in the past five years have had some type of structured cabling installed. If your house was built recently, chances are that it came with a feature like whole-house music or flat-panel TVs, but they probably weren’t part of an integrated technology plan. In recently built houses with such features, home systems integration can be done! Indeed, such houses may be suitable for the installation of the same powerful systems that are going into new custom homes.

Getting It Done
Okay, you’re ready to go for home systems integration. You’ll need to hire a certified systems designer/integrator. This professional will educate you on your options and design a system that utilizes the appropriate technologies and defines the wiring needed to support them. Many designer/integrators are also equipped to install the various technology systems and provide ongoing maintenance, coordinating with all of your trusted service providers, such as your fuel, HVAC, and pool service providers.

If you’re fortunate enough to know someone who has an integrated system and is happy with it, ask for a recommendation. But if you don’t have a source, you can turn to the industry trade associations for leads. (You’ll find my article, “How to Find a Systems Integrator,” on The Modern Estate’s Web site; this article provides the details you’ll need on matters like industry standards, industry certification, and the industry’s leading trade association, CEDIA. Visit themodernestate.com and search the Spring 2007 archives.)

Here are my suggestions for working with your certified systems designer/integrator:

1. Ask your designer/integrator to explain the features of each of the systems you are thinking of having installed—and to demonstrate their benefits. A full-service designer/integrator will have a showroom where you can experience the real-life benefits of having these technologies work together in a home (rather than just a showroom devoted to a single feature, like a home theater). It’s difficult to make a decision about what to integrate unless you experience the benefits of the systems’ working together.

2. Discuss general base costs of each system in order to establish a starting point for selecting the systems of interest. Your short- and long-term needs and desires, as well as budget constraints, will narrow the field. This important step will set the direction for your detailed technology plan and budget. It also identifies rewiring needs, so future systems can be seamlessly integrated or “phased in.”

3. The systems designer/integrator will draw up detailed design and specifications documents. This allows you to request appropriate technological upgrades from all of your project subcontractors or service providers. For example, does the latest thermostat model bring you any additional value, or does it overlap a feature already integrated into your system? The final documents will ensure that all subcontractors and service providers are coordinated around the specifications of the technology design, in the same way that the general contractor coordinates everyone around the construction plans.

4. Once your technology plan is completed you can more easily and accurately obtain pricing for only the systems you need and want.

5. You’re on your way to rewiring and implementation! Rest assured that your systems designer/integrator will keep everyone focused on delivering your technology plan and meeting your expectations.

A major benefit to a well-thought-out technology plan is that it lets you make educated choices that take into consideration your budget and lifestyle, identifying the current technologies that are right for you and planning for installation of the technology of the future. Whether your technology needs are simple or elaborate and your budget is small or large, starting with a plan is always a good idea. TME

Alex Sulpizi is founder and president of Amnet Technology Solutions, of Stamford, Connecticut, a firm that specializes in the design and installation of easy-to-use, integrated electronic systems for discerning residential and business markets. 203-355-2400; www.amnetsystems.com

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