7 Questions to Ask Your Electronic Systems Contractor

First of all … let’s get real. electronic systems contracting is a young, fragmented industry with a “hit and miss” reputation amongst its practitioners. Homeowners need to be judicious in their vetting of integrators in order to ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises in their future. Here are seven questions you should ask prospective integrators to help with your selection.

Question #1: What are your licenses, certifications, and insurance credentials?

This may seem elementary, but take the time to ask. It is an important step in verifying that your integration contractor is an established “by the book” professional. Each state has its own licensing requirement for low voltage contractors–in some states it’s as easy as typing in the company name in the state’s website search field to verify that their license is valid.

Ask if they can provide bond and/or insurance documentation as well. If they have no bonding or insurance, that’s unacceptable.

Question #2: Can you demonstrate how my touch screen interface would look and function?

The only way to ensure that you will be happy with your new home automation systems is to actually use it. Touch the screen yourself, navigate the pages, play around, and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You wouldn’t buy a car without driving it would you?

From a homeowner’s point of view, the user interface, also known as control device, is the heart and soul of your system. It is the thing you hold, touch, swipe, and view while you are operating your home. If the interface doesn’t feel right, or it it’s confusing or awkward, you will not be happy.

Although it is always best to demo a user interface at an actual home or showroom (where you can see the magic happen) you can also get a feel for the system by just navigating the pages of a touch screen, keypad, or hard button remote away from the system it was designed to control. This option is often the most viable since many competent integration contractors do not have showrooms or are unable to arrange visits to their clients’ homes.

Question #3: Can you provide examples of your Design Documentation?

There are a few types of documents that home integration contractors use to communicate their design to clients, crew and other trades. Device Location Floor Plans, Connectivity Drawings, Wire Schedules, and Rack Elevations are all examples of home integration design documents.

There is no standard set of documents your contractor must have; they should however, have some graphical representation of their design. If your contractor relies on text and verbal communication exclusively with clients, crew and fellow tradesmen, it is, most often, inadequate for jobs involving pre wire, installation and automation of multiple systems.

Question #4: Who owns my programming source files?

Oftentimes integration contractors exercise their intellectual property rights by maintaining possession of the source files for their programming of your home’s automation system. In a situation where the homeowner wants to transition the programming to another company, this can be a contentious and potentially expensive proposition.

It is, therefore, important to know where your potential contractor stands on this issue. If they are inflexible and can offer no reasonable and affordable way to transition the source files to another integrator, then you may want to reconsider using that contractor.

Question #5: What are your company vitals?

This is general and historical information about the company. Here are a few questions you might ask.
• How many years have you been in business?
• How many employees to you have?
• What services, if any, do you outsource?

If the answers to these questions indicate that you are dealing with a small and/or young company, don’t jump to conclusions. There are many small companies that subcontract certain skills but still perform exceedingly well. Use this information, along with your gut impression of the company, to form your final choice.

Question #6: Can you provide references?

Although this takes a little effort, calling at least 3 references can give you valuable feedback you would not get otherwise. Here is a list of questions you might ask when making these referral calls.

• What work did the contractor perform for you?
• Did the contractor meet or exceed your expectations?
• How did the contractor treat your home while they were there?
• Was the contractor punctual?
• How well did the contractor communicate?
• Have you had any issue with your system, post installation and, if so, how did the contractor address the issue?
• If you could change one thing about your experience with the contractor, what would it be?

Question #7: What is your company’s approach to service and maintenance?

Remember, this is potentially a long-term relationship! Due to the inherent complexity and system diversity within home integration installations, you are almost certain to have issues pop up from time to time. How integration contractors address your post installation issues and desires is critical.

Ask if the contractor offers a routine maintenance contract? Know what their service rates are? Are there service charge minimums to visit your home?

Another very important thing to know is whether they offer any remote access troubleshooting, maintenance, and/or programming. We now have the ability to monitor, troubleshoot, program, and even power on and power off devices remotely. This eliminates the cost of “rolling a truck” out to your home–which is the least efficient and costliest method of addressing home integration and home automation issues.

So…there you have it! Seven sure-fire ways of “peeking under the hood” before you commit your hard-earned dollars to an integration contractor. Apply this little bit of due diligence and you will be able to choose your integration contractor with confidence and peace of mind.