The HTA Design Partner Designation
A common challenge many integrators face is being brought to a project too late. Once the clients learn late in the build what their technology options are, they are faced with either performance and aesthetic compromises, or expensive change orders from related trades that will also impact the project’s completion date. Nobody is happy. These problems could have been avoided if the integrator was consulted early in the project.
To help change this situation, the Home Technology Association has created two different ways qualified integrators can build trust with specifiers (architects, interior designers, and general contractors) and become one of their most valuable team partners that is brought to their projects early:
- the consumer-facing HTA Certification standard, the standard of excellence for home technology integration firms. This puts HTA Certified integrators in a different class; legitimately differentiating themselves from the subpar crowd.
2 - the new 'HTA Design Partner' designation that HTA Certified dealers may opt into, launching in Q4 2022. This optional designation takes the extra step of addressing many of the concerns architects, interior designers, and general contractors have with referring integrators to their projects.
The HTA Design Partner program is a set of professional guidelines for technology integrators to adhere to. These guidelines serve as a framework for design and project collaboration that will best serve the needs of the client, the integrator, and each trade partner member. When an integrator partners with the architect, designer, and builder early in the process, everyone wins, and the client gets maximum enjoyment from their technology systems.
The goal of the HTA Design Partner and the complementary HTA Technology Partner program for trade partners (HTA Technology Partner program details here) is to create a framework for mutually beneficial relationships between qualified integrators and trade partners. This will establish qualified integrators as vital design team partners to architects, interior designers, and builders. It addresses problems often cited by these vital trade partners that keep them from referring integrators. The result of this program is that qualified integrators will be brought to projects early for consultation and technology design. The public-facing page that explains what an HTA Design Partner is at this link.
Below are the guidelines as established by the Home Technology Association. With full acceptance, an HTA Certified integrator will receive the HTA Design Partner designation on their HTA company profile page and will receive the associated logo for use in marketing.*
HTA Certified Integrators, CLICK HERE to Opt In
HTA Design Partner Guidelines:
1 – Consultation & Design
The integrator must offer and be able to provide design and engineering documentation, either in-house or have an established working relationship with a 3rd party provider (the HTA can supply 3rd party resources). Documentation to include:
a. Device placement drawings
This documentation provides a basis for coordination with other trades. This includes placement of visual items such as speaker locations, TV locations, wiring head-end, thermostats, remote temperature sensors, equipment racks, lighting & shading wiring panels, wall controls (keypads, touchscreens, etc.), surveillance / doorbell cameras, access controls, motorized shading locations, and lighting fixture locations (if supplied by the integrator), etc.
b. Rack drawings
Establishes how much space is needed for the technology systems so the design and build teams allocate enough space.
c. Electrical requirements
To include all the integrator-supplied or managed system’s power requirements, location of outlets, the need for any dedicated circuits, grounding requirements if needed, etc. Includes electrical needs of any installed systems by the integrator, such as lighting control systems, motorized shades, screens, projectors, lifts, etc.
d. Cooling requirements
For both electronic equipment locations and specialty rooms such as a home cinema. Includes BTU calculations. Includes equipment head ends and any place electronics will be in confined spaces. For high-end theaters, requirements for air handling volume and noise will take special design that needs to be shared with other design and trade professionals. The integrator can take on these design requirements, if qualified, or engage/refer a theater design specialist to the design and build team.
e. Prewire plan
For all systems installed and managed by the integrator and any wiring for communication to controlled systems that may not be installed by the integrator (alarm, climate, pool/spa, gate controls, battery backup, etc, including lighting and shading if not installed by the integrator). This will reveal if any conduits are required for “future proofing” or to exterior locations / outbuildings.
f. Framing requirements
For speaker locations, blocking for TV mounting, recesses for TV mounting, motorized screens, lifts, low-voltage backboxes, etc.
g. Wi-Fi heat maps
h. Shade pocket requirements
We recommend using a document sharing platform to allow all affected parties to access the most up to date set of plans (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.). Notify all parties when an update is made. This avoids surprises on site.
2 – Contract
Only commence work with a signed contract that clearly defines payment terms and what products and services the integration firm is providing. Define functionality of the systems so that there is no place for assumptions that can cause friction later.
3 – Project Management
The architect, builder, and interior designer need to know who the project team players are in your firm and who to reach out to for what specific information. This should be communicated in writing and shared with all necessary staff of the architect, interior designer, and builder.
Commit to respond to any RFI within 24 hours on business days. If the RFI includes a request that necessitates reaching out to others that may require more than a 24-hour turnaround, notify the requester to acknowledge their request, and continue to follow up regularly until the RFI is satisfied.
4 – Design Collaboration
Reach out to the project’s designers, especially the design or build professional who referred you, to share and discuss any visually-noticeable technologies, such as video displays, speakers, controls, cameras, etc. Beyond eliminating misunderstandings that could develop later, such coordination will help you select appropriate speaker sizes / technologies that match architectural lighting, select shading that complements the interior design, figure out solutions for hiding displays (if desired), allow a discussion for flush-mounting certain items luxury control interfaces, decide the most appropriate keypad finishes, and more.
5 – Proactive Communication
Be proactive in communicating with all affected trades. Beyond the architect, interior designer, and general contractor, this includes the electrician, HVAC contractor, framer, pool/spa contractor, lighting designer, custom furniture maker, landscape architect, etc. Share any documentation that will affect them.
6 – Customer Service
Have your customer service and warranty policies in writing and ready to share (typically in the contract). Poor customer service and aftercare support is where many firms have dropped the ball. Sharing your service policies will instill confidence and define the working relationship.
7 - Punch List Completion
Make it a high priority to finish the project completely. Do not let the last 5% completion hurt your relationship with the client and the project’s trade partners.
8 - Hand-Off Meeting
Schedule a hand-off meeting with the homeowners and any others they may invite (staff, babysitter, etc.) to show them how to “run the home” and who to call if there is an issue.
9 - Communication & Respect
All interaction with the clients should portray the project’s architect, designers, builder, etc. in a positive light. Handle any design problems behind with scenes with these trades, not in front of the clients.
10 - No Sales Pitches
When brought to the project by a trade partner, focus on education and informing the clients of their home technology options. Be committed to listening to the clients’ needs and not pushing product.
11 - Financial Relationship
HTA Certified integrators are worth hiring due to their excellence in technical ability, installation skills, and customer service. The Home Technology Association wants to ensure clients that HTA Certified integrators are being hired on merit and not on any concealed financial relationship. In other words, all monies paid to trade partners by the integrator should be transparent to the end user. The following defines how trade partners can be financially compensated for bringing you to the project:
- General Contractor: When billing through a General Contractor, they will markup your services and products to the client typically at a set percentage to manage your portion of the project. There should be no payment directly to a General Contractor from an integrator for any other purpose.
- Architect: They may hire you as a consultant and may markup your consultation fees to the client. They may also charge project management fees to the client for their design collaboration work with you. There should be no direct fees paid to an architect for any other purpose.
- Interior Designer: An interior designer may hire you directly and add fees to your contract as they negotiate with the client. They may charge project management fees to the client for their design collaboration work with you. Also, you can offer interior-related products at a discount that an interior designer may mark up (cinema seating, motorized shading, motorized drapery, etc.). There should be no direct fees paid to an interior designer that are not transparent to the end user.
Further Recommendations to Maximize Professionalism and Respect
1 - charge for consultation, design & engineering. This is a distinct phase of work with its own set of deliverables. There is no guarantee that the client will hire you for the installation later. Charging for design elevates your professionalism (architects, lighting designers, and landscape architects do not give their designs for free, neither should you). You can credit back some portion (or all) of the design and engineering fee once the client purchases the systems from you if you wish to offer a concession. Click here to read a great article describing the many benefits of design and engineering documentation that will help them understand why this documentation is so important.
2 – the best integration firms have three distinct phases of services for every project:
1 – consultation & design
2 – installation / commissioning of technology systems
3 – ongoing customer support / maintenance
The HTA highly encourages explaining this fact in your marketing materials, discussions with trade partners, and on your website. Both trade partners and clients benefit by understanding that hiring an integrator is a long-term relationship, much like the relationship an interior designer establishes with the client. Establishing the ongoing customer support / maintenance aspect of your company will help clients and trade partners understand your commitment to providing excellent customer service. As such, the HTA has created an alternate HTA Design Partner logo that includes the words DESIGN | DEPLOY | MAINTAIN to highlight these three phases of your company. You can use services like OneVision or Parasol to help with customer service.
3 – lead with systems that are of higher interest to most architects and interior designers, such as lighting & shading. If you are offering wellness and energy management solutions, these are also of high interest to the trades. Trade partners are typically not excited about audio/video and controls, though these systems are easy to bring up once invited to the project. Lead with what they care about.
4 – learn the definitions (at this link) of the following three key architectural design terms so you can understand their terminology and workflow (ideally, you will be engaged by architects at the “SD” phase of design):
- “SD” (Schematic Design)
- “DD” (Design Development)
- “CD” (Construction Drawings)
5 – share the HTA’s Project Technology Assessment forms with all of your trade partner contacts. This was created for specifically to help them bring you to their projects early. The feedback about this document from architects, designers, and builders has been great.
6 – have your staff get CEDIA certifications, including becoming a COI (Certified Outreach Instructor) so you/they can offer CEUs to architects and designers.
7 - have staff get recommended vendor-supplied certifications (control systems, lighting, shading, audio, etc.)
8 - Interior Designers generally do not appreciate being called an interior ‘decorator’. An interior designer and an interior decorator are two different designations. If you are not sure of the designation of your interior designer partner, it is best to err on the side of caution and refer to them as an interior designer.
9 - join local trade partner association chapters and be active with them. Attend their meetings and you will meet new trade partners and can form long-lasting productive relationships. A list of trade partner associations is at this link.
* The HTA Design Partner designation is only available to HTA Certified integrators that opt-in. HTA Certified integrator requirements are listed here. To apply for HTA Certification, click here.
HTA Certified Integrators, CLICK HERE to Opt In