Low voltage design and engineering documentation, ask for it.
Low voltage design and engineering documentation benefits

The Single Most Important Part of Your Home Technology System

Would you feel comfortable if a General Contractor told you he could build your dream home without a set of architectural plans? Of course not. As we all know, a house is very complex and is built from many different items: a foundation, framing, plumbing, electrical, windows, doors, a roof, and the list goes on.

How are all of these trades and systems going to come together successfully without a set of plans that these trades can collaborate from? The answer is obvious; it would be a disaster. Building the house without plans would take much longer to build, with many errors, a lot of change orders, would cause a lot of frustration, would cost more, and the end result would most likely not be what you expected. This article will show how this example compares to having home technology systems installed without the benefit and performance assurance of detailed design and engineering documentation provides.

Bringing this example to home technology systems, we have never had such a wealth of technology options to make homes safer, smarter, more entertaining, and more fun to live in. It is common to have TV’s, a Wi-Fi network, video cameras, thermostats, house-wide music systems, smart doorbells, smart door locks, alarm systems, smartphones, tablets, and even smart lighting systems and motorized shades in a home. Many of these technology systems are expected to work together seamlessly and be intuitive and straightforward to use. This is no small task!

Device placement drawings - part of technology design and engineering documentationMuch like a home that is built with many different structural systems that require detailed planning and drawings from an architect, today’s electronic systems are a complex network of different electronic systems that need to be carefully planned well in advance of installation. Like a home’s architectural plans, your home technology pro should create detailed design and engineering documentation for your project. Since this often involves coordinating with other trades, such as electricians, HVAC (climate) contractors, architects, general contractors, and many times interior designers, these drawings serve as the way to coordinate product locations and requirements efficiently.

How important is this documentation? When creating the standards for HTA Certification, many electronics manufacturers were interviewed to determine what common factors they observed in successful technology installation firms; the firms that routinely make their clients happy. One of the key factors determined was that the best firms created detailed design & engineering documentation. Firms that generate this documentation were able to install the technology systems more efficiently, had less change orders, fewer problems, and were able to service the systems more efficiently when a problem happened. All of this adds up to happier clients that love the added convenience, safety, and entertainment factors that their home’s technology systems provide them.

As such, the HTA has set the bar high for HTA Certified home technology professionals. In order to qualify for HTA Certification at the Luxury and Estate tiers, home technology firms must offer and be able to provide, at minimum, the following design & engineering documentation:

Equipment rack drawings - part of technology design and engineering documentation1. Line diagrams or I/O (input/output) sheets

This documentation defines all of the wiring connections between the various electronic components. In cases where a home control system (aka “smart home” or “home automation”) will control home amenities supplied by other contractors (such as HVAC, pools/spas, landscape lighting, etc.), connections to these systems need to be defined, too. This ensures everyone’s efforts are coordinated and clearly defines each contractor’s scope of work.

2. Electrical Requirements

Your electronic systems’ power needs should never be left to an educated guess. If you value reliability and performance, be sure your home technology pro defines the power requirements needed by all of the technology systems they will install. The calculated power requirement documentation then needs to be shared early with your electrician or electrical engineer for it to become part of their specification. This one item alone can solve pesky reliability problems and expensive-to-fix change orders.

3. Cooling Requirements

Electronics produce heat, and the reliability and longevity of electronics drop off dramatically when kept in confined spaces without adequate cooling and ventilation. Your home technology pro can and should calculate the heat load of your electronic systems and then determine how best to cool them. On larger systems, this often involves coordinating with the HVAC contractor to make sure equipment rooms / component rack locations stay cool. The best companies always plan out how to keep equipment locations cool and equipment safe.

Component wiring drawings - part of technology design and engineering documentation4. Component Rack drawings

To keep your electronic component wiring tidy and for ease of service, your home technology pro will almost always recommend using electronic component racks that the components securely mount within. These come in various heights, some with casters and some that can pull out of cabinetry and then swivel (for servicing). Like everything else we have discussed so far, how the components are arranged in the rack(s) should not be left to chance or figured out at the last minute. Rack drawings force your technology pro to “think through” the shortest wiring paths and the best way to arrange the components for ease of servicing and heat dissipation.

5. Prewire & Device Placement drawings

Especially on new construction and major remodel projects, it is extremely helpful to have your technology integrator create prewire & device placement drawings. What are device placement drawings? Once your technology pro gets a copy of the floorplan from your architect or general contractor, they will then place icons representing the home’s technology systems on the floor plan. This helps everyone visualize where TV’s, speakers, wall controls, Wi-Fi access points, security cameras, etc. will be. These drawings also reveal which wires need to be run to which locations, and which locations will benefit from the addition of empty conduit to allow for future upgrades or expandability.

When these drawings are produced early in a project, they can be shared with other trades, often with aesthetic benefits. For example, if you will have a smart home system, you can opt to have wall controls such as thermostats, security keypads, and pool/spa controllers placed not on public area walls, but instead in convenient-to-access closets. Interior designers love the reduction in “wall acne”!

Not all home technology installation companies are large enough to support an in-house designer/engineer to create these drawings, though it is fairly common for these installation pros to use a 3rd party engineering firm to create them.

The HTA highly recommends such documentation for any sizeable project, especially with smart home projects and projects where the overall technology budget is indicated at $50K or more (use the HTA’s technology budgeting tool to determine your technology needs by clicking here). Even a fairly basic surround sound system for your Living Room will benefit from this documentation. Be sure to ask for a quote for this documentation, it will be one of your best technology system investments.

Room-by-room technology system matrix - part of technology design and engineering documentationAdditional Benefits

Here are additional benefits that result from design and engineering documentation:

  1. Your technology pro will be prompted to “think through” complete system functionality well before installation, with the benefit of catching potential performance issues and possible product omissions.
  2. Other contractors who are affected by home technology systems (climate, pool/spa, fountains, etc.) are informed in advance of home control system integration. Not only do these contractors appreciate the early coordination and wiring diagrams, but your technology pro is also able to confirm that the products they specify are compatible with your future control system. Any adjustments that need to be made in product spec can happen early, saving time, cost, and frustration later on.
  3. Having each technology system’s design and construction details fully documented allows these systems to be assembled/disassembled efficiently. The drawings serve as the “instructions” to build the technology systems. This prevents misinterpretation by the installing technicians about how the components are to be wired to each other and also to other contractor’s systems (climate, pool/spa, fountains, etc.)
  4. For technology systems to be serviced efficiently, project documentation helps your technology pro determine quickly where in the signal path a fault might be, without them having to figure out again exactly how the components are connected. This leads to lower service bills. Remember, technology is imperfect and will need future service!
  5. If the original installing technology company goes out of business, your technology systems’ documentation will allow another company to step in and service your technology much more easily.
  6. When all connections are defined in advance, the control system programming / configuration can be created many weeks ahead of final installation. This shortens the length of time this step takes to complete “onsite” at the home.

Though design & engineering documentation adds up-front costs to your technology project, it is money well spent. Overall final installation costs are often higher without this documentation due to installation inefficiency. Long-term costs will almost always be higher without project documentation once service calls and future upgrades are factored int.

Our research has shown that in over 95% of technology projects, no final engineering documents are ever created! The Home Technology Association is raising the bar in the home technology installation industry by highlighting to you, the consumer, the need for such documentation, and then highlighting the best installers in the industry, HTA Certified firms, that offer and can supply it. Find HTA Certified integrators by clicking here.