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Finding and Selecting the Right Contractor

Selecting a contractor for any project isn't easy unless you personally know one whose work you trust, or have seen the work of a recommended contractor. The selection of a contractor is directly tied to the end result that you are going to achieve. We wanted a contractor who was skilled in home network connections, and one who also understood the complexity of enterprise computer networks and the installation of Ethernet in a network, as well as our conceptual environment and our desire to integrate the Ethernet, telephone, and coaxial into our "wired" lifestyle.

We first "let our fingers do the walking." Under the listings for Computer Cabling we found a number of contractors. The problem was that most of those who responded had neither home installation experience nor the financial incentive to work on a home installation, considered a "small" job by their standards. Some of the contractors didn't even return our calls; some who did call back failed to show. One of the contractors suggested that we might do better if we looked for a contractor specializing in home automation.

We had heard the term "Home Automation" previously, but since our primary focus is on the network side, we were apprehensive to hire a home automation contractor for several reasons. One thing that concerned us was that a home automation contractor would try to sell us things that we didn't need or want. Our fears were fairly justified, since several home automation contractors that we met had very little networking experience. Their knowledge of computer networking might be described as "basic," at best.

Several had adequate knowledge of the home theater component that we wanted installed, and offered some great ideas for improving our home theater design by adding remote controlled blinds and lighting features. While this sounded really attractive, from a financial perspective we were not ready to go for it. This might be a future option, but for now our focus is on Ethernet, telephones, and coaxial.

After talking with more than forty contractors, we narrowed the list down to six. We invited each one to come to the house and look over our plans. During the time that we were interviewing contractors, an interesting twist of fate occurred. We mentioned our networking plans to long-time THG reader Jim Dietz (who happens to be the Director of Operations at the company where my wife is employed), and he suggested that we contact Newcome Electronic Systems, the contractor he uses for all of the company's on-site cabling needs. Jim further said that Newcome had diverse experience in complex network installations and might be closer to what we were looking for. In the meantime, we proceeded with the bids we had scheduled and had discussions with each of the other contractors.

Jim arranged for us to speak with Tim Newcome, the owner of Newcome Electronic Systems (www.newcome.com), and after an initial conference call, we thought Newcome might be able to provide a solution for our needs and budget. We arranged for Tim to come out. Due to the short time frame before our move-in date, we knew that our decision needed to be made quickly.

The Contractor Arrives

Upon arriving, Tim went over the basics we had already covered in our phone discussion. He brought along one of his lead engineers and project managers so that we could discuss the process and arrive at a plan for implementation. One of the unique things Newcome presented over other contractors we had spoken with was that they have specialists in the company that handle professional cabling, as well as home theater/ home automation. After a few minutes of discussion we concluded that Tim's company could provide exactly what we were looking for.

The complexity of your installation will dictate the type of contractor you need. We recommend that you look for a contractor who is willing to work with you to realize your vision of the finished product. It is important to find out the type of products they use, the extent of experience they have in home installation, and most importantly, to verify that they are insured. Compare the bids, the materials, their schedule for completion and how they propose the finished product will look.

The end product explanation is probably most important: for example, many of the bids we received did not include the installation of the satellite dish and the reporting and testing of all of the network jacks, factors that we considered very important. Most importantly, find out what kind of warranty they offer on the installation and the parts installed. Remember, the installed parts may be covered by a separate warranty beyond the warranty provided for the labor itself.

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