Originally Posted by kewlly
I am moving into a 3BR apartment in Manhattan next year that's currently under construction. The apartment size is about 2000 sq feet....
I haven't done any research on Lutron yet, and I know it's not cheap, but I imagine I can build my own system with these components for a lot less than $50K.
My questions are:
1) Is this a reasonable quote for the type of work, or are they just trying to rip me off? Or is this just how much Crestron charges?
2) Is it really a big deal if I wait until the unit is built and the walls are up to do the wiring for the shades and lighting? The A/V wiring would be minimal as I wouldn't have a rack hidden somewhere, just a media stand underneath a mounted TV with a single HDMI going from the receiver to the TV through the wall.
Any insights and suggestions would be much appreciated.
Back to the topic at hand. I must tell you Kewlly, I hesitate to give you valuable advice. I don't like it when posters carelessly throw around pejoratives such as "rip-off" unless they can back it up with fact. I don't think you'd like it if I suggested that whatever you do for a living, you must be ripping someone off to afford a multi-million dollar apartment (yes that's what a luxury new construction 2000 sq-ft apartments cost in Manhattan these days - $1200 - $3000 per sq-ft). A middle class integrator shlub trying to make a living charging $50K and hoping for a modest profit for what is clearly a very substantial system judging by your own bill of materials, is unflattering to you, not the guy charging the $50K.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that in haste you were using poorly chosen jargon, and offer you this advice:
I think you should focus on a better question than whether $50K is too much for what you're getting. The correct question is: Will what I get for my money, no matter what I spend, be well installed and work well?
Off the top of my head, and full disclosure I'm doing educated speculating without seeing the details of your quote, $50K seems a bit of an undercharge for your extensive scope:
-audio and video distribution
That's a big project – especially in Manhattan where working is so difficult - and I’m not talking about parking and traffic, but about constricted space, rebar, a reflected ceiling plan that probably looks like a CAD of a NASA space ship wiring and plumbing diagram.
The tipoff that there's danger here of actually paying too little is the spec of the AES as another poster alluded to. For a complex system such as this, you should be getting a proper processor such as a CP3 or even a couple of CP3s, not an AES. Again, I haven't seen the quote – maybe you’re doing all wireless thermostats and wireless light switches and your distributed video is one zone. If not, an AES for a scope of this complexity is bad practice, in my judgment. It may be that the integrator is not skilled in system engineering or you gave him an unrealistic budget and he’s making the mistake of not telling you that you can’t do what you want to for $50K.
(The AES is also extremely limiting because you can’t do Core3, Crestrons new software platform. Everything Crestron is quickly moving to it. Core3 lets you do some very cool things such as the Apple “finger swipe” on your touch panel, “widgets” which are kind of like apps, and far simpler graphics programming and that means costs savings…among numerous major Core3 advantages. Yet, a Core3 processor such as the CP3 is just $1800. By comparison, the AES is $4100 with an Internet radio card or SiriusXM card, and is obsolete the moment it’s installed. Yes, you may save in the short run with the AES because it’s an all-in-one device, but long term it will cost you more as it increasingly becomes unsupported, or God forbid, it fails and you have no choice but to move to the Core3 platform.)
There's an old contractor and builder saying: It never costs too much to do it right. It costs too much if you have to do it twice. $100K well spent for a perfect system will leave you happy and unconcerned about the cost because you received something of great value for what you paid. $50K for a bad system will make you rue the waste of every penny.
The sad fact is that good integrators are called in all the time to do clean up jobs of poorly installed systems. And BEWARE: Clean ups are difficult, time-consuming, expensive work that is only moderately less costly than starting over from scratch. Imagine being told that you spent $50K, but that it's going to take $25K to $30K more in parts, labor, and programming – “Depending on what we find when we get in there and clean up the mess, so that figure might change” - to correct the issues with your system. Imagine you spent $350K and you’re being told it will cost another $160K to get it working correctly. It happens all the time. Trust me.
So then, how do you find a great integrator? That's the question. Some here say, get references and call all of them. That's the "Angie's List - Yelp" approach. And it's moderately helpful, but by no means foolproof. That’s because often times, the clients you contact will sanitize the truth - it's human nature - and say they're happier than they are. Half the time – no exaggeration - they don't even know that they received poor quality work.
Or, you get handed a list of the 5 clients who, unbeknownst to you, spent a lot and were given all of the firm’s attention. You don't get to talk to the other 95 clients who received short shrift because the firm’s resources were stretched beyond the limit. They can’t get their system completed, they can never get a phone call returned, they can’t their bill reconciled, making even the most minor changes takes weeks or months. Do you actually think you’ll get a list of names of client who would never hire the firm again? I assure that won’t happen.
So here are my two foolproof methods for guaranteeing that the integration firm you hire will do great work. Neither has been mentioned here yet:
1.Call Crestron for a recommendation. They'll give you a list of usually three firms that they highly recommend in your area. 1-888-Crestron
2.Ask to see photos of several of the firm's equipment racks. Not the front of the racks mind you; to a civilian, this is the easiest part for a poor firm to fake and make reasonably professional looking. No, you want to see the BACK of the racks.
If they look like the photos I'm posting here, you can be sure the quality of the work will be outstanding. Craftsmanship is compelling for good reason. But, if they look like the spaghetti mess of the other photos, run for the hills. (Parenthetically, I was taken by complete surprise considering the supposedly knowledgeable forum members here, at how many AVS-ers in another thread had no idea that the poor quality racks reflected completely unacceptable work. Hence my statement above that half of clients have no idea they received a poor system.)
To the above, I would also add the following caution especially for small market homeowners: You also should ask about the quality of the programming the firm does. Not easy to evaluate unless you’re a programmer yourself, and even then you wouldn’t be able to access to the lines of code even if you could decipher them – you’re not a dealer, so Crestron isn’t going to let you in the door.
But, dollars-to-doughnuts, any firm doing work of the quality and skill in the rack photos I've posted, isn't going to throw it away with poor programming practices. Still, you might ask the following:
1.How many programmers does the firm have? If they have a number of them, you're in good hands. If they have one or less - the owner does it on the side when he has time between trying to reconcile QuickBooks with the bookkeeper - be cautious.
2.If they honestly tell you that they sub the work out to specialists, that the code is perfect because it's being written by pros and that's all they do, you still need to be cautious. It probably is good code that you'll be getting, but the issue then is access and support.
While there are some very good firms out there specializing in Crestron programming, responsiveness generally isn't their strength. Let me paint an experienced picture for you. Let’s say you want to change one of your pre-programmed channel favorites on your Crestron touch screen or remote because your lovely cable TV company decided in its infinite wisdom that NFL Network was now going to be on channel 590 instead of channel 690 where it previously resided for years, so that now when you press your trusty NFL Network channel logo button, your system jumps to the latest “Sex in the City” marathon on “Lifetime,” which is now occupying the channel 690 slot. Grrr.
You call your trusty integrator and tell them what you need, and they call the Crestron “pros,” who say, “Great, send us a change order.” Your integrator is swamped with service calls and a big new project, but they get the change order out the next day. Because the Crestron pros are also swamped with big, more profitable work, sending the integrator a quote for this minor task takes a week. Eventually, the quote finally arrives and the integrator calls you. You’re astounded at the price to make the small change (not realizing that you’re paying travel costs for the out-of-town pros), but give the go-ahead because it’s been a week+ and it’s such a pain to have to manually enter 5-9-0 when you’re channel surfing back and forth. Convenience is the whole point of a Crestron system, isn’t it?
The integrator then calls the programming outfit and says we have the go-ahead. The pros say, “Great, we’ll send you a contract, please sign it, and we’ll get you on the schedule once we have the signed contract. Shouldn’t be more than 3 weeks.”
Well, you get the picture.
There’s gotta be an easier way. And there is…if the firm you hire has its own programming staff of at least two people.
And there is an easier way if you ask one more astute question of your prospective integrator: “Do you have IT people and have you set up your clients for remote access so that changes/upgrades/repairs often can be made by a programmer or tech logging into the system without even having to come to our home?”
Now, let’s say the integrator has never done that before, but how hard could it be, so he responds, “Sure, not a problem.” To which you should then follow up, “How will you set up remote access?” If the integrator doesn’t start his answer with, “We’ll set up a VPN…” and then continue with, “This is equipment we have tested and found to be reliable for rebooting components in your rack,” or worse he BS’s you with a story about respecting your privacy and not wanting to compromise the security of your home network, then run away. (FYI you’re not compromising the security of the client’s home network by making provisions for remote login because you’re accessing the Crestron network which is a completely separate and isolated network from the home network.)
Which brings up another topic for your consideration. So much of what automation firms do these days is directly tied to the quality of your wireless network. When you pick up your iPad to control your Crestron system, you’re hopping on your wireless network and counting on it to make a solid connection. If your wireless infrastructure is weak, the Crestron system isn’t going to be responsive no matter how well designed or programmed.
So, as another poster said, if you’re having doubts about spending the money for the full system right now, at least wire the crap out of your new home. Run shielded CAT5 everywhere, and make it at least a Siamese run to each room. You can use wire for future WAPs, for your hardwired network, for distributing video, etc. If you can afford the modest upcharge, even better to run shielded CAT6. Now, in Manhattan, you may be required to run plenum wire, so the cost may be not exactly cheap, but it’s still extremely modest by comparison to the cost of all the other things you’ll be doing: plumbing, electrical, millwork, decorating, etc. You don’t need to worry about running HDMI per se unless you are going to have a local cable box near the TV, or a local blu ray player in the room. We can send even 4K 3D over shielded CAT5/6 now with perfect connectivity.
Run speaker wire, too, if you think there’s ever a chance you’ll want speakers in a room and they won’t be Meridian speakers (which can run off shielded CAT5… but they do require electrical power). Again, it’s very cheap. You want 14-4, not 16-4, or 14-2. Precisely mark your plans where the speaker wire is located for future reference or put it behind a wall plate.
All these wires go back to the head end, of course. If you can, label them for ease of reference.
One last note, you should provide the wire, or have your integrator provide it to your electrician to run. Yes, the electrician will say that he can get it for less, but 9 times out of 10 it will be not great quality. I’ve always found it strange that almost all electricians don’t "get" AV and automation at all. You’d think it was the same skill set, but it’s not. Let them run your wire and pipe it where necessary, but by all means control what they’re installing by having you or your integrator provide it. Because once the walls are sheet-rocked, especially in Manhattan, getting a wire anywhere that it isn’t, is costly and will require paining and patching, or may not even be possible.
This has gotten ridiculously long. I do apologize. For more tips and cost saving measures, please PM me.Edited by PF - 9/8/13 at 2:50pm