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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Tracking the Mega Job: Part 1: Spec Out

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM

We recently landed the biggest project in our company’s 18 year history – both in physical size of the home and in financial scope of the job – and I thought I would start a multi-part blog post chronicling the project over the next several months, the decisions I made in system design, the proposal process, the prewire, trim out and installation.

I have a feeling that many readers out there have custom install shops like my own – single location, sub 10-man operation – and do the lion’s share of their work in the sub $25,000 job space. As I’m sure many of you have, we’ve done our share of 6-figure projects over the course of our history, but these jobs are (sadly) atypical. Almost every project that we do involves some major budget restrictions, and – let’s be honest – it is incredibly fun to be able to work on a project where the fetters and bonds of a tight checkbook can be broken and you can spec in the things that really make an awesome system.

This home is being built by a husband and wife team – Rod and Sandy – that we have worked with previously. In fact, prior to this job, the biggest project that I had done was with Rod and Sandy. (You can read a feature on that installation here.)

This gave us a great advantage on this project because the builder had worked with us previously and knew the quality of our work, and had also seen – for several years – our customer follow-up and support.

One of the things that we pride ourselves on is not holding up the project; we will do whatever we can in our power to meet your deadline. With this project, the timeline was really compressed, with the homeowner wanting to move in by November – within a year of the groundbreaking!

Rod gave me a set of the plans and it honestly didn’t really seem too impressive. Even though it said 1/8-inch scale (instead of the typical ¼-inch) it just looked like just a regular house. But then I put a scale ruler on the page and saw that the house is almost 250-feet from one side to the other! And the house is 21,500 square feet under roof. On one floor. It also sits on 4 acres of property just back from the ocean.

I took a trip up to the jobsite to walk-thru and get an idea of the feel of the job and the layout and the construction and my first words were literally, “Oh…my…DAY-UM!” It was immense. Literally overwhelming. With the stud walls it is impossible to see from one side of the house to the other, but to give you an idea of the size of the house, here is a picture inside the basement with me standing against one wall, and my installer, Marc, standing against the other wall. He is over 6-feet tall:

Obviously having a full and massive basement was going to be a huge advantage on this project, allowing us to run wire far more quickly and in much shorter lengths than if we had to go up over and down to everything. But even still, with the security – cameras and alarm panel – all going on one extreme side of the home, wiring lengths were something we had to take into account, especially on camera power. The exterior of the house is all poured ICF, and the home has really high ceilings, 12-feet or more in all the bedrooms and over 30 in the kitchen and family room. In fact, the family room and kitchen alone are like 150% bigger than my entire house! The family room ceiling has some amazing wood beam detail:

The homeowner is quite busy and travels a lot – I’ve actually yet to meet with her. Yes, I said her. Just blew your preconceptions, didn’t I? – so I talked to Rod and Sandy for a bit and tried to gauge what they were looking for in the home. They wanted something very user friendly but also high-tech and fitting a home of this size and scope. There would be principally three people living in the home and they would all need to have independent control over their own viewing and listening. They said that they homeowner does a lot of entertaining – not unusual to have 50 or more guests over – and that the backyard area would be a real focal point with lots of gatherings and a massive double-level swimming pool. They specifically mentioned wanting an awesome home theater and said that a budget of $90,000 for the theater wouldn’t scare them.

After walking through the job and getting a sense of the space, I came back to my showroom and just stared at the plans. Where to begin? This house was just intimidating to even think about.

Click here to continue reading the story at Residential Systems and read about the system design I selected for Mega Job...

Categories: April 2013, CTA

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Reply David
9:48 PM on April 18, 2013 
I am on the edge of my seat for the next installment. I have already gleaned a lot from this and am looking forward to the sales approach you took. I am working on a 14k sqft house now that has 27 displays and this customer wants them all independently operated. I have stressed over the "pitch" of this bid for a while now.
Reply John Sciacca
10:55 AM on April 19, 2013 
David says...
I am on the edge of my seat for the next installment. I have already gleaned a lot from this and am looking forward to the sales approach you took. I am working on a 14k sqft house now that has 27 displays and this customer wants them all independently operated. I have stressed over the "pitch" of this bid for a while now.

Hope that my experience gives you some ideas on how to manage your own "mega job." What do they want to view on each of the TVs? Controlling them should actually be fairly easy, and could be done by a variety of companies -- Control4, URC, Crestron, AMX, RTI.... Hope your job goes well and thanks for reading!
Reply Richard Fregosa
1:07 PM on April 19, 2013 
Here's the full text of what I tried to write on Resisys, but my word count got cut off (imagine that)

I think your design approach was very well thought out and extremely practical. The hardest part (and generally the most painful lessons learned) by an integrator that doesn't often find themselves working on a "mega project" is they stray away from "playing within themselves", meaning the thoughts of dollar signs overshadows their ability to actually deliver in the end. Kudos for being focused and disciplined on what I think is the key between success and failure on projects like this.

It sounds like you've got a good foundation across the board, my .02 for what it's worth - if you can't create a conduit network, invest in a fiber backbone. I repeat - invest in a fiber backbone - this will give you some serious flexibility over the life of not only the project, but of the lifetime of the home itself. The cost of fiber is in the termination, not the cable itself. When you're dealing with a multimode cable, I think it's come down to maybe a buck a foot. You solve a lot of problems now and problems that you potentially have yet to face. (Ground potentials, distance limitations for higher bandwidth requirements over time, protection from lightning strikes back feeding from remote locations)

I am truly happy for you and your team getting the opportunity to work (and learn) on a project like this. The experiences gained (both good and bad, and trust me there will be some bad along the way, it's the nature of the beast) will be invaluable

This is a whole new sandbox you're jumping into and there's a logarithmic jump in the complexity across the board - from internal and external communication to documentation to deployment to after the install contingency plans. My additional advice is to aggressively work with your vendors and manufacturer partners every step of the way. Identify the specific use cases as much as you can in detail and let your manufacturers help you do some of the heavy lifting.

I'm excited to read about your progress over the coming months and I wish you nothing but the best of luck and success, *and* if you ever need any advice from someone who's fought in these trenches a lot over the past two decades I'm always at your service.


Rich "Uncle Richie" Fregosa
R.A. Fregosa Electronic Interiors
Reply DW
1:48 PM on April 19, 2013 
Since I spoke with you on the phone just before you met with the clients, I feel like I am personally responsible for the size of the project. You're welcome...
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