Getting Home Tech Inspections

by George McKechnie

Smart Home Technology is a rapidly-developing field, with significant innovations announced each year.  For a home that’s even five years old, it’s likely that the electronic technology in place—and the infrastructure upon which it depends—is not optimized for top performance.  This is especially true for video.

This is why introducing the latest innovation into an existing system may not in itself improve the overall user experience.  While the benefits provided by these new technologies can be very significant, their dependence on an intact, up-to-date infrastructure plus properly-configured associated components means that many homeowners may not realize the performance or reliability they’ve paid for and expect. 

Here are some reasons why:

  • One or more components in a system are obsolete (TV with pre-UHD or even HD picture resolution), or lacking video or music streaming capacity, or limited by a Wi-Fi network that cannot provide the speed or coverage needed throughout the home. Such out-of-date gear can limit the performance or flexibility of new equipment introduced into that system.
  • The existing system(s) were not originally installed, configured, or programmed optimally.
  • Multiple systems may communicate with each other via an older, inefficient standard.
  • The original technology was installed on an infrastructure system (wired or Wi-Fi) that is now obsolete or damaged (see Structure & Infrastructure blog).

These shortfalls are important in two contexts:

Retrofit.  The homeowner wants to upgrade a TV, or add surround sound, or maybe expand the music system to include additional rooms in the home.   They discuss options with a salesman, and maybe even have a home tech specialist come out to the home to figure out how to optimize a TV or speakers for performance, or upgrade the Wi-Fi router for better speed and coverage.   This planning can be useful—up to a point.

But unless someone also inspects and performance tests the infrastructure wiring (the stuff in the walls and attic), maps out the wireless network range, and measures the actual delivered speed of the broadband connection to the house (from the utility pole), the homeowner is likely to be disappointed with the performance of his upgrades.  Why?  Because even the latest technology will deliver sub-par performance when installed on an inferior infrastructure, or connected to existing components that are obsolete or not optimized.  And correcting these latent problems on the fly slows down the new work, and usually winds up costing the homeowner more than originally estimated—sometimes a lot more!

Resale Purchase.  Many homes offered for sale today are advertised as including smart home features.  This may account for the new reality in residential real estate: older homes are generally harder to sell than newer ones, unless they include popular smart home features—like basic lighting control, a Wi-Fi network, and maybe an automated thermostat or front door lock.

When a Buyer zeroes in on a resale home which includes smart home features—especially advanced ones like a home theater, high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the home, or whole-house lighting control—they need answers to three important questions:

  • Do the Seller’s representations of smart home systems included in the sale match the Buyer’s understanding and expectations regarding these features;
  • To what extent are the systems optimized (or could easily be modified) to fit he Buyer’s needs; and
  • Is everything in good working order?

When purchasing a resale home offering smart home technology, obtaining a professional  inspection of these features is prudent.  Much like ordering a Pest Control or Home Appliance & Mechanical report, it’s simply an expression of due diligence on the part of the Buyer’s real estate agent to protect the interests of his client.

Home Tech Report.  Answering the above questions requires a systematic inspection by a home tech expert, who will issue a report of the findings upon completion.  This process typically involving three steps:

  • Mapping out the infrastructure and documenting (where feasible) the make and model of any included equipment; visually identifying the wire types used; and checking (where accessible) for evidence of damage due to weather, insects, or rodents.
  • Performance-testing the systems, and documenting the results for future reference.
  • Providing a user-friendly written summary and interpretation of the findings, which the Buyer can use to better understand: what specifically is included in the purchase; how well this technology will meet his current needs; and what infrastructure repair and/or upgrade may be needed—now or later.

Depending on the context, the size of the home and the smart home equipment involved, such an inspection and report might take from one to six hours or more to complete and write up.

In the Retrofit context, the homeowner might choose to limit the inspection’s scope to evaluating the adequacy and condition of the infrastructure needed to support the proposed additions alone—if they are satisfied with the performance of other home technologies that are not part of the upgrade.

In the Resale context, the stakes are typically much higher.  If personal property such as TVs, surround sound and distributed audio systems are included in the sale, the Buyer will need to know exactly what he is getting for his money, including the brand, model, and condition of individual components, an assessment of the functionality of the systems of which they are a part, plus the physical condition and performance of the infrastructures that support them.

Smart home technologies are intended to simplify life at home, and make it safer and more enjoyable.  But achieving this ease of use involves first making sure that critical background issues are in order.  For most consumers, this means acquiring the services of an expert—regardless of the manufacturers’ claims regarding the simplicity of installation and use for their products.

Copyright 2018 Sync My Home, Inc.

NOTE: Sync My Home, Inc., is currently developing a system to streamline and automate the  Smart Home Report process—including infrastructure inspection, data collection, and report writing—to make the inspection service more systematic, and more affordable.  A blog announcing the details will appear soon in A Smarter Home.

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