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Julie Jacobson’s Install: The Retrofit from Hell

The CE Pro editor shares her recent retrofit install.

For her recent home installation, CE Pro editor-at-large Julie Jacobson enlisted Robert Christensen of Magic Homes and Andrew Wiatrak of Sensation Design Group. Here, she shares the story.

I hear dealers and other so-called industry pundits say it all the time: Pick an integrator who has an impressive showroom, and never a solo "trunkslammer" who works out of his house.

I ignored such edicts when I selected the custom installers for my home installation project, going with a two-fer: a one-man programmer, Andrew (Drew) Wiatrak of Minnetrista-based Sensation Design Group, who worked nicely with a two-man installation and integration team led by Robert Christensen of Magic Homes in Oakdale.

There are a wealth of integration companies in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, where I live, including lots of big ones and lots of good ones. Ones with showrooms. Ones with long histories of service and fancy trucks. Ones with litanies of certifications.

Indeed, I interviewed several of them, and liked them all, especially the excellent installer from my old production home -- Don Haines and his team at SureLock Homes -- whom I regrettably had to nix because they didn't do Crestron.

Neither did Magic Homes (at the time), but the up-and-coming company had a close relationship with Drew, a Crestron programmer. I was most impressed with the team because of the thoughtfulness they put into the original interview, during which they did a thorough walk-through of the property.

Ours was the retrofit from hell -- a one-story 1950 mid-century modern abode with slab concrete flooring, a flat roof, and an exterior that is practically all glass on one side, and brick on the other.

From a retrofit-wiring perspective, the joists went the wrong way. On the inside, wood paneling throughout. Almost no crawl space to speak of.

I had no idea what we were up against, and quite frankly we were fearful of the labor costs, which we knew would have to be billed by the hour.

The team of Bob and Drew hardly allayed those fears -- to be sure the job would entail many, many hours -- but at least they took the time to really examine the property, and figure out how the wires would most probably have to be run.

They poked and prodded, and peeked inside air vents. After lengthy debates, they made a definitive decision about where the equipment rack should be located -- not a trivial task. And all of this was just in the initial interview.

The other companies I interviewed threw out a lot of ideas, they confirmed it would be a tough job, they assured me they could do it and would be delighted to do so. (OK, none of them actually delighted in the prospect of this unappealing job.)

I had every confidence in all of them, but because of the care that Drew and Bob took in the original assessment -- and because of the confidence I had in their collaboration -- that's who I picked.

It was a wise choice. I'm not the typical wealthy client. Drew and Bob were sensitive to our budgetary concerns. My husband and I both appreciated their consistent communications with us.

For each major piece of the project they examined the intricacies of the task and estimated the number of man-hours, so we were able to decide whether to go for it or pass. Indeed, we compromised on many occasions.

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Article Topics

News · Business Resources · Slideshow · Retrofit · Retrofit · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]


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