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Tracking a $20M Project: Breakthrough with Client

The crew explains to the client the importance of system design. Also, we have the detailed proposals, floor plans, schematics, pre-wire plans, rack elevations and more.

While the iPad is making serious inroads in our channel, not every client wants it, not yet. The client on this job continually references a system I did for him 15 years ago as the last system he liked.

The problem is he thinks it was the technology, not the way it was designed around him and his family. Until our last meeting he still wanted a lighting keypad, an audio-only keypad and an on-wall thermostat in every room. And the TVs would have cable remotes, which he mentioned he hated and couldn't use.

After nearly a year of some rather heated arguments, I brought in my handheld remote, iTouch and an iPad and "made" him use them. Three hours later, he decided there should be touchscreens in the rooms and no thermostats. What changed for him was that the new interfaces are so well laid out and easy to use that he finally saw it as an improvement.

Since the project I did for him years ago, he has had multiple systems that the dealers, while using great products, didn't build to fit him but rather what they thought he should have. When I chose Control4, Ron Callis and Firefly Design Group were concerned with functionality and asked for a clear understanding of my design. Ron was familiar with Control4 and designs around it on a regular basis, but not on a project this large.

imageClick image to view detailed proposals, floor plans, schematics, pre-wire plans, rack elevations and more
Ron brought up another good point about the design. Saving on hardware translated into more boxes in some cases, and more boxes equals more design/engineering, installation time. Going with a multi-provider solution brings up additional problems of connectivity and interfacing. Five or ten years ago that would have been a bigger problem, today I have solicited the assistance of network specialist, BlackWire Design, as part of our team to create the drivers and to anticipate and resolve any problems.

HVAC uses Backnet protocol, a standard in commercial for years and long since addressed; Vantage driver already done; Pentair for the pools are done (same as Jandy); Motorized blinds using ZigBee Pro works with Control4, no problem. There will be other system challenges that come up, but we'll deal with them as they arise.

Firefly has done a good initial design on this project and I do anticipate changes once we have a contractor hired. As the contractors receive their bid package, they will find that having a solid design and good reports will make the proposal process very straightforward. The client has now decided to step up to more touchscreens after our latest presentations, giving him the time to process the information over the last year.

Related: Submit Questions for Mark Sipe during CEProLive!

I don't want to use in-wall iPads, but would rather go with the new Control4 infinity Edge screens. iPads are great, but are not a dedicated control screen. Someone could go off on a weather program or game and never find the home controls. Simplicity is key for our clients, as they all want to quickly turn something on, up, down, etc. iPads offer too many choices for some areas where an interface needs to be restricted to a few buttons.

The design is going out to bid, and dealers have all signed non-disclosures. The CI awarded the project will be interviewed periodically to see their perception of the project and how it is being managed. I will present it with all its warts. The next article will be about the contractor we choose.

Working on Control Interface
Today's subsystems are so powerful that it makes going with Control4 much easier. The one area we are still working out is the interface and larger touchscreens. The client wants to have a floor plan view of systems like security, lighting, etc. and a 28,000-square-foot home on a 7-inch panel. That's pretty much a joke. This is where having a system like Vantage, with the ability to talk to Control4, gives us additional options. Control4 plans on a producing a larger screen over the next year, but I can't hang my hat on that and need a working plan now.

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Article Topics

News · Installation · All topics

About the Author

Mark Sipe, System Designer
Mark has been both a commercial and residential integrator and systems engineer for over 25 years. He works with Builders, Homeowners and Architects to design and support all types of projects around the world. He is also a software developer (SalezToolz) and mad scientist/inventor (Xspot Products) all developed around what he saw as a need for the businesses he works with and supports. He has been a CEA Mark of Excellence judge the last 6 years and CE Pro Best awards Judge.

56 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Ben Dover  on  10/15  at  11:23 AM

this is not news…its a joke, I don’t even know why CE Pro is wasting their time…unless they just needed mindless filler

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  10/15  at  11:42 AM

At CEDIA I can’t tell you how many dealers came up to me and said they like the articles and agree with where we are going.  All the support is done offline for fear of getting burned by the more angry few, sounds like the current state of affairs in politics, the vocal minority.
Lots of dealers appreciated the article on arc fault or the fact that Control4 could handle a project of this size.  No one has to read this, it is only my opinion and views.  Just because someone doesn’t agree with something it can still have merit and good information.
BTW, cute name JA,  “Ben Dover”. 
The people willing to put their name on something and take the fallout carry more weight than those crying out from the shadows.
I may not agree with people like Murray but he had the eggs to put his name on it.

Posted by Susan from Abacus Prime  on  10/15  at  11:54 AM

It sounds like Ben Dover has other agenda than actually offering something of value to the CE community.  His assumption that contractors don’t struggle with the issue of design and how to provide it is ignorant.

Having been a system integrator for 12 years and assisting dealers implement proposal and design engineering software solutions for the last 7 years I can tell you that this is a big issue for our entire industry.

Ben Dover if you have actually solved this need for your own company and want to contribute to the industry, then you’ll recognize that this what the article is here to facilitate.

Posted by John Ambro  on  10/15  at  12:21 PM

Mark, as I said on the bus to the hotel during CEDIA, best of luck! I wish you the best in this, and hope it goes somewhat smooth for you. While a lot of people can give their “opinions”, the proof will be in the end. If the end product is what the customer wants and will do what it needs to do than more power to you and your team.

Posted by my name doesnt matter  on  10/15  at  12:32 PM

How many businesses do you and your wife own?  1 out of every three posts in the CI web-o-sphere are from one of your sister (shell) companies.  How many companies does it take to convince a billionaire that he should waste his money on crap like C4?  I noticed you guys take care of all aspects of getting this junk into the house except for the installation and support.  Probably a good game plan.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  10/15  at  12:52 PM

Man, you are angry aren’t you?  1 out of three, really?  We are all a little too busy to be posting all that much but it’s nice that you see our name.
We have two Companies:
Abacus Prime is our consulting and Software business, hardly a “shell” as we work very hard with our consulting business and the software (Salez Toolz) was just chosen as one of the top picks at CEDIA (if you had come by our booth you would have seen the crowds).
Prime Industrial Design manufacturers Xspot Products, again not a shell.  Xspot is a great tool and we just received another patent this week on the product.
We are very proud of our work and have a very strong dealer base who use our products and services.
Next let’s address you ignorance on Control4.  I have been doing installs for almost 30 years and can recognize a great product when I see one.  Everything we have access to today is a hundred times more powerful than the “best” we sold a decade or two ago. 
Some projects will always require Crestron or AMX but there is a huge opportunity for dealers to look at Control4, Prodigy or any of a host of other products.  Calling anything crap only hurts our industry as a whole.  Think about where you are posting and act like a pro.

Posted by Randy Pratt  on  10/15  at  12:53 PM

So I noticed that there is an apple TV there, well by the time this house is finished the apple TV is going to have no hard drive, and I doubt you’ll be able to get an old one. The new apple TV only streams from a computer, how are you going to hand that?

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  10/15  at  01:00 PM


Thank you for your support, I’m too old to let others’ opinions have much impact.


There is this very cool program called ATV Flash that, while not breaking warranty allows you to modify ATV and plug in external hard drives, load firefox and all kinds of cool stuff.  They are already working on the new Apple TV for upgrades.  Macgyver is our patron saint after all.


Posted by Mark Sipe  on  10/15  at  01:05 PM

BTW is anyone checking out the design pdfs?  Once a contractor is hired we will still need to make changes but a strong infrastructure.

Posted by Mark Coxon  on  10/15  at  01:32 PM

On documentation. . .
This is a major difference in the commercial and residential worlds, and it represents an opportunity for the residential community of integrators on the whole to raise the bar.

There is no way that a consultant or an architect could get away with including StarDraw or Visio plans as part of a professionally created RFP or submittal after contract is awarded.

Typically there are two rounds of documentation submittals as well.  One round in the engineering design phase for approvals by the AV consultant, Media Creator, Architect, and or Project , and a second round at the end including all “As Builts”. 

Custom created users manuals are typically required as well, along with binders consolidating all manufacturer’s manuals and warranty data.

Firms without a CAD specialist or a technical writer on staff, can benefit greatly from subcontracting a company like Firefly Design, as they can get a fixed quote up front, and completely control their costs of job documentation, preserving profit margins.  They also assure the consistency of their deliverables to the client, and can spend their time doing what they do best. . .
selling and installing AV systems, rather than spend time at a PC doing design work as a necessary evil.

I guarantee you that Best Buy will not be providing that service to a client, and if you are dealing with business owners, as we all often do, then there is a huge opportunity to use that to our advantage.

Posted by Susan from Abacus Prime  on  10/15  at  01:35 PM


Using your name states that you have strength of character, conviction, respect for others and are willing to be held accountable.

Susan C. Jones Sipe

Posted by Same as Usual  on  10/15  at  01:35 PM

This is exactly what is wrong with our industry, we all seem to do the same thing and find parts that kind of work together but have to do this or do that to make it work 95% of the time and thats my issue with control 4 and this design, its almost there but not quite and even the answer about the apple tv you are using some third party part to make it wirk which in turn more often than not will make it work most of the time but not every time and those will be the times the client really wants to use it.  I wis hthe best of luck to you on this little venture of yours but from the looks of it, it will the smae thing that happens all over our industry and it works 95% of the time and thats what gives the rest of us a hard time on the next one.  Good luck

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  10/15  at  01:48 PM


Nothing stays the same in our industry for very long and you will always have to work with new products, even if you only use one or two brands.
The ATV Flash is a simple little upgrade that is very reliable and has been around for a while.
Carpenters have the luxury of working with wood, our mediums change a little too often, but such is our industry.

Posted by 39CentStamp  on  10/15  at  01:52 PM

IMO the iPad will offer you plenty of screen-estate for your GUI. There is plenty of space for primary navigation/control over sources/devices/subsystems and give you plenty of room for floor plan view. I am glad you “made” the client use them. Once i told a crestron programmer that i had a client who was anti-technology and i “wished we would have sold her cable boxes and tv’s only”. He then reminded me that at one point people road around in horses in buggies and probably would have continued to do so had the automobile never been invented. “build it and they will come”. Or “show it to them and they will want it” smile.

But i agree for the in-walls.. the edge panels have a very sleek look and IMO the iPad should ONLY BE USED AS A REPLACEMENT FOR WI-FI PANELS. I used my outside voice for that part smile. Floor plans on the 7” panels will be tough but you could give them a grid pattern with room names in them. This guifx Deana pdf has examples of it in there. I dont have any way to link directly to the screen shot so just open it and use your scroll wheel to navigate thru the screenshots until you see lighting/audio/shades/climate. I think this is an acceptable compromise/replacement.

Back in one of the early RC threads about this project i mentioned the fact that no matter what you do you cant eliminate black boxes without eliminating features. One of the reasons i prefer Crestron is because they have a black box for everything and the module is already in simpl and ready to be wired up. In most cases they have integrated multiple black boxes making connectivity more convienint and the black boxes more feature rich. I assume Control4 has a hefty set of their own black boxes also.

What you will find 100% of the time is that while Crestron and Control4 hardware is more expensive.. it installs/programs much faster and in most cases it will be apx the same when compared to a home brew mix of gadgets. What happens is that new dealers give away their time in the form of midnight and weekend programming sessions and additional labor hours that they cant bill for. So their invoice shows 1/3 or more less than the integrated solution but if you costed the project properly IMO it always equals or exceeds that of the integrated solutions from manufacturers like Crestron and COntrol4. And thats just the initial installation.. now add in servicing this hodge podge of gadgets. Multiple versions of multiple applications with multiple project files. Slaved to multiple manufacturers for repair and replacement parts.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  10/15  at  02:15 PM


We agree on almost everything, in-wall panels, iPads around the house and so on.  Going with one manufacturer doesn’t ensure fewer RMAs, just easier to ship to one location.
The house is just a little too big for an iPad, it would look like a postage stamp (no pun intended 39).
The cost difference is substantial and having stand alone systems isn’t a bad thing.  It will all work out in the end with a happy client.

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