You've heard it before: Your customer wants structured wiring and networking, and they also want a sound system. Is it over your head? Not if you take the time to learn some simple steps to increase your business and get started in this growing area. Best of all, you can use your existing customers to test the waters.

Education, of course, is the place to start. The science of acoustics is quite complicated, and can get equally scientific and technologically advanced for larger, commercial systems. But for those residential customers and smaller commercial endeavors, sound systems may be the next logical step for you, especially if it's putting you closer in the direction of total systems integration.

In fact, most people in the sound and systems contracting industries are focusing on integration, as are other trades. The National Systems Contractors Association underwent a name change several years ago to emphasize the “systems” rather than “sound” part of the business. (They were formerly called the National Sound Contractors Association.)

The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), Indianapolis, also emphasizes the education of its members and the industry in the direction of integration and total system solutions. A survey of more than 315 CEDIA members in 2004 indicated business for distributed audio and video, lighting control, home automation and home theaters was expected to grow in 2004. Seventy-four percent of the survey respondents intended to hire more employees in 2005 to handle those opportunities. CEDIA members reported that home theaters will lead sales growth in 2005, followed by home automation, lighting control and distributed audio.

Industry statistics back up the growing interest in whole-house or business sound/entertainment and communications packages. According to Parks Associates, Dallas, approximately 22 percent of U.S. residents have a home theater system. In addition, according to the National Association of Home Builders, 34 percent of homebuilders now offer structured wiring packages as standard or optional amenities.

In the security industry, sound systems have been around for quite some time. The earlier systems were paging systems. These systems have grown to paging/intercom/sound equipment that can be networked and tied more closely to evacuation, emergency or other general and specific communications functions in an integrated fashion.

Danny Moore, Global Audio product manager, Richardson Electronics & Burtek Systems Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, spoke on “Learn to Profit with Audio,” at the International Security Conference and Exposition East, held in New York City.

Moore said installers can add to their recurring revenue and service and maintenance contracts by extending their work to the sound arena.

“You're already in the door, and that's the best place to be,” Moore said. “Why not offer them sound? Ask some questions, such as 'Do you want to communicate with the kids or pipe music to the outdoors or the garage, etc.?' When you ask the right questions, your customers realize they may have more use for intercoms, sound and paging systems than they had previously thought.”

The best way to enter the sound business is to take on two partners, Moore added. “You need a supplier who can give you technical support and system design support and you need a partner who can deal with a wide range of product and technical issues to help you as you get started.”

He offered these eight tips to design an impressive audio system:

1. Planning is critical. Begin by asking the customer the right questions. What do they want to accomplish with the system? Where do they want sound? Do they want intercoms, etc.?

2. Acoustics are paramount. The location of the sound is what it's all about.

3. Is there reflective sound that can bounce off objects, etc. in the room? Direct sounds need to reach the user before reflective sound for the best acoustics. Tip: in a highly reflective environment, use more speakers at a lower volume to eradicate any problems.

4. Is the environment highly absorptive, with lots of carpeting and soft furnishings? If so, you can probably use fewer speakers at a higher volume.

5. Never point two speakers toward each other; they cancel each other out.

6. Sound travels at 1,130 feet per second.

7. Don't know how many speakers to use? One speaker will cover 400 square feet, i.e., the square footage of the room, divided by 400, will give you the number of speakers for the room.

8. Ceiling height is another consideration. In general, Moore said, higher ceilings require fewer speakers and five feet off ground level is the average listening level height for installing speakers.

Moore said to remember manufacturers are partners and in business to help installing contractors get the job done. Bring them into the process early, especially with complicated systems.

For the electrical contractor or systems integrator, adding audio to your endeavors is a sound solution, and that's no joke. EC

O'MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.