By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Just over a year after it launched, the San Diego-based ConnectHome has found that providing builders with pre-screened integration companies can be a winning niche. ConnectHome, which is owned by electronic distributor Home Controls, looks for what it calls "the cream" of the country's integrators and lets them license the nationally advertised ConnectHome brand.

Integrators seem eager to get on board. Brian Callan, the company's national sales manager, says he gets calls from 20 or more of them each week. By late March, he had certified 18 of them in 15 states and Puerto Rico. Another dozen applications were pending, including one in Canada. Bob Johannsen of Paridigm Integration in Tracy, Calif., signed up for the program in late 2001, after trying for years, with mixed results, to educate builders on how to provide a technology infrastructure. He believes that as ConnectHome strengthens its brand, builders will be more apt to listen.

Of course CEDIA ( already offers professional certification, and the Internet Home Alliance plans to. But Callan says that he looks beyond technical ability. "I talk with the average company 10 or 12 times," he says. "We confirm its licensing, call the better business bureau, check its credit, and make sure there's no pending litigation. We talk with its customers. Is the company professional? Does it provide good customer service?" Integrators that don't qualify are offered a three-day Integrator School. But he insists that the school isn't a profit center. Instead, dealers have to buy $25,000 worth of equipment from Home Controls each year. (It stocks top brands such as OnQ, Leviton, Home Director, and Future Smart.)

Paridigm Integration believes that ConnectHome can raise builders' awareness of proper networking. Pictured left to right: Aaron Benson and Bob Johannsen. Builders seem interested as well: Callan gets inquiries from a dozen or so of them each week. Many are looking for an integrator, and his growing network often lets him make a referral even where he doesn't have someone certified. "A builder in Kentucky was doing a 220-home development and wanted structured wiring," he recalls. "I found the best player that I could qualify. I told him the positive and the negative that I knew."

Callan figures that just encouraging builders to use technology is good for everyone.