As the demand for upgrading older buildings to today's data-capable standards increases, you can profit from retrofitting opportunities. But to do so, you need to change some rules of the game.
Today's builder often incorporates "wired" features directly into the building infrastructure. These features allow the owner and occupants to have building automation and advanced communication abilities. Owners not only demand such capabilities in their new construction, but they also require it in their existing structures.
A critical difference between new construction and retrofit jobs is the condition from which you must start the work. New construction is a "blank slate" situation. You have full control over Code compliance. In the retrofit market, this isn't true.
Before you accept retrofit work, thoroughly examine the property and document what you find. If you encounter an equipment room with Code violations, business ethics (and often regulatory bodies) require you to inform the potential customer of these violations and what it would take to correct them. The reaction from a customer - especially in residential retrofits - can be one of disbelief and distrust. However, if you do the work without getting the customer to agree to the other corrections you may be liable for them later.
You need to assure the customer these changes are essential. Use Code references and common sense explanations. You must also convince the customer these changes are affordable.
At first glance, the retrofit market may seem too problematic to be lucrative. A major problem with upgrading existing structures is difficulty in routing new wiring. The good news is you have some tools and techniques available to help you overcome that hurdle.
Using the right tools. Consider all aspects of doing a given retrofit. For example, when you must pierce the vinyl or metal siding of a building, you need the tools for removing and replacing the siding.
Take advantage of the new tools available. For example, it makes more sense to use your portable drill than it does to string 150 ft of portable cable out to drill a hole or two. With today's industrial-grade, battery-operated tools, you can drill holes all day before needing a battery charge. (A spare battery is a good idea, though.) Innovative new fishtape designs can make the difference between a profitable and unprofitable retrofit.
What about instrumentation? Of course you have a studfinder. But what about hidden wiring and cabling? Very few homes have wiring diagrams, and you can't trust most commercial or industrial diagrams. So, you need signal tracing instrumentation. You can use inductive units that sense current behind drywall. Sometimes, you must inject a signal to track down a circuit.
Advances in basic tools and techniques can give you a competitive edge, if you apply them in ways that make retrofitting faster and easier.
Hurdling obstacles. Retrofits can occasionally produce problems that slow down work. Access, security, and privacy are often obstacles you don't have on new construction sites. In an industrial or commercial retrofit, you could get stuck in a position where your crew must idly wait until production stops to finish the job. That's challenging enough. But in a residential retrofit, you must also ensure children or pets aren't present in your work area. Negotiate this ahead of time.
Don't assume original cable routing is correct. Whether you're updating an office network or a home phone system, aim for the best installation. Sometimes this means you must drill new holes to solve routing problems. In many cases, this is more profitable than a "cheap" installation, because it works the first time.
Sometimes it's impossible to work around objects. You may need to move items away from switchgear or breaker panels. Make it clear you have an obligation not to put things back in illegal places.
Often, an owner wants to add a new circuit to a live panel, without shutting down. The old way was to pull wires to, but not into, the box. This made it difficult to know how much wire you had. After the pull, you'd push the wires through the fitting and thread everything carefully into the box. However, a fiberglass fishtape allows you to pull into the box. This eliminates both steps - even if you pull a second cable into the fitting.
Finishing touches. Poor housekeeping can kill repeat business and cause a customer to withhold payment. Negotiate ahead of time who will remove old components and when this will take place. Make a job completion checklist, listing all the things that allow you to restore the site to its original condition or better. This shows professionalism, giving you a good reputation and happy customers.