Thursday, 2 February 2012

What is a Maintenance Manual?

The Homeowner Protection Act (HPA) in British Columbia states that homeowners must receive a maintenance manual, or they cannot be held responsible for doing maintenance. Of course, if homeowners are to be held accountable, they must be given a fair opportunity to understand their responsibilities. This begs the question, what must a maintenance manual include for it to satisfy this condition?

The name “maintenance manual” sounds straight forward but there is plenty of room for interpretation. Traditionally, a manufactured product (including a home) has three components that are important to ownership: operation, maintenance and warranty. The “manual” for the product should provide clear operational instructions, maintenance requirements and warranty details. Manufacturers provide these detailed documents for their products for various reasons including regulatory, consumer expectations, and good customer service. In the home building industry, this is complicated by the fact that the builders “manufacturer” some parts of a new home and also use, or pass through, components manufactured by other companies. This can lead to a considerable amount of operational, maintenance, and warranty information to pass on to the home owner. For the purposes of this discussion of what is “mandatory”, the maintenance part is all that matters; however difference between “built” components and components manufactured by other companies and pass through by the builder effects the mandatory maintenance manual.

Major warranty providers like Traveler’s Guarantee and Tarion Home Warranty have developed generic maintenance manuals that they provide for homeowner use. CMHC also has a Home Maintenance Manual. Many builders develop their own. These “maintenance” manuals outline standard maintenance for many components of a new home. However, as many components are “pass through,” the home owners are commonly told to “see manufacturer’s documentation for proper maintenance procedures”.

Ultimately, how we define “maintenance manual” must be determined by accountability. If the builder is to transfer accountability to the homeowner for the home’s maintenance, the home owner must be given detailed instructions on how to maintain every part or component that makes up the home. Logically we can conclude the product specific documents from the manufacturer is the only way to accomplish this. A builder that provides a maintenance manual that defers to “manufacturers documentation” must also supply that documentation or the maintenance manual does not give full maintenance instructions and, is therefore, not compliant in BC.

New Home owners might be confused by the difference between a “maintenance manual” that focuses on mandatory maintenance, and a Home Owner Manual that offers operating instructions, care and maintenance tips, and warranty info on their “new home warranty” as well as product warranties. Once again, from the builder perspective the former is mandatory and the later is perhaps just good business practice.

This leads us to Part 3 of this blog series where we will examine why providing both “mandatory” and “best practise” documents combined will ultimately be the best solution for the builder.

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