Tuesday, 14 February 2012

BuiltGreen Outlines Best Practises for Homeowner Manuals

BuiltGreen Canada recently released its annual Program Guide for New Construction, and outlined for the first time is a set of minimums and best practises for a BuiltGreen Homeowner's Manual. Here is a quick summary:

Minimally, the Homeowner's Manual should contain:

  • A list of all the products installed in the home, complete with warranties, operating instructions, data sheets, installer contact names of all installed equipment, appliances, fixtures, and landscaping that you have installed
  • A statement from the builder about the benefit of living in a BuiltGreen Home;
  • A copy of the completed BuiltGreen checklists;
  • A "Starter Kit" of brochures and fact sheets that relate to operating & maintaining an environmentally friendly home;
  • Underground maintenance information

This "best practise" new home manual is similar to the LEED for Homes defined manual, which essentially requires manufacturer documents such as operating manuals, maintenance instructions and extended warranty information. Over time, wasted energy and reduced efficiency due to improper operation and maintenance will diminish the positive environmental benefits of a home. A "green home" only remains green if its components are operated & maintained at optimal levels.

Although BuiltGreen and LEED certified new homes are built with a higher degree of sustainability, it stands to reason all new homes should come with this level of product documents, as they all have similar products & components that require proper operation & maintenance.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Why a better Maintenance Manual means a better Homeowner Experience

The term “maintenance manual” will be open for interpretation, but as outlined in the previous blogs it is required that builders give one to new home owners. Instead of debating the definition of the term, we should examine how a builder can position themselves to reduce their liability and benefit from providing a better homeowner experience at the same time.

A new home consists of parts manufactured by the builder, as well as parts installed by the builder from third-party manufacturers. The homeowner is responsible for maintaining both in order to receive new home warranty coverage or manufacturers direct warranties. More importantly the home owner wants everything to work properly to achieve maximum value and enjoyment out of the home. Therefore, operating instructions, maintenance tips, and warranty rules about everything in the home is important to the home owner. To them, it is irrelevant if the maintenance material meets regulations, it only matters that they have it.

Depending on how you interpret the HPA, a builder meets their legal responsibility by only providing instructions on how to maintain the home. It can be argued that there is a legal responsibility to ensure third party components maintenance information is included. However, builders should not spend time worrying about being compliant, they should see the Home Owner Manual as an opportunity. By providing a comprehensive New Home Manual with all necessary information regardless of who produced it, a builder benefits by:

· Positive Homeowner Expectation: A new home, regardless of type or price is a significant investment. If a homeowner is not provided with the tools they need to protect that investment, the blame will ultimately fall on the builder. A happy homeowner is rational, easy to deal with, provides referrals and has the possibility of repeat business.

· Keeps Value of the Home: A well-built home is ultimately a builder’s best promotional tool. Homes change hands much more frequently than in the past due to increasing real estate prices. A well maintained home is a positive reflection on the builder; the same can’t be said for a poorly maintained home. A buyer will like a comprehensive manual, so it can help with resale.

· Fewer Resources Required: An educated homeowner is empowered to do what is required of them and requires less of the builder’s time & resources.

· Reduce Liability: By providing all maintenance material you eliminate any liability that could result from improper operation & maintenance by the homeowner.

Regardless of how you define “maintenance manual,” what is true for every home is that proper operation & maintenance is necessary for both the builder and the homeowner to benefit from the transaction.

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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