Want to know the most common complaint of builders that want to build green certified homes? No, it’s not the Manual J calculation for their HVAC equipment. Nope, not the additional cost for the required verification either. It’s not even figuring out what building products meet the low-VOC requirements.
The chief complaint we hear is the mandatory Homeowner’s Manual.
On one hand, I get the issue. The Homeowner’s Manual can feel like a last-minute homework assignment, especially if you wait until the home is ready to be certified to start the task. On the other hand, the Homeowner’s Manual is by far the most under-valued aspect of a green certified home and many builders are losing a great marketing opportunity by not addressing it from that perspective. The manual is an important resource to ensure an owner will continue to experience the benefits of a high-performance green home, and presenting that information in an organized way helps convey the value of the green home.
Turn the Homeowner’s Manual from a challenge into an opportunity with these five things you can start doing today:
One way to ensure that the Homeowner’s Manual is a huge burden is to wait until the home is complete before starting it. The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) requires a manual for certification – that’s a given from the word go, so don’t wait until the last minute. I suggest starting the manual as soon as you finish scoring the home using the Green Scoring Tool or the Green Scoring Spreadsheet. If you use the spreadsheet option, you can filter the information that’s presented on the Designer’s Report to only include practices for which you are claiming points. Grab a binder, re-purposed of course, from your office and stick the list of green practices in there as a sort of table of contents. Now pat yourself on the back – mandatory item number one complete! Just note that if you make any changes to the included green practices on the current or any future houses, be sure to update the list. This binder will keep you organized and on task as construction proceeds.
The NGBS documentation requirements for certification and the manual don’t have to be unwieldy and difficult. Start by labeling one folder for each of the green practices that you intend to implement. Use the green practice number to label and define the contents of each file – for example, “801.5.1(1) - Water-efficient lavatory faucets with 1.5 gpm (5.58 L/m) or less maximum flow rate when tested at 60 psi (414 kPa) in accordance with ASME A112.18.1 are installed.” On the front of the folder write the documentation the verifier will need to see. For example, “Manufacturer's specs showing compliance.” If you are not familiar with exactly what a verifier will need, ask your verifier to provide you with those requirements – many have a prepared checklist of documentation requirements. Alternatively, you can find the information throughout the Green Scoring Tool under the “How to Verify” tab for each practice. Once you’ve established the complete list of what documentation is needed, enlist the help of your administrative staff or jobsite foreman to gather the information as the job progresses. File each of the required documents in the relevant file folders. This task not only gives you a streamlined process for collecting all of the documentation that your verifier will need, but also helps you amass all the resources you will eventually include in your Homeowner’s Manual.
There is a good chance that you will incorporate many of the same green building practices and products into your next green certified home. To make this process even easier for future projects, create a master binder for the practices and products you use frequently. Many of the optional homeowner manual items, such as information on local recycling programs, are easy to develop once and use over and over again. Again, I highly suggest filing these by the relevant practice number in the NGBS.
The Homeowner’s Manual is a great feature to market and it serves the purpose of being a “silent salesperson” for all the wonderful green features you have in your certified home, and the care and attention to detail you put into your homes. TELL prospective clients early and often that your homes all come with a detailed manual that will help their new home retain its high-performance features and value. SHOW your clients what the manual looks like and what information it includes. PRESENT it to them along with the green certificate at the closing table. Marketing is all about distinguishing what you do as a builder that other builders, or existing homeowners, do not provide. USE it to your advantage.
Some builders still want or need help preparing their manual. There are a number of places that you can get this kind of preparation assistance. One of the best options is HomeNav, an online interactive homeowner’s manual and resource guide, which is also the only Green Approved Product for the Homeowner Manual requirement. HomeNav offers a number of great features, but possibly the strongest selling point is that HomeNav will locate and electronically link to the manuals, product literature, and warranty information for the green features and components you select. As a prospective homebuyer this would definitely “wow” me. A high-performance, green home can be complex and need regular upkeep, such as changing out the air filters. Helping a home buyer navigate the regular upkeep and maintenance will undoubtedly boost your consumer satisfaction. Even better, that is not all HomeNav can do. It can also keep track of design choices, such as paint brands and colors, as well as serve as a home inventory for the home buyer for insurance purposes. Consumers often settle for less, but you can show them they don’t have to.***