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Anyone know of a good resource to find an example of a Homeowner's Manual for NAHB's Green Building Program?

I'm looking for a resource, peer group, etc. for help in putting together information for NAHB's Green Building Program. Specifically, in this thread, I'm looking for an example of a Homeowner's manual required to get points in the homeowner education section. It would be very helpful to see some examples and/or templates to base our manual on. Being the first builder in our market to build only green homes has proven to be challenging as the learning curve is great. Any help would be great.

Asked by James Fincher
Posted Feb 19, 2009 4:38 PM ET

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3 Answers

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1.

James

I've been using a homeowners manual for several years since being challenged to write one as a group project of my NAHB Builder 20 Club. It's been a great way to leave my customers with a friendly final communication about what are the most common repair and warranty requests, where the power, gas and water shutoffs are, and who are the folks who built the home and how to contact them if they need further help after move-in (so they don't have to call me for a referral for a plumber or electrician, etc.) It also gives them the answers to the "What makes this house green" question they inevitably get and empowers them to be intelligent advocates for green building and for my company.

Here at Green Building Adviser we are actively working on a "Home Owners Manual Generator" that will work with your "My GBA" tool. I'll be speaking on this subject at the NAHB National Green Building Conference this spring (May 22-25 in Dallas) so I'm feverishly collecting information and stealing good homeowners manuals from other builders I respect to gain inspiration.

I give them a short letter, which I'll paste at the end of this, and also give them a CD with all the product selections, a digital copy of the signed contract and final bill, PDF files of the product spec sheets for major appliances, the Energy Star Report, and the NAHB Green Scoring tool showing them how green their house is and what makes it green.

Probably the single most important thing on the CD is the folder that is filled with all the photo's of their house under construction, including shots of the people who built it looking like they are enjoying working on the project. I include photo's showing the attention to detail in the steel in the footings and pre-insulation photos showing the wires and pipes in the walls. I generally try to include as many photos of the trenching as possible with the house in the background so they can re-construct where all the buried hazards lie. It's nice to give them a batch of "just finished and sparkling clean" photos too. Both so you can have them for the portfolio and so they can show them off to friends and relatives.

Folks ask me if sharing all this information increases my chance of being sued and my feeling is that it reduces it. It shows that I am so confident that I am building a home that reflects best practice within their price point that I'm willing to share the photos as well as the Green Scoring Tool and have brought an energy star auditor into the home to verify the attention to detail. Of course, during the course of construction I use my digital camera to record items that need to be fixed or changed and these photo's as well as the pictures of the guys and their hot sports cars get edited out (mostly).

I actually use it as a marketing tool by including something I call "the CDB screen saver" which is just a slide show of a bunch of pretty photos from my portfolio. I'm in the process of getting logo lazer-etched, ruggedized, 4 gig USB keychains to give as house warming presents that will include the owners manual file and room for 3 gigs of the owners personal files and can live permanently on their key chain. I imagine the owner showing off the house photo's to uncle Joe at the family reunion or the the new guy at the office.

No matter what you decide to put into it making the delivery on a CD or key chain drive rather than a huge padded leather binder saves paper and reinforces your commitment to green as a company. It also saves you money and time and is more likely to actually be saved in a place where they can access it and use it.

As far as the requirements of the NAHB Green Building program / standard the core elements are pretty light:

(1) A green building program certificate or completion document.
(2) List of green building features (can include the national green building checklist).
(3) Product manufacturer’s manuals or product data sheet for installed major equipment, fixtures and appliances. If product data sheet is in the binder, manufacturer’s manual may be attached to appliance in lieu of inclusion in the binder.
(4) Information on local recycling programs.
(5) Information about available local utility programs that purchase a portion of energy from renewable energy providers.
(6) Explanation of the benefits of using energy efficient lighting systems (e.g., compact fluorescent light bulbs, light emitting diode (LED)) in high usage areas.
(7) A list of practices to conserve water and energy.
(8) Local public transportation options (if applicable).
(9) A diagram showing the location of safety valves and controls for major building systems.

and the next level up is not that challenging either once you have the structure established for the manual.

(10) Education on Frost Protected Shallow Foundations if appropriate
(11) A list of local service providers that offer regularly scheduled service and maintenance.
(12) A photo record of framing with utilities installed. Photos taken prior to installing insulation, clearly labeled, and included as part of the homeowner’s binder.
(13) Maintenance checklist.
(14) List of common hazardous materials often used around the building and instructions for proper handling and disposal of these materials.
(15) Information about organic pest control, fertilizers, de-icers, and cleaning products.
(16) Information about native landscape materials and/or those that have low-water requirements.
(17) Information about methods of maintaining the building’s relative humidity in the range of 30-60%.
(18) Instructions for inspecting the building for termite infestation.
(19) Instructions for maintaining gutters and downspouts and importance of diverting water at least five feet away from foundation.
(20) A narrative detailing the importance of maintenance and operation in retaining the attributes of a green-built building.

A lot of this stuff fits within the narrative of the chatty "Welcome Letter" that accompanies the CD or USB drive the rest is buried in the files on the drive.

Below is the text of a recent "welcome letter" which I hope will serve as inspiration. Hang around and maybe Peter and Dan will hold my feet to the fire and edit it down to a more concise and professional document. Left to my own devices I tend to be verbose and unprofessional.

all the best Michael

George Lopez and Laureen Fitzpatrick Welcome Letter
(AKA homeowners manual)

Names and Numbers

A comprehensive and lightly annotated list of all the trade contractors who helped build the house and their phone numbers.

Elements of your house that require maintenance:

By far the biggest call back item in terms of cost is the damage that can occur if you forget to remove the garden hoses from the freeze-proof hose outlets in freezing weather. Ice can form in the hoses and run up into the building and damage the faucet in a way that only leaks when the water is turned on. Spring comes, homeowner buys plants, turns on the garden hose and floods the house while out enjoying the day in the garden. Just remember to disconnect the garden hoses in freezing weather and everything will be okay.

So where are those critical shut offs for water, gas, and electricity anyway? The electrical shut off is outside the Master closet at the breaker panel. The Gas shut off is at the propane tank. There is also a gas shutoff at the water heater under the master bedroom. And while it is easy to shut off the water by turning off the breaker to the well pump and then draining the water by opening a hose bib. There is a more instantaneous way to turn the water off by turning the valve at the bottom of the blue well tank under the house near the water heater.

The plumbing system may develop slow leaks over time as things settle in. If you see any dampness under the sinks or behind toilets (other than normal condensation on the toilet tanks) please call me as soon as possible to allow me to fix the leaks before they become a problem for the cabinetry. Moisture may accumulate from condensation in your crawlspace. If this becomes a problem you may need to get yourselves a small de-humidifier from Lowes or Home Depot and run it so it drains out of the crawlspace. The best place to do this would be near the crawlspace drain next to the crawlspace access.

The Rinnai water heater controls are just inside the crawlspace access door. If it has problems there are diagnostic codes that will appear in the display to help with service. There is a whole house anti-scald device that prevents the water from exceeding 120 degrees. If you need the water hotter than this give us a call and we can set it to a higher temperature for you.

The Sheetrock will definitely develop surface cracks and bubbles during the first year as the building settles. Doors will stick and they are very easy to adjust, don’t be shy about asking for service but also please understand that I often will not be able to schedule non-emergency repairs as quickly as I would like. If something is an emergency to you and I don’t seem to see it as an emergency just tell me about it. Your satisfaction is my best advertising. In general, written requests for warranty service are far better than verbal requests. Please collect a written list of these cosmetic repairs for us to address at the one month and one-year service visits. I prefer to receive them by e-mail but faxes, postcards, notes taped to the office door, or letters are fine.

Your septic system should require very little maintenance. I do recommend that you use Roebic Brand compost activator once a year to maintain the biological health of the system. This is a concentrated compost starter that you flush down the toilet. Once every 3-4 years you will need to have Paul Lloyd bring his pumper truck out to pump the residue out of the bottom of the septic tank. Do not install a garbage disposal. Pumping usually costs about $180.00, it’s cheap insurance.

The soil around the house has been treated with a very benign termite proofing by American Pest Control. (“Talstar One .06%” - flea collar stuff) They would be the best to suggest follow up treatment if needed. The top soil/mulch around the house is intended to help control mud and keep the tree roots moist to maximize the possibility that the trees will survive the compaction of their roots during construction.

The heating and air system usually gets a check up once a year. This is optional and many folks go every other year especially when the house is new. Typically the guy comes and charges $125.00 to look at the system for 15 minutes and pronounce everything to be in good shape and I always feel ripped off. I still think it’s a good idea just because if the system was to have a slow leak in the Freon tubing (the most common system failure) it would operate at reduced efficiency for a long time before actually stopping all together and I think it’s better to check the Freon level on an annual basis. The company to call for this service is West Star HVAC, Bobby Penland and his son Mickey. Mickey looks a little scary with all his piercings and tattoos but is a very knowledgeable heating and air technician.

The air handler is in the crawlspace and the compressor is outside the back of the house. They have separate double pole breakers in the breaker panel. It is common for the reset circuitry in the outside unit to get hung in the same way a computer will occasionally get hung as these things all have computers in them now. When this happens the system needs to be “re-booted” in the same way you occasionally need to re-start a computer. Simply turn both breakers off for a few minutes and then back on again. Leave the thermostat inside the house alone while you do this. The system will think you had a power failure and re-initialize itself when you turn the power back on.

The electrical breaker panel labeling may seem obscure and trying to figure which breaker controls a certain switch or outlet can be frustrating. I like to use a portable radio plugged into the outlet you are trying to locate. When you turn off the breaker for that outlet the radio turns off which allows you to figure the breaker location out without shouting back and forth across the house. If a breaker is tripped you have to switch it all the way to the off position before you can turn it back on.

Some of the outlets have GFCI type Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters- these are typically in wet locations. Bedroom circuits have Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters that help prevent fires. Familiarize yourself with these super fast tripping safety outlets as they typically are run in strings so a tripped GFCI in the kitchen or bath could keep the porch outlet from getting electricity. If an outlet is dead and none of the breakers are tripped it is probably due to a tripped GFCI and you will have to locate the GFCI and re-set it. For additional electrical work such as adding a more outlets, etc. you will probably want to contact Watson Electric directly.

Gravel driveways generally require maintenance every spring. The freeze-thaw action of the winter forces moisture into the gravel bed and causes potholes. Maintenance involves re-shaping the crown of the drive with a box blade on a farm tractor once things have dried up pretty well and adding a topping coat of gravel, usually one “Tandem load of crusher run gravel.” Paul Lloyd and sons are your best source for this work. The best time to call him is between 7:30 am and 8:00 am. Do not expect them to return a message left on their answering machine. Mark Moldenhauer also does this type of stuff at a slightly higher price but often quicker to show up.

It’s a good idea to rinse the pollen and spider webs off your house at least once a year. Fitch Lumber sells a product called Bix house wash and one called Bix Window wash that attach to the end of a garden hose and do a very good job for very little money. Lowes has little home-owner type electric pressure washers for under $200 that are nice for washing cars and boats and getting the pollen off the house as well. Just remember to have someone follow the pressure washer around inside the house to check for any water getting through under doors or through the windows etc. I would also recommend one of those extension wand dusters for knocking down spider webs in the eaves throughout the year.

The folks at the Green Building Initiative www.NAHBgreen.org ask that I familiarize you with the importance of recycling and compact fluorescent light bulbs. I realize that I am preaching to the choir here but just for the record you have the full service recycling center (including Hazardous waste such as paints, electronic equipment, including computers, and batteries) on Ferguson Rd off Old Greensboro Highway as well as at the Orange County landfill. They are not open on Wednesdays. Plastic bags need to be taken to Food Lion or Harris Teeter. We have used as many compact fluorescent bulbs as we thought would not detract from the aesthetics of your home. The environmental benefits of compact fluorescent bulbs are well documented and I encourage you to continue to use as many of them as you can stand.

If you want to buy power generated from sustainable sources I recommend NC Green Power. www.ncgreenpower.org ( you can even buy green power gift cards for Christmas stocking stuffers as a good alternative for lumps of coal.)

Finally, if you want to offset your travel energy usage please look into buying green points from a group like TerraPass www.terrapass.com/flight

Each of these quick, simple lifestyle changes has a solid, measurable impact—immediately contributing to a reduction in carbon dioxide production, which contributes to global warming.

• Turn off computer when not in use (about 20 hours per day): 1,460 pounds
• Reduce garbage by half of one large trash bag per week: 1,100 pounds
• Unplug unused electronics: 1,000 pounds
• Eliminate phantom loads: 840 pounds
• Hang clothes out to dry in summer months: 779 pounds
• Replace six of your most-used light bulbs with compact fluorescents: 566 pounds
• Keep water heater thermostat no higher than 120 degrees: 550 pounds
• Lower thermostat in winter by 2 degrees: 353 pounds
• Increase AC temperature by 3 degrees: 339 pounds
• Turn off unneeded lights: 376 pounds
• Wash clothes in cold water: 327 pounds
• Turn off outside light at night: 210 pounds
• Replace one interior light bulb with compact fluorescent: 210 pounds
• Cooking: put a lid on the pot when boiling water, use a Crock pot or microwave whenever possible (instead of the oven), clean burners so they reflect more heat, transfer coffee to thermos and turn off coffeepot: 165 pounds
• Buy 25 percent of produce from local, organic sources: 150 pounds
• Run dishwasher only with a full load: 100 pounds
Sources: Rocky Mountain Institute, www.StopGlobalWarming.org

It may also be fun to take the energy quiz at www.slate.com/id/2151739 based on your lifestyle before moving into your new home as compared to after.

We’ve sited your home to minimize the need for landscaping and lawn mowing. Geneva Green at www.greenstonegardensnc.com can help as needed with any future landscaping needs including mowing, leaf blowing, and other maintenance as well as design and planting.

While my warranty is a one year warranty and I want to be sure that I make a concerted effort at the end of the first year to take care of the various small things that will have developed, I also realize that it is good business to take care of my customers beyond the limit of the warranty. If you have problems after the warranty is up please don’t hesitate to call me and let me know. I may fix it for free or not per my sense of responsibility but I will certainly give it my best attention and do all I can to keep you happy about your choice to have Chandler Design-Build as your builder and designer.

Thanks again. Beth and I hope you have many happy years in your new home.

Michael and Beth

Answered by Michael Chandler
Posted Feb 20, 2009 9:18 PM ET

2.

Thanks for the great reply. It'll keep me busy reading in the outhouse for some time! I'm building a home for the St Jude Dream Home Giveaway and it will be my first certified green home and will be completed in about 2 months. There are 5 more under construction. I'll probably just throw a manual together that is passable for the first home and build on it from there. I look forward to seeing you at the Green Conference.

Answered by James Fincher
Posted Feb 23, 2009 7:52 PM ET

3.

I am a NAHB Accredited Green Building Verifier, and I can say that this is one of the places homebuilders need help.

Here is an outline that I have given some builders, along with a copy of the Guidelines/Standard data in the Verifier's Resource Guide:

OWNER’S MANUAL OUTLINE FOR NEW CONSTRUCTION
I. Introduction: Welcome to the house and a guide to the manual
II. Project participants
A. Design/Construction team
B. Subcontractors (with recommendations about whom to call for regular service and maintenance)
III. Building Data
A. Chronology of the project and square foot calculations
B. As-built specifications (lists all materials, products and equipment used in the house)
C. Description and design objectives (program information)
D. Miscellaneous
IV. Materials and materials’ history
A. Brick and Masonry Product Suppliers and Product Identification Codes (sample)
B. Paint and Finish Suppliers and Colors and Product Identification Codes (sample)
C. Flooring Suppliers and Product Identification Codes (sample)
D. Countertop Suppliers and Product Identification Codes (sample)
E. Tile Suppliers and Product Identification Codes (sample)
F. Trim, Molding and Door Suppliers and Product Identification Codes (sample)
G. Hardware and Lock Suppliers and Product Identification Codes
H. Shingle Supplier and Product Identification Codes
V. Maintenance and Operation (AVAILABLE AS STAND-ALONE INSTRUCTION BOOK)
A. General maintenance recommendations (Checklist)*
B. A general discussion of moisture in houses
C. Water Conservation Tips
D. Proper Hazardous Materials Management
E. Cleaning Products
F. Energy Conservation Tips
G. Recycling Tips
H. Future Remodeling Tips
I. Specific operating and maintenance instructions for such things as:
1. HVAC system (heat pump or gas)
2. Appliances
3. Attics
4. Bathtubs, Sinks and Showers
5. Cabinets
6. Carbon Monoxide, Radon and Smoke Detectors
7. Carpeting
8. Caulking
9. Ceilings
10. Circuit Breakers
11. Communications and entertainment systems
12. Concrete (interior)
13. Condensation
14. Countertops
15. Decks
16. Disposals
17. Doors
18. Drains
19. Driveways, Walks and Steps
20. Electrical Receptacles
21. Exterior finishes
22. Faucets
23. Fireplaces
24. Floors
25. Foundations
26. Gutters and Downspouts
27. Indoor Air Quality
28. Landscaping
29. Mildew and Mold
30. Paints and finishes
31. Plumbing
32. Ranges, Ovens and Hoods
33. Registers
34. Roofs
35. Screens
36. Security Systems
37. Settling
38. Sewer or Septic Systems
39. Skylights
40. Steps (interior)
41. Termites
42. Tile
43. Trim and Molding
44. Vents
45. Walls and Ceilings
46. Water Heaters
47. Water Lines
48. Windows
49. Appliances
50. Sheetrock
51. Windows
52. Woodwork (interior and exterior)
VI. Site and landscape
A. Site and landscape design
B. Maintenance and development recommendations
C. Permit information
D. Sewage disposal
E. Water quality
VII. ROUGH-IN PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR and Complete set of plans (OPTIONAL)
VIII. Appliance/equipment manuals and warranties
IX. Homeowner’s Maintenance Record

*CHECKLIST

1. Perform building performance inspection to make sure systems are working properly, test electrical system for fire hazards, check plumbing and possible water damage areas (annual).
2. Check the condition of windows, seals, caulking and exterior paint. Replace or paint as needed (spring).
3. Check or exchange glass and screens in storm doors and windows (spring and fall).
4. Check caulking around all tubs, showers, sinks and other plumbing connections; replace as needed. Check for leaks around all plumbing connections and repair (spring and fall).
5. Inspect the roof for damage and attic space for leaks; repair if necessary (spring and fall).
6. Check for evidence of termites (annual).
7. Check interior paint and repaint when necessary.
8. Seed and fertilize the lawn (spring and/or fall); plant annuals (spring); perform appropriate pruning; rake and compost leaves (fall); mulch landscape (spring and fall).
9. Remove hose connections and store hose to avoid freezing (winter).
10. Seal concrete surfaces to prevent freeze/thaw damage (fall).
11. Have HVAC system serviced and/or repaired (spring and fall). Replace air filters per manufacturer’s instructions or every three months.
12. Check cords and plugs of all electrical appliances for wear; repair or replace as necessary (annual).
13. Test smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and radon detectors for proper operation. Be sure to carefully clean the unit and replace batteries twice a year (time changes).
14. For security systems, check that the alarm and circuits are working properly (annual) and check backup batteries once a month.
15. Inspect all doors and windows for proper operation and a tight fit.
16. Clean window tracks, clean and adjust door thresholds, and check weatherstripping on windows and doors (including garage doors).
17. Check the attic insulation to be sure the entire ceiling area is covered. Check eaves to make sure insulation has not blocked vents. These vents must remain unobstructed to prevent the buildup of condensation and to allow the proper air circulation in your attic. Insulation should not be touching the underside of roof sheathing (fall).
18. Clean weep holes on all window and door sliders. Dry lubricate all window tracks to aid in ease of operation (spring and fall).
19. Make a careful safety inspection of your home, inside and out, to seek out problem areas before someone is injured (annual).
20. Make periodic checks of storage areas, backs of closets, etc. to be sure no oily rags, unvented gas cans, painting supplies, or flammable cleaning materials have been forgotten. These items could be a fire hazard and should be discarded (spring and fall).
21. Check stairs, steps and ladders for broken or hazardous areas that could cause an accident. Check handrails for sturdiness and reliability (spring and fall).
22. Test lights located in infrequently used spaces to be sure they work when they are needed (spring and fall).
23. Check all connections in your electrical system to correct any possible hazards. Do not overload extension cords or surge protectors (annual).

Answered by Grant Dorris
Posted Feb 28, 2009 7:55 PM ET

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