Home User Guides

This article covers what Home User Guides are, what makes a good one and essential tips on how to produce and improve them.

We call these documents Home User Guides (HUGs) but they can also be called any combination of Owner/Occupier/Tenant/Homeowner and Packs/ Manuals/Guides and possibly something else.

Regardless of what they’re called, they are only applicable to residential developments and should contain non-technical advice on how to operate and maintain the home in a healthy and energy efficient manner.

The most important part of this is being non-technical. Whereas the O&M Manuals given at handover will contain information relevant to those operating and managing the building, a Home User Guide, given alongside a set of O&M Manuals, should be aimed towards those who live there but have little or no technical knowledge.

Home User Guides are required whenever specified by the client or within the job spec.

The most often thought of advantage of Home User Guides is the extra professional touch it portrays to new residents of a building. Having an all-encompassing document to consult when first moving in can go a long way to improving the buying/renting process and can save a lot of questions being posed to the developer, which could easily have been addressed via a Home User Guide.

However, the advantages go beyond just appearances. Due to containing information on operating and maintaining the residence in a healthy and energy efficient manner, this brings very quantifiable benefits in resident satisfaction and reduced running costs.

In fact, should the building be constructed under BREEAM standards, a Home User Guide will aid in obtaining additional BREEAM credits towards the building’s overall score. If BREEAM is involved, though, close attention must be paid to ensure the Home User Guide covers the necessary bases. For instance, whereas a Home User Guide is typically aimed towards the residents of a building, BREEAM stipulates that it must cater to not only the residents, but non-technical facilities management teams or building managers, and any other building visitors. It is likely, too, that a BREEAM Home User Guide will place the emphasis on energy saving more than other points.

Depending on what the client or job spec deems necessary, a Home User Guide can contain as much, or as little information as needed.

The most basic level of Home User Guide will contain information on how to operate and maintain the home appliances which don’t require technical knowledge or input.

The next level will contain additional information about ventilation of the home and energy usage and saving. This will act as a guide on how to be most efficient in day-to-day running of your home and maintain a healthy living environment at the same time through proper ventilation.

For these first two levels, on a multi-property development, one generic Home User Guide can often be produced and issued to each dwelling, which is obviously cheaper than customising one for each property.

The final level of a Home User Guide is where the HUG needs to contain either dwelling-specific information or local area information. Examples of what can be included in a Home User Guide are:

  • Residence address (dwelling specific)
  • EPC certificates (dwelling specific)
  • Floor plans
  • Text or image descriptions showing the incoming mains isolation points and their locations (dwelling specific)
  • Equipment warranties and guarantees (dwelling specific)

Furthermore, there can be a range of local information included to help a new resident who’s unfamiliar with the area. These can include, but not be limited to:

  • Transport links
  • Shops & supermarkets
  • Footpaths & activities
  • Parks & nature
  • Recycling & rubbish tips
  • Banks
  • Hospitals
  • Doctors’ surgeries
  • Opticians
  • Dentists
  • Police stations
  • Post offices
  • Taxi hubs
  • Car sharing
  • Bike store & cycle facilities
  • Gyms & leisure centres
  • Bin collection schedule
  • Places of worship
  • Other (please list)

As a general rule, a Home User Guide can be as basic or as comprehensive as required. However, the most important part of starting a Home User Guide is to clearly set out what information needs to be included and with what level of detail.

The most common problem encountered with Home User Guides is lack of communication at the start, which more often than not leads to differing expectations at the end. To avoid this a clear plan should be agreed right at the beginning of a project between the client, contractor and Home User Guide producer as to what both what information should be included and what isn’t necessary. Just remember that a Home User Guide is intended to be simple to understand and, often, too much information can be just as detrimental as too little.

A Home User Guide is almost always ordered alongside a set of O&M Manuals and will usually relate to the cost of the O&M. This could vary from 20% of the overall cost for a relatively simple Home User Guide, using a standard layout, to an extra 50%+ for something more detailed.

However, these are only typical circumstances and, whilst almost anything can be catered for, this predictably reflects in the cost.

As with all our work, the best time to get started is yesterday. The biggest source of headaches and additional costs when putting together Home User Guides is late notice.

Even at tender stage or if a large portion of the information is not readily available, it’s better to get started with what can be done and lay a foundation for the rest of the Home User Guide to be built upon.

Whilst always best to get started early, some details may not be finalised much later in the project and, for these, it is often best to wait until the works have been carried out or there is a firm confirmation on what is to happen.

As a golden rule, though: if you want both quality and value, don’t leave it last minute!

Depending upon the requirements of the HUG, much of the information is take from the O&M Manuals and put into a more user-friendly, concise and non-technical format.

Sourcing any Home User Guide-specific information will depend on what the guide needs to include. If it’s required to contain information regarding, for example, a concierge service, this will have to be requested separately, due to not being in the O&M Manual.

Any information such as photos or specific equipment locations, will have to come from someone who is onsite and available to provide this.

Now that the information has been sourced and the Home User Guide begins to take shape, the task of checking begins. Common issues that will be flagged up by the Client, CA, Principal designer or whoever is checking the Home User Guide are:

Missing pieces of equipment. A subcontractor may have forgotten to include for a piece of equipment or material they installed. If this is relevant to the occupier, the person who installed it would have to provide this information.

Drawings or floor plans are not marked as ‘As Built’ or ‘Record’. This is perhaps the most frequent issue picked up. As in the O&M Manuals, all drawings should be final issue and marked as such.

Too much detail. A Home User Guide should be concise and easily understandable to someone with no technical knowledge. Equipment information beyond basic operation and maintenance is often unnecessary and easily found in the O&M Manual if required. Additionally, big blocks of text are best avoided.

Missing information. Requirements should be set out prior to starting the Home User Guides and used to identify if there are any missing sections within the Home User Guide. This could range from missing EPC Certificates to local information and all in between.

A good compiler should be able to indicate what bits are either missing or should perhaps be included.

Generally, the client will request a draft version of the Home User Guide. When they require this will determine how much of the full information is present.

A draft date should always aim to be at a point whereby you can expect to have a pretty much complete guide, but with the understanding that final As Built / Record drawings and any certification will not likely be available. It’s also very important to allow enough time between the draft and project completion that allows the compiler to make all required changes and action any comments.

Once the client has received the draft, this then needs to be issued out to all other interested parties. However, it’s important that all of them communicate and create one collated set of comments. This is because if nobody talks, it’s more likely than not that the same comments will be received multiple times by multiple people, wasting time for both those checking and compiling.

Additionally, it’s essential that any comments made are done so on the most recent version. One of the most common issues encountered is that draft issue is sat on for a while before being reviewed. This means that when the comments do come back, they have often already been actioned or are now irrelevant.

The Final stage of issuing a draft is for the compiler or client to chase any interested parties who haven’t yet reviewed and/or commented. Similar to chasing subcontractors to submit information for the O&M Manuals, draft reviews should be completed before final handover, making sure to allow enough time for gaps to be filled and comments actioned.

Once the draft process is complete – loose ends tied and actionable comments addressed – the final guide is now fit for issue either as a download, on a USB or as a printable electronic version

If there are any outstanding drawings or certificates, these can be added in as soon as made available. Obviously the final will then need to be reissued and earlier versions deleted as they will not be out of date.

Due to the flexibility of Home User Guides, there is no one-size-fits-all format to adhere to.

However, whether you take on the task yourself or employ people like ourselves to do them, there are certain things that will always make the process easier and more successful:

  • Do not wait around to get them started. Unless you’re willing to compromise on quality, cost, or both, getting them moving early is essential. Even if a lot of the information isn’t readily available, getting the layout prepared and what information you do have input will reduce the chance of any last-minute headaches.
  • Clearly define what should be included. The most common problem in the latter stages of producing Home User Guides is differing expectations rising to the surface. Nailing down what the guide should contain and in how much detail, right at the beginning of the project, will save a lot confusion and costly rewrites. This will also make the review process much more straightforward; if you know exactly what should be in there and it isn’t, it should be quickly flagged up and addressed.
  • Clear and concise. Always remember who will be reading the Home User Guide; O&M Manuals will cover the technical aspects of a building. The Home User Guide is required alongside that to make the information more simple and easily understood for non-technical equipment.