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Tips on Homeowner Education


Figure 16. How will a new homeowner be able to navigate and successfully interact with the advanced systems of a high performance home? Pictured is the Mike and Deborah Overmyer Residence in Golden, Colorado; Designer: Dr. Phil Tabb, Boulder Architect; Style: 3-story mountain contemporary; Year built: 1997, 2480 square feet; Utility: no utility bills, off utility grid. Features: photovoltaic powered house; house is over a mile to the nearest power line; 14 Shell M75 photovoltaic panels; mounting of PV panels provides for changing the tilt angle; power at a nominal 24 volts runs through an Amanda Power Technology charge controller and to the battery bank; twenty 6 volt 220 ampere-hour Trojan T-105 batteries connected 4 in series, 5 in parallel give a total of 1100 ampere hours; Trace Power Conversion Center connected to battery bank; Onan 6500 backup generator runs on propane; passive solar; twelve 6 SF south-facing windows; 22 1X2 foot operable south-facing windows; wood stove for auxiliary heat; compact fluorescent lights for power economy. Photo courtesy David Parsons / NREL.

Homeowner education is a facet of green building that receives little press; yet it is a growing mandate within various green building certification programs. In residential building, the ANSI-approved International Code Council (ICC) 700 National Green Building Standard® (NGBS) requires homeowner education (Operation, Maintenance, and Building Owner Education) as one of six mandated divisions within the Standard. For a project to become Green Certified, a minimum score must be achieved in each category, with the point total requirements increasing for successively higher levels of green certification (Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Emerald). Under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) Version 4 (v4), education of homeowner, tenant, or building manager is encompassed within Energy and Atmosphere (EA) credits.

“Assembling LEED and NGBS-required homeowner education manuals is a little-attentioned area of the green home certification process,” reiterated Marla Esser, NAHB Certified Green Professional, LEEDAP, and owner and principal of Sustaining Spaces, LLC. “The importance of homeowner education is great, especially around green certified homes. So many questions come up in the process of living in a space, and it all comes back to education. Think of the requirement for homeowner manuals in green certification processes as an opportunity not to be missed. How can we take the education mandate and make something really useful that a homeowner will continue to use?”

Esser addressed this topic September 20, 2013, presenting” Best Practices in Delivering the LEED and NGBS required Owner Education.”

“Start thinking about the staggering number of components in a home,” Esser said. “How much information do you have to know to operate a system, maintain it, or fix a problem? High performance homes have very specialized systems, components, special filters and different things that have to be done for maintenance.”(Refer to Figure 16.)

For the builder, a homeowner’s manual can manage the information overload of home ownership, offer common maintenance solutions, and reiterate to customers the “what and why” of their purchase. The best homeowner education tool will be easily accessible, and should communicate with clients about really critical areas of maintenance in their home, so a homeowner can enjoy and take care of the final product.

“Be your client’s superhero,” emphasized Esser. “Homeowner education means giving the homeowner the power to protect one of their biggest investments –their home.”

Assembling homeowner manuals for green certified homes

Homeowner education can be delivered in many forms: via a printed manual, from electronic files, through a software module, or by an online application, such as a builder’s system portal. Above all, the information should be as user-friendly and as accessible as possible.

For Esser, any homeowner education tool must encompass information on a home’s components. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of standardization by manufacturers on how product information is delivered, even across brands,” Esser said. Home component sections should include a full inventory and product information, as well as home and landscape plans, but should go beyond standard lists to cover various resources. “For example, include information on energy, water, and resource efficiencies, ways to reduce pollutants in the home, and moisture maintenance information and checklists,” explained Esser. “Also, include what is available in the surrounding community, such as hazardous material recycling locations, or local green power companies.”

Homeowner education is a component that is very important for the ongoing efficiency and maintenance of the home. Nevertheless, an inventory of home components– from major systems, to appliances, to fixtures– which may include research specifications, warranty information, and advice on care, can be major source of information overload to the homeowner, and presents a daunting organizational challenge to the builder. “Think major systems, and work through these major systems to their smaller components,” advised Esser. “Go from the building envelope and down from there.”Esser recommended helping owners register for the warranty on their products and including pictures of things like the label on paint cans, and what bulbs were used in fixtures, as a powerful value-added piece.

Figure 17. Homeowner education tools enable a homeowner to maintain advanced systems and keep home efficiency bolstered. Photo courtesy Dennis Schroeder/NREL.

A second component for the manual, and vital to the homeowner, is constructing a guide to maintenance solutions. “This should be the first thing that comes to mind when I say ‘homeowner’s manual’,” stressed Esser. This section should cover common maintenance solutions for home ownership, including maintenance and checklists for safety and health, seasonal issues and checklists, and required maintenance to retain the green attributes of a home and its systems. “Think of this section as enabling owners to solve little problems themselves,” Esser said. Home specific resources should contain a diagram of safety valves and controls and things such as emergency shut-off protocols, frost protected shallow foundations, local service providers for maintenance and services, and can account, via photo record, of framing with utility locations. (Refer to Figure 17.)

Homeowner education should also communicate green building “proof.” “This is the section where you demonstrate to the homeowner that you did exactly what you said you would do,” Esser noted. Documents to include are the final green building certificate, or a placeholder before final inspection; forms, check lists, and inspection lists; and a list of green building features (for further suggestions, see NGBS 1001.1 and LEED 1.1 i,ii,iii). “The best information will include green or energy efficient features in a format that the homeowner can understand,” Esser said. “For example, explain that high quality insulation was selected to provide for a warm, quality home, then detail the particular insulation brand’s specifications. A homeowner wants to know what the home will actually provide for them, based on specifications and features?” From an organizational standpoint, Esser recommended listing green features by areas, categorizing them into groups, such as the home’s envelope, or mechanical systems.

After creating a home’s components and a certification section, Esser recommends constructing a resources section. “Resources are great, because you can do these once and then rinse and repeat. Almost 90% or more of the information here will apply to all homes.” For Esser, resource guides can become the most powerful education piece in a whole homeowner education package or manual. The section should contain advice on how to save money on repairs, how to conserve utilities, recommended replacements, and ultimately should help reduce the total cost of home ownership. “You might want to list local recycling programs, green options for landscaping, local utility programs with renewable energy or credits, the benefits of high-efficiency lighting, water and energy conserving practices, and local transportation locations,” said Esser. (For further suggestions, refer to NGBS 1001.1 (4)-(8); LEED 1.1 (a) v, vii, viii.)

In summary, a homeowner education tool should cover these major pieces:

  • Green certifications and a home’s product list;
  • Major systems, appliances, and components;
  • Home maintenance and operational checklists, including care specific to green and energy efficient living;
  • Emergency utility information; and,
  • Contractor contact information.

“Think of your homeowner’s manual as the place for all things home,” concluded Esser.

Marla Esser is the owner and principal of Sustaining Spaces, LLC (http://www.sustainingspaces.com/), offering green consulting, education, and marketing support for the home industry and consumers. Sustaining Spaces’ online home management system, HomeNav® helps people better operate and maintain their homes and residential properties. “A Guide to Assembling Homeowner’s Manuals for Green Clients” was released October 2013, email marla@HomeNav.com for availability.

Marla has worked on a number of green home projects including a green certified (National Green Building Certification) remodel of 40 townhomes in St. Charles, MO with LITC financing, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition home certified green in St. Louis metro, St. Louis Designers Green Showhouse, and Habitat for Humanity homes in St. Louis, St. Charles, and Jefferson City, Missouri. Current projects include new green homes for a Missouri community action agency and green remodel projects in the St. Louis County Neighborhood Stabilization Program. She is a steering council member of the St. Louis Home Builders Association Green Building Council, the St. Louis USGBC chapter, and the Greening Midwest Communities conference.

To view Esser’s recorded webinar, visit http://greenexpo365.com/en/continuing_education/.

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