The Ultimate Guide to: Building User Guides

Feb 3, 2023 | Insight, News, Operations and maintenance, Technology, Ultimate Guides


A Building User Guide (BUG) is a comprehensive manual or document that provides information about the safe and proper use of a building’s facilities and systems. Here we delve into:

  • Why do we need them?
  • What do they include?
  • How are they created, structured and populated?
  • Who contributes, uses, maintains and regulates them?
  • When should they be created and maintained?
  • Where should they be kept and accessed?
  • Pros and Cons: what are the benefits and downsides of them?
  • Smart BUGs: how are Operance improving them?


Why do you need to create a Building User Guide?

Whilst not a mandatory/compulsory requirement by law, building user guides may well be a handover requirement by clients and form terms of the construction contract. It is advisable to consult with local authorities and/or clients to determine their specific requirements; they may even specify the exact structure and content of their desired document.

Additionally, the terms of the construction contract may require the provision of a user guide as part of the building handover process. In any case, providing a building user guide can be a helpful tool for building occupants, as it gives valuable information about the systems and components of the building and can help them understand how to use and maintain the building effectively.

Some clients may be working towards BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) on their project, a widely recognised and respected sustainability certification system for buildings. As such, the BUG will be critical to this.

Why are Building User Guides relevant to BREEAM?

BUGs can have a significant impact on BREEAM. The BREEAM method assesses buildings against a range of sustainability criteria, including energy efficiency, water usage, waste management, and health and well-being.

A comprehensive and well-structured BUG can help improve a building’s BREEAM rating by promoting the efficient use of energy and resources and encouraging building occupants to adopt sustainable behaviours.

For example, a BUG that provides information about the building’s energy-efficient systems and tips for reducing energy consumption can contribute to the building’s BREEAM rating in the Energy category. Similarly, a guide that provides information about waste management and recycling programs, and encourages building occupants to adopt environmentally-friendly behaviours, can contribute to the building’s BREEAM rating in the Waste category.

In summary, a good BUG can be important in promoting sustainability and improving a building’s BREEAM rating.


What is a Building User Guide?

A BUG is a document that provides information about the various systems and components of a building. It is intended for the building’s owners, operator’s and occupants’ reference for their use and maintenance of the building. It informs them about the building’s features, policies, procedures, and emergency protocols and should promote a safe, efficient, and enjoyable environment for all building users.

What should a Building User Guide include?

The building user guide typically includes information about the building’s layout and design, electrical, plumbing, HVAC systems, elevators, security systems and protocols, emergency procedures, parking and more. It may also provide guidance on energy efficiency, sustainability, health and safety, and other relevant topics.

The guide typically includes detailed instructions, diagrams, and safety information to help users understand how to use and maintain the building effectively.

It is important to ensure that the building user guide is organised clearly and concisely and that the information is presented in a format that is easy to understand and follow.


When should the Building User Guide be developed?

A building user guide should be compiled as soon as possible during the construction of a building or as significant changes are being made to the building’s facilities or systems. This allows building occupants and stakeholders to become familiar with the building’s policies, procedures, and emergency protocols before the building is handed over, in line with Government Soft Landing (GSL) guidance (GSL is a critical element of the design and construction process maintaining the “Golden Thread” of the building purpose through to delivery and operation, with early engagement of the end user and inclusion of a GSL champion on the project team, and commitment to aftercare post-construction).

When should the Building User Guide be maintained?

The guide should be updated regularly to ensure the information remains accurate and relevant.

We recommend at least once a year or whenever significant changes have been made to the building’s facilities or systems. This helps to ensure that the information remains accurate and up-to-date, and that building occupants and stakeholders are well-informed about the building’s features and requirements.


Who populates the Building User Guide?

The BUG should be compiled by several competent persons responsible for the facility’s design, build, operation and maintenance.

We often see the Principal Contractor take overall coordination duty during the design and construction stage of the building’s lifecycle. But, we also see the MEP contractor assuming this role too. It is also not uncommon to see this responsibility passed to one and the other like a hot potato, each desperate to relieve themselves of the burden of coordinating the many people required to develop an accurate and useful document.

Every contributor should thoroughly understand the specific section of information assigned to them, for example, building systems, policies, and procedures. They should be able to clearly communicate this information to building occupants and other stakeholders.

Who is the Building User Guide intended for?

A building user guide is important for all building occupants, including tenants, employees, and visitors. It provides information on the safe and proper use of the building’s facilities and systems and important emergency procedures. Other stakeholders, such as building owners, property managers, and contractors, may also use the guide to ensure that the building is being used and maintained correctly.

Ultimately, the building user guide is intended to promote a safe, efficient, and enjoyable environment for all building occupants.

Who maintains the Building User Guide?

The maintenance of a building user guide is typically the responsibility of the building owner, manager, or operator. This person or organisation is responsible for ensuring that the information contained in the guide is accurate, up-to-date, and relevant and for making any necessary updates or revisions as the building’s facilities and systems change over time.

In some cases, the maintenance of the building user guide may be delegated to a facilities management company or other specialist service provider. In this case, it is essential to ensure that the service provider has the necessary expertise and resources to maintain the guide and regularly review its content to remain accurate and relevant.

Regardless of who is responsible for maintaining the building user guide, it is important to involve all relevant stakeholders in the process, including building occupants, local authorities, and relevant experts, to ensure that the information in the guide is comprehensive and up-to-date.

Who regulates Building User Guides?

The BUG is not a legal requirement, so there is no legislative regulation.

However, some local building codes or other governmental agencies, such as the fire department, may be interested in the user guides, specifically if information relevant to building safety and occupancy has been specified to be included. But generally speaking, there may be no specific regulations governing the content or format of BUGs.

Without specific regulations, building user guides are often developed by building owners, managers, or developers. They are intended to promote a safe and efficient environment for all building occupants and stakeholders. The guide should be reviewed by relevant experts, such as engineers, architects, and safety specialists, to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Regardless of whether building user guides are regulated by law or developed voluntarily, it is vital to ensure that they provide accurate and up-to-date information about the building’s facilities and systems and that they promote a safe and efficient environment for all building users.


How do you create a Building User Guide?

Completing a building user guide typically involves the following steps:

  1. Gather information: Collect information about the building’s facilities, systems, policies, and procedures. This may include information on emergency procedures, building access, parking, HVAC systems, elevators, and more.
  2. Organise information: Organise the information collected clearly and concisely, using headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break up large blocks of text.
  3. Add visuals: Consider including visual aids, such as diagrams, floor plans, and photographs, to help illustrate key points and make the guide easier to understand.
  4. Review and revise: Review the guide carefully to ensure accuracy and clarity. Revise as necessary to improve the overall quality of the guide.
  5. Print or distribute electronically: Print or distribute the building user guide in a format that is easily accessible to all building occupants and stakeholders.
  6. Update regularly: Building user guides should be updated regularly to reflect changes in building systems, policies, and procedures and to ensure that the information remains accurate and up-to-date.

How should you structure a Building User Guide?

Of course, there are many ways to structure a Building User Guide. Clients may specify their exact requirements, and so might the principal contractor or the facilities and/or asset management company in charge of operating and maintaining the facility.

Here’s a typical breakdown of the elements:

  1. Introduction: A brief overview of the purpose and scope of the building user guide.
  2. Building information: Detailed information about the building’s facilities, systems, and features, including floor plans, elevators, HVAC systems, emergency procedures, and more.
  3. Building policies and procedures: A clear and concise description of the building’s policies and procedures, including hours of operation, parking, security protocols, and more.
  4. Emergency procedures: Detailed information about emergency procedures, including evacuation plans, emergency contacts, and emergency response protocols.
  5. Maintenance and repairs: Information about the maintenance and repair of the building’s facilities and systems, including procedures for reporting problems, expected response times, and more.
  6. Energy efficiency and sustainability: Information about the building’s energy-efficient and sustainable features, including tips for reducing energy consumption and minimising waste.
  7. Health and safety: Information about health and safety in the building, including tips for promoting a safe and healthy work environment.
  8. Appendices: Additional resources, such as contact information for building management and maintenance staff, maps, and emergency response plans.


Where should you store the Building User Guide?

The building user guide should be kept in a location that is easily accessible to all building occupants and stakeholders. This may include:

  1. Online: The guide can be made available on a secure website or shared online platform that can be accessed from any location.
  2. In the building: A physical copy of the guide can be kept in a central location, such as the main lobby or management office, for easy reference.
  3. In individual units: In a multi-tenant building, a copy of the guide can be provided to each tenant in their unit.

It is important to ensure that the building user guide is stored in a format that is easily accessible to all building occupants and stakeholders, regardless of their location or device. This helps to ensure that the information is readily available in the event of an emergency or if questions arise about the building’s facilities and systems.

Pros and Cons

What are the benefits of having a Building User Guide?

There are several benefits to having a comprehensive and up-to-date BUG, including:

  1. Improved building performance: A BUG can help building occupants and maintenance personnel understand how to use and care for the building’s systems and facilities, leading to improved performance and reduced downtime.
  2. Enhanced safety and security: A BUG can provide information on emergency procedures, fire and life safety systems, and other critical information that can help ensure building occupants’ safety and security.
  3. Increased energy efficiency: A BUG can help building occupants reduce energy consumption and costs by providing information on energy-efficient building systems and technologies.
  4. Better communication and collaboration: A BUG can provide a common reference point for building occupants, maintenance personnel, and other stakeholders, improving communication and cooperation and reducing misunderstandings and errors.
  5. Improved sustainability: A BUG can help building occupants reduce their environmental impact and promote sustainability by providing information on sustainable building practices.

Overall, a well-designed and maintained BUG can play a critical role in ensuring that a building is safe, efficient, and sustainable and can provide a valuable resource for building occupants and maintenance personnel.

What are the downsides to Building User Guides?

While BUGs can provide many benefits, there are also some potential downsides to consider:

  1. Coordination: with so many contributors required to develop the document, it can be a real problem in assigning responsibilities to each party, ensuring they are competent and
  2. Quality: with so much information to provide, quality is critical in ensuring the longevity and accessibility of the data. Therefore the person providing the information (the contributor) needs to have a good level of expertise in order to produce quality data/information. If the coordination and writing of the document is left to a generic/non-specific role to provide all information, then of course the level of quality will suffer. We, therefore, recommend that each section of the BUG be assigned to a specific industry expert in that field.
  3. Cost: Developing a comprehensive and up-to-date BUG can be a time-consuming and expensive process, especially if it involves extensive research, design, and printing costs.
  4. Complexity: A BUG can be a complex document that may be difficult for some building occupants and maintenance personnel to understand, especially if it is not well-organized or presented in a user-friendly format.
  5. Inadequate maintenance: A BUG is only effective if it is maintained and kept up-to-date. If the BUG is not regularly reviewed and updated, it can quickly become outdated and less useful.
  6. Lack of adoption: A BUG is only useful if it is used. If building occupants and maintenance personnel are unaware of the BUG or do not have access to it, it will not have the desired impact.
  7. Dependence on paper: In most cases, a BUG will be handed over in paper format within a ring-binder alongside thousands of other pages and many other binders. This makes accessing the file very difficult as it is often left in one person’s office, meaning you cannot access it if that person is not around. But even if you can, finding the document among the various folders can be just as frustrating. Then sifting through the document itself can be time-consuming as you search for a particular section or piece of information, given that there is no way of searching by keywords or phrases.
  8. Dependence on PDF: Even if the BUG is handed over ‘digitally’, one would argue that whilst a PDF is a digital format, it is still far from being a useful technological solution. More often than not, this file is again stored within a file, within a filing-type system. Meaning you still need to find it. Then, whilst most PDFs are keyword searchable, it is impossible to edit, update and supplement them with new information.
  9. Dependence on technology: In some cases, a BUG may be created as an electronic document that relies on technology to access and use. If the technology is not available to all or fails, the BUG may not be usable.
  10. Inability to Edit and Update: Whether provided in paper or PDF format, it is still ‘dumb’ information. Without the ability to maintain the BUG with new information, it is only useful on the day of handover. Every day that passes, the information becomes more and more out of date as the building evolves and facility, floor, and spaces change name, as additional systems, components and spaces are added etc.

What is the biggest downside to a Building User Guide?

Arguably the biggest issue with BUGs is that they can be very generic.

Most guides utilise tried and tested structure and content. Whilst this approach will provide you with the basic key information, it may need to be more specific to cover bespoke systems and/or components within a particular project.

Think about it, a BUG for a school should be very different from that of a hospital, prison or home even.

Then you have clients that should reflect this; the Department for Education, for instance, should have very different requirements from that of the Ministry of Defence, for example.

More often than not, though, most clients only request a ‘Building User Guide’ within their Employer’s Requirements, meaning that they, in turn, will no doubt receive a very generic document as a result.

As one particularly experienced customer pointed out to us recently, what about the actual end-users? Suppose there is only one generic Building User Guide for the whole facility. How beneficial will this document be to the reception team, asset managers, kitchen staff, teachers, visitors and so on?

Having all information in just the one document makes reading very difficult for each user, with it populated with a lot of information not relevant to them.

For example, the kitchen staff will find it helpful to know how to operate ventilation fans and cooking and refrigeration apparatus. They won’t necessarily care too much about soakaways and rainwater harvesting systems.

In summary, there needs to be a better way of defining, curating, accessing and maintaining Building User Guides!

Smart BUGs

In summary, BUGs can and should be a valuable document for owners, operators, occupants, contractors and designers, to name but a few, but we need a better way.

Operance recently released a new feature: Smart BUGs.

Utilising the immense power of our ‘Smart Data Templates’, we enable users to create generic or incredibly specific Building User Guides to their exact requirements, with the ability to save their templates as a sector, client and even departmental and end-user-specific templates.

They are super easy and quick to develop, too; here’s a short tutorial video by our Chief Product Officer Scott Pilgrim showing how they work:

Once created, you can choose to have your master BUG template and/or your various departmental/user-specific templates uploaded to every project by default, meaning that every time you create a project in Operance, hey presto, your BUG requirements are uploaded instantly.

Then, all you need to do is assign each contributor to the sections relevant to them and let the Operance system do the rest. Automated emails invite the contributor to Operance and give them access to their sections, keeping it nice and straightforward. Should they not respond, the system reminds them of their responsibilities until the information is provided.

Want to know more? Contact us to arrange a demo today.

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