I bought a new sat nav recently and it did not come with a manual. I also bought a new PC and it came with half a dozen manuals, covering everything from how to switch it on to the wonders of the graphics adapter (whatever that is). But I didn’t read them. The sat nav has a comprehensive on-line manual, plus a highly competent telephone support service. The guy who delivered the PC took me through how to use it and as I work at a PC all day, every day I sort of know how to do what I want to do.

So why do I want a manual for my house. Well, I don’t because I’ve lived in my house for 12 years, it is low-tech and I understand what little technolgy it has very well. But a client of mine has recently moved into a relatively high-tech, new house and suggested that living in the house was like learning to fly. I spent a little while checking things out and came to the conclusion that in terms of using his heating systems he was still taxing along the runway.

A couple of calls to suppliers got some action going but it raised the question why was he in this situation? The installers, in fairness, had provided training when the system was installed but had not written that training down for latter reference. When it came time to make changes, as comes necessary when glitches occur or the season changes, the home owner had nothing to refer. He was reliant on his memory of half a day’s training that took place 3 months ago. Unsurprisingly he got it wrong and systems that should have been working in harmony were set in conflict.

It can be argued that a manual is a difficult and expensive thing to produce. It is not something your average plumber of electrician should be expected to do. If they are installing a simple gas boiler then handing over the manufacturer’s manual is all that is necessary. And at the price all we can reasonably expect. But if we are installing a heat pump with a solar thermal array and a thermal store that maybe a different issue. The home owner will be asked to pay many thousands of pounds for this complex technolgy and if they are not working together in harmony then he might as well have installed a gas boiler. In that case we can and should expect more than half a day’s training, especially if it is from three different suppliers.

I have been invovled in legal arguments where the supplier (being sued) claimed that the problem arose because the customer was not operating the system properly. It is an arguement that may hold water if we were talking about a single gas boiler but in that case we had 2 heat pumps, 3 hot water cylinders and, it has to be said, a very scary digital control panel. It makes a nonsense of the idea of moving an immature industry – the renewable energy industry – into the mainstream.

To make this a crie de coeur, if new techology is to be taken up successfully and suppliers to end up with satisfed customers then ensuring that the customer knows today how to operate the systems, and can resurrect that knowledge next year, is crucial. Give us a manual. Better yet, if you, Mr Heat Pump Supplier work with the other suppliers on the project and bring all the manuals into a single, glossy ring binder your customer will love you and recommend you.

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