by Diana Bjornskov (with guidance from Gerald Kettler)

As common industry phrases trend toward more precise semantic systems and structures, the meaning of certain terms can become murky or misunderstood. In this case people are asking, what’s the difference between a “Systems Manual” and a “Facility Guide?” Are they interchangeable, or just supportive? How do you use them?

At its core, the Systems Manual is about building and/or system records, and long term and major maintenance. It includes the Facility Guide which is about day to day building operation for the operations staff. Cx industry definitions for these terms now reside in ASHRAE Standards, such as Standard 202-2018: Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems, and the proposed Standard 230P: Commissioning Process for Existing Buildings and Systems currently in development.

Systems Manual. A system-focused composite document that includes the design and construction documentation, Facility Guide and operation manual, maintenance information, training information, Cx records, and additional information of use to the Owner during occupancy and operations.

Facility Guide. A basic building systems description and operating plan with general procedures and confirmed facility operating conditions, set points, schedules, and operating procedures for use by facility operations to properly operate the facility.

Simply stated, the Systems Manual is created and assembled as part of the Cx documentation process that is a deliverable to the Owner. The Facility Guide is a section of the Systems Manual contents. Essentially, the Systems Manual is “what it is” and the Facility Guide is “how it works.” The Systems Manual, including the Facility Guide, should be used as resources in the training of operations and maintenance personnel and related contractors. The difference in basic function of these two sets of documents should also be clearly explained.

As described in ASHRAE Guideline 1.4-2019: Preparing Systems Manuals for Facilities, Systems Manual sections are inserted within a framework that ideally includes an Executive Summary plus:

·       Facility Design and Construction (OPR/CFR, BoD, design drawings, specifications and location of project record documents)

·       Building, Systems, and Assemblies Information (submittals, manufacturer’s data, warranties, project team contact information)

·       Facility Guide (operating plan; facility and equipment operating schedules; setpoints, ranges, and limitations; systems operation control sequences of operation; and emergency procedures); maintenance procedures, records and schedules; OCx records; and energy monitoring/reporting.

·       Training plans, materials, documents and records; A successful training program will provide an overview of the Systems Manual and include modules that deal with O&M. ASHRAE Guideline 1.3-2018: Building Operations and Maintenance Training for the HVAC&R Commissioning Process includes a training flowchart and provides a graphic showing important aspects of training.

Since the Systems Manual and the included Facility Guide are used for training and the building operation and maintenance, it is important that they be accurate. Since training is (or should be) ongoing, and the documents provide records for the building and systems, both must be updated as required with a plan in place to do so.

“You could probably operate a building without a Systems Manual,” says commissioning codes and standards sage, Jerry Kettler,  but it would be virtually impossible to operate a building without the Facility Guide information in some format.”