Heritage Restoration, Inc.

The Essential House Manual

Over the years, I have spent countless hours researching products already in place.  Finding a part, troubleshooting, or just knowing when something was purchased is important to saving parts, and money. Maintaining records is one of the most important tasks you can do to take care of your house.  I know, I just wrote about reading directions.  And I know people rolled their eyes about this nutty guy who reads more than he has to.  But the truth is you will save a lot of money and aggravation by keeping records.


A standard practice for any tradesperson should be to provide a homeowner with the paperwork of installed products.  They should also spend time explaining the product to you and how to use it, even though they may see the glaze in your eyes.  The “call me if there is a problem” is a fine way to deal with a new machine or product, but what is the likelihood that the same tradesperson or company will be able to respond?  Or even be around?


What to do?  What do I save?  Where do I put it?  For me, it’s like winter.  I love winter because I have more pockets to put stuff in, but then I have to search more pockets to find it.  So get organized.  Here are some tips:

  • Have a central location for all file storage.  Start with a room, but then just don’t throw it on a pile or on the floor.  There are some appliance specifications that stay with the appliance, like boiler or furnace information.  And boilers have tags of the history of maintenance, now wouldn’t that be nice for most things.
  • Organize your files based on type.  You can put doors, heating, master bathroom and the like together.  It does not have to organized by fixture or appliance, just make them easy to find.  It can be a file folder, accordion file, or my favorite, the 3-ring binder with tabs.
  • Save instruction manuals, warrantees and receipts.  Most warrantees are based on having the receipt, not for mailing in the card.  But check each product after you or your contractor buys it.  And if you do not get the care information, maintenance manuals, cards and specifications from your tradesperson, ask for it.  Products like windows, doors, heating appliances, and anything manufactured has information.  This information also allows you to be sure they installed what they said they would and in the correct manner.


Most houses 5 years old don’t have records.  There is the rare occasion of an old building that has an amazing collection of records.  They are not only an insight into what and how things were done, but it also gives product names, quantities, and even scarier, prices.  These product names take the guesswork out of compatibility.  Let’s say a brick fall out or a window breaks.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know where products were from, instead of just slapping in any old thing or spending hours to find it?


One of my favorite houses is the Governor Henry Lippitt House in Providence.  Not only is it one of the finest authentic examples high style Victorian architecture anywhere, Governor Lippitt kept meticulous records.  As he planned and built the house, he kept a ledger of every materials and contractors transaction. These records are immeasurable on the how and what was used to become one of the most modern house’s of it time.  This house was built with central heat, running water and impeccable décor, plus many functions that are long forgotten.  The ledger also allows an old house geek like me to see the low prices from companies that help build Providence in the 19th century.  It helps connect the dots to other properties.  The records allow a more coherent interpretation of what is seen and most importantly, take the guesswork out of building and product maintenance.




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