Now that you know how energy is used in your home, you can create a one-stop reference for maintaining comfort and efficiency. A Homeowner’s Manual is an important wrap-up to your remodeling project—a tool to make sure that the benefits of your work are sustained into the future.

Your Homeowner’s Manual will organize numerous useful documents and reminders to keep your home operating smoothly, maximize your comfort and pleasure, and minimize worry and waste. It will also hold your vision for future upgrades and remodeling plans; help you keep on top of periodic maintenance to prevent problems and keep your home’s systems working longer; and remind you to take health and safety precautions, such as changing the smoke detector and CO alarm.

Keep your Manual in a handy location. You may not need it often, but when you do, it’s going to be invaluable.

What’s in the Manual?

Putting together your Homeowner’s Manual should be as fun as it is useful. Get as creative as you want with the final product, but make sure you include these items:

  • Appliance manuals and warranties
  • Photographs and construction drawings
  • Maintenance schedule
  • Your own “Best Contractors” contact list
  • Summary of historical energy use and cost information
  • Home performance assessment and recommendations
  • Home energy manager guidelines
  • Your 5/10/20-year plan

Organizing Your Material

Your Manual is a living document, one that you will add to and modify over time. If you’re print oriented, invest in a couple of three-ring binders—the 3-inch size—and the heavy-duty three-hole plastic sheet protectors. The sheet protectors will hold your equipment manuals, warranties, and other resources. Tab dividers will come in handy for quick reference.

If you’re more digitally inclined, you’ll probably want to keep your Manual on your computer. (Make sure you back it up!) You can create documents in a word-processing program, and drop in photos and links to useful web sites (products, equipment, utility company). Many appliances have owner manuals and repair manuals online. You can also input your maintenance schedule to an online calendar with automatic reminders.

Appliance Manuals and Warranties

Appliance manuals and equipment owner manuals aren’t needed often, but when they are, it’s great to know exactly where to go (especially with electronic devices like thermostats that occasionally need to be reset or reprogrammed). As for warranties, you may have a special location in your personal filing system for these, but copies can also find a home in your Manual.

Photographs and Construction Drawings

You may have put together a picture album as a coffee table chronicle of your remodeling project, but make sure some of those photos make it into your Manual; it could help you avoid trouble in the future. The most useful photos will be the details of electrical, plumbing, and insulation work before they are covered by the finished wall. If you have construction drawings that can be placed in the sheet protectors, include those as well.

Maintenance Schedule

Regular maintenance for your home, like exercise for your body, keeps things running and prevents early deterioration. This applies to the entire house system, from the landscape to the bathroom faucets. Maintenance helps ensure your comfort and your safety, so it’s an important part of your overall plan. The list below focuses on maintenance that relates to energy savings, comfort, safety, and durability. Set up a calendar that includes reminders for these things:

  • Appliances and other major equipment, such as water heaters, should be maintained on the schedule recommended by the manufacturer. So be sure to import that schedule into your schedule.
  • Each spring, conduct a visual inspection. Check your house inside and out for signs of water or moisture damage; look for cracks in the caulk around windows; check the slope of the surrounding ground and inspect the interior if you suspect that water is getting in. If you have gas or oil heat, check the flue for signs of backdrafting. This can show up as discoloration around the base of the flue or on the top of the unit.
  • Replace the filter on your furnace and A/C as needed, depending on local conditions. If your house is full of dust or pet hair, you will need to do this more often. When you change your filters, test your smoke and CO detectors and vacuum the sensors. Replace the batteries once a year.
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace or a woodstove, have the chimney cleaned and inspected after every heating season.
  • If your home has a boiler, set back the temperature in summer.
  • Clean your gutters and downspouts at least once each rainy season—more often if necessary. Make sure that water drains away from the foundation.
    • Clean your mechanical ventilation fans (including bath fans and range hood) to be sure they are venting at their maximum airflow.

Your Own “Best Contractors” List

Keep an updated list of contractors and maintenance technicians with whom you’ve developed a good relationship or who come with good recommendations. Having confidence in their advice and in the quality of their work adds to your peace of mind. Remember the old adage: You get what you pay for.

Summary of Historical Energy Use and Cost Information

Include a record of your home’s preupgrade energy use. Use this as a baseline to monitor your energy-saving progress. Your record could take the form of

  • past utility bills (at least one year’s worth);
  • an annual summary provided online by your utility company; or
  • your own annual summary of utility bills in spreadsheet format.

Make sure these records indicate both the amount of energy used (in therms or kWh) and the cost per unit of energy. Monthly and annual total costs are helpful too, but don’t stop there. With fluctuations in energy prices, the best way to see how much less energy you are using will be by comparing units of energy, not price. Once you get a smart meter, you can include more-detailed information.

Home Performance Assessment and Recommendations

Your home performance assessment and recommendations will lay out the game plan for making your home as efficient as possible. Whether you get a comprehensive home energy assessment, get a free or inexpensive assessment from your local utility, or take on the task yourself using Internet resources, doing an assessment has three benefits:

  • It gives you a record of where you started and the improvements you have made. This can be helpful if you sell your home.
  • It identifies energy improvements you might make in the future.
  • It provides guidelines for panic purchases, so that when you need to buy something like a new water heater quickly, you’ll have the research in hand to help you choose the most efficient model.

Home Energy Manager Guidelines

When you decide what combination of strategies and techie tools you want to use to manage your home energy use, record them in your Manual.

Your 5/10/20-Year Plan: Insert Dreams Here

If you have a long-term vision for your home projects, or if you deliberately phased your improvements, store those future plans in your Manual to keep you on track.


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