Home Maintenance Notebook 101

You’ve probably heard it before. Every homeowner should keep track of their repairs, maintenance efforts, and related expenses. But it’s such a hassle, right? Besides, all that information is somewhere in the house. Why pull it all together now, when it’s so tempting to put it off until sometime… later?

Why Do You Need a Home Maintenance Notebook?

Most homeowners agree that regular home maintenance saves money and helps prevent problems before they arise. But did you know that simply keeping a record of your home’s systems and the maintenance performed on them could potentially MAKE you money? It could.

To illustrate the point, consider another major investment—a new (to you) vehicle. If you are in the market for a previously-owned car, some of the questions you may be asking include:

  • How often has the oil been changed?
  • What repairs have been made?
  • How often have the tires been rotated or replaced?
  • Has the steering been regularly aligned?

Assume you had to choose between two models of the same car, with the same mileage. One has no maintenance records, and the other has proof that it has been well maintained (dates, receipts, warranty information on labor and parts, etc.). The second car costs $500 more than the first one. Which are you more likely to buy?

Wouldn’t you prefer the second car, even though it costs a little more? Wouldn’t you feel more secure that a big repair bill wouldn’t be in your immediate future and that the car had received better care than the lower-priced vehicle?

Keeping a maintenance record on your car can prevent problems and improve resale. The same is true of a well-maintained home.

What to Include in a Maintenance Notebook

A house is a much larger investment than a vehicle, yet few homeowners actually compile records—in an organized and easy-to-review format—on all the maintenance and repair work performed, related warranty details, and general information about the systems.

It’s best to create this book as soon as you buy a home. (It’s even better if the previous owners provide one at closing.) However, even if you’ve been living in your house for some time, you can begin putting together a home maintenance notebook right now. (And you should!)

The Basics

Begin by gathering all the information you already have, or can remember. When were the following items installed or most recently replaced?

  • Roof
  • HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning)
  • Water heater (tank or tankless)
  • Major appliances (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, etc.)
  • Septic system (if applicable)

Write down the date and the basic details, including cost, where it was purchased, and model numbers. (If you have receipts, include them too.)

Do you know how often each system has been maintained? If so, make a note of that as well. If not, then write down the last time they were maintained, or the next time they are due for attention.

Once the big systems are recorded, you can begin gathering information on other items, such as:

  • How often have the gutters been cleaned?
  • When have the HVAC filters been changed?
  • When have the coils on the refrigerator been vacuumed?
  • How often has the blacktop driveway been resealed?

Assembling Your Notebook

The easiest way to handle this information is to purchase a 3-ring binder, print out maintenance checklists, and periodically add handwritten updates. Include a few clear pockets to hold receipts, warranty information, user’s manuals and repair tickets.

Group similar information together and use tabbed dividers to make it easy to quickly locate what you need. Keep documents for major appliances and home systems in the notebook, but store manuals and warranties for smaller appliances and consumer electronics somewhere else. This will make it easy to turn your notebook over to a future buyer, while retaining important details on items moving with you, to your next home.

Create and Follow a Regular Maintenance Schedule

Starting now, work from a regular schedule, to be sure you perform the recommended maintenance and that you have a single place to store and find this information in the future.

Microsoft offers a home maintenance schedule template, which you can customize for your home and your needs. Print off a new copy for each year, so you have an ongoing record.

Put Emergency Information Front and Center

The very first page of your notebook should be an “in case of emergency” sheet that includes the home’s address, the nearest major intersection, and:

  • Police – 911 and/or other emergency phone #
  • Fire department – phone #
  • Gas company – name and phone #
  • Electric company – name and phone #
  • Water company – name and phone #
  • Homeowner association – contact name and phone #
  • Insurance agent – name and phone #

This front page should also indicate where the electrical breaker box is located, and where to find the main water and gas shut-offs.

The back of this emergency sheet is a great place to list the name and phone number for your preferred plumber, electrician, HVAC repairman, appliance repairs, and other essential home-related contact information.

Where to Store Your Household Maintenance Notebook

Keep your household notebook handy, since you’ll be using it once a month for regular home maintenance tasks. You may want to keep it near your main entry/exit door, in case there’s an emergency and you want to grab it on your way out.

If you don’t like the analog approach, all the same information can be stored on your computer (or better yet, in the cloud). Most appliance manuals can be located online, so you can easily download and file them in your “home maintenance” folder. Be sure to add scans or photos of your receipts, and update your maintenance checklist each month.

Other Optional Information

Once you’ve customized your notebook for your house and your needs, you may decide it would be handy to add other information too. Some ideas for other additional sections include:

  • An instruction sheet for house-sitters or babysitters
  • A page with paint swatches/chips to make it easy to purchase the same paint again, for touchups. Include the vendor, color, finish (satin, velvet, semi-gloss, gloss, etc.)
  • Homeowner’s insurance policy and contact information
  • Homeowner’s association information
  • Household inventory – here’s one template, and another
  • Property assessments
  • Annual property tax records – bills and payments
  • Hired services schedule – a simple chronological list of workers hired, the date of service, the name of the company/serviceman, a brief description of work done, and the cost. (The divider for this section should have a pocket to catch all receipts.)
  • Medical emergencies – contact information for the family doctor, dentist, and optometrist. Include veterinarian information if you have pets.

Final Thoughts

When you’re ready to sell your house, you can remove any personal information and give the notebook (or USB drive with digital files) to the new owner(s). It’s a gift they’re sure to appreciate. Plus, if you’re feeling sentimental about moving on, this is a good way to form a “bridge” from one owner to the next, leaving something valuable behind.

It’s also worth noting that the cost of home improvements and repairs may reduce your tax bill while living in a home, or when you sell. Keeping careful records will help a tax professional provide expert advice on whether or not you qualify.