The process of receiving renovating or maintaining an old house is made much easier if the house owner knows everything about the house.
The best way to acquire that knowledge is with a family album for your home. Held together in a loose knot binder, the album is a permanent organized record of information the owner begins to gather the day the deed is signed.
The first section contains copies of all legal documents, deeds and easements for utilities. Updated zoning regulations covering use, height and setbacks are available from the city or county zoning office and should be included. Knowing what cannot be done without a zoning variance can save time and money in planning a project.
Photographs and drawings are very useful in compiling a physical description of the property. Include a site plan that shows the boundaries of the land, the location of the building, and where the utilities (water, electricity, gas, and telephone lines) enter. Also include trees, drives, walks, and any changes in the shape of the land.
For the exterior of the building, make sketches of all views at a scale of 1/4 inch equalling 1 foot. Use photographs for details and make special notes on the construction of the roof and gutters. This is a good time to check on the condition of the exterior paint, the roof and the caulking around the windows. Make notes on everything.
Detailed drawings should be made of each floor. Note the location of electrical outlets, plumbing fixtures, heating/cooling systems and applicances.
Include a special section on furniture and fixtures. Take pictures and write down all serial numbers and gather all warranties, guarantees and service agreements. A copy of the photographs and the list of serial numbers should go in a safe deposit box for insurance purposes.
If the house is potentially historic or is in a historic district, the owner will want to start collecting information about the neighborhood and previous owners. Old photographs, maps and drawings are particularly helpful.
If a contractor is hired to work on the house, the album should contain copies of building and electrical codes, workplans, contracts, working drawing and specifications and copies of all cost estimates. A diary of all expenses on the house is another good idea.
The album is neve complete. It will expand every time something is done to the house or something new is brought in. It is the process of collecting and organizing the information that is important. It forces the homeowner to look at the house. In looking, the owner learns about problems and can begin to solve them intelligently.
Beverly A. Reece is associated with the Preservation Resource Group, a firm that conducts preservation workshops for homeowners here.