What is home?

One of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson published an interesting book in 2010 titled At Home. At Home explores the history of how we westerners came to live the way we do and describes the evolution of what has become today’s house. It’s a fun and interesting read and I highly recommend it. Get it here. The illustrated version of At Home is even better and you can get it here.

A house can be simply defined as an assembly of materials that form a weatherproof space for human living. But for me a home is much more than that. I’m truly in love my home. I like waking up there, eating there, visiting with friend there, working there and doing nothing there. I hate to leave it and love to come home to it.

Home is where your heart resides
New home under construction

Where history is made

Home becomes the context for our lives and is an open, physical display of how we live and what we value. It is the loom on which we weave our lives. The house itself may only be a structure or a shelter, but it will always reflect the standards and qualities of whoever lives there.

For me, the mark of a true home is that it must be a safe place. A home must be a refuge where you can feel nurtured and come alive. Where else?

This manual may not be able to turn your current home into your ultimate dream, but it will help create the refuge that you need, and that will surely make you feel safer and better.

Becoming a homeowner

This Home Preservation Manual is a guide to becoming a better homeowner. If you are a homeowner already, Congratulations! Unless you were born wealthy, you certainly know that becoming one was not easy. To join this elite club, you likely had to work very hard and save diligently all your life. Then make huge sacrifices and efforts to find and purchase just the right one. So, congratulations again on your accomplishment. Bravo!!

Unfortunately, the work doesn’t end with the purchase of the home. Instead, that is when the role of homeownership really begins. And if you wish to be a good one, then this Manual is for you. The goal of this Manual is to help everyone be better homeowners. It should help you and your family create the refuge I mentioned above. And provide you tools to extract maximum enjoyment from it. As a bonus, you can also count on securing the highest possible financial returns from your investment in your home. Now isn’t that what homeownership is all about?

Being a better homeowner

Becoming a homeowner is often said to be the American dream, but homeownership is also an enormous responsibility. Unfortunately many people are not very good at it. This is sad, costly and unnecessary. I blame these failures on the fact that almost no home comes with instructions. It’s hard to believe. Your home is likely the single biggest purchase you’ve ever made and yet where are your instructions on how to take care of it. This website will tell you how. It can provide the information you need to not only take better care of your home but to have more fun, spend less money and secure a nice return on your investment too.

So on with the show

Feedback is needed

Gathering all this information together and keeping it current is a lot of work. But it is also a lot of fun. I have been using this information successfully in my business for years, but since I am so busy taking care of my customers on a daily basis, there has been little time to get this site up and running. So not that the website is live, I encourage you to let me know if you find it helpful. It is a real joy for me to hear the positive stories from happy homeowners who are either using the information or directly experiencing the services provided by my company, HPS Palo Alto Inc.


I do this website mostly myself. I have no proof readers or editors so you will likely find typos, misspellings and grammatical errors. You may also find factual errors because I am human and make mistakes. If you do, kindly let me know so I can make timely corrections and possibly learn something in the process. In some ways this site is also a work of fiction since some of what you find here is my opinion and not necessarily fact. My hope is that this mix of accumulated experience and opinion will be fun and engaging. Hopefully you will forgive me for my errors and still come back when you need help with being a better homeowner.

My background

Image of Steve Spratt in jeans and cowboy hat with paint horse Sweets at home
Me and my wife’s paint mare Sweets during a day off. What is home?

For many years now, I have helped people take better care of their homes through my business HPS Palo Alto Inc. Home Preservation Services.

I started HPS in order to provide the services that are described in this website, to homeowners who could not do it on their own.

To accomplish this as a business, HPS first embraced the philosophy of prevention, and then systemized the performance of the actual work. This “system approach” has proven successful now for hundreds of homes and their happy homeowners.

Cool customers

HPS operates in the surrounding area of Los Altos and Palo Alto, California, the very heart of Silicon Valley. Our clients are the shapers of the current technological world we live in today. These are the smartest and most ambitious people on the planet.

My clients know value and demand quality. They come to HPS already understanding that their home should be taken care of properly. And of course it should, it’s an enormous asset.

For HPS clients home is a refuge not a hobby. They know their time is valuable and limited and so outsourcing the care to a qualified professional service provider like HPS makes sense. The take away here is if these people trust what I am saying, you can too.

A lot of work

It’s a surprise, even to these most seasoned and astute homeowners, to learn how much work is involved in properly caring for a property. Most homeowners are only aware of about a dozen maintenance responsibilities when actually, there are over 250 individual items in the typical home that require service on a regular, recurring basis. There’s even more to do for monster homes larger than 10,000 square feet.

No matter the size, this website explores ways of preventively caring for your home in order to achieve blissful homeownership. This is not so much a “how to” site for fixing specific problems (although we do) but instead focusses on the larger context of taking care of your home long-term and the returns you can expect from your efforts in both money and enjoyment.

Follow your bliss

My entire life and this site are essentially both textbook examples of doing what Joseph Campbell called “following one’s bliss”. If you are not familiar with Joseph Campbell, I highly recommend you get a copy of his book “The Power of Myth” and listen to it about 500 times. Professor Campbell believed that committing to, and pursuing the things in life that make you happy would propel you in directions you would not have expected but that in the end would lead to…bliss. Except for a few wrong turns along the way, this philosophy pretty much describes my life.

Building things is a passion. Especially enjoyable is building or restoring good things of value. Stuff worth keeping and taking care of. I confess that I don’t really love all the work involved.  I  have always been a bit distracted, and now I’m getting old and lazy after all. But I am quite aware that doing the work helps me keep the good stuff I like… so I developed a discipline to do it.

Time to do this website

I figured a lot of successful people might not be DIYers or they might be distracted, lazy, or possibly even handicapped in the same ways that I am, so I started a business in 1984 to help them take care of one their most valuable things, their home. Turns out that I was right. A lot of people did want help taking care of their home and the business grew. In fact the business grew enough that I now have many great people doing what I used to do… only better. So I have some time to do this website. Here’s how that happened…

Growing up

In 1966 my Mom and Dad bought a modest new house with an unfinished yard in northern California. Being a proud new homeowner and an eager do-it-yourselfer, dad set out to install his own Sunset Magazine inspired landscaping. Lofty visions of green lawns, crisp concrete curbs and patios, state of the art automated sprinklers and a flashy new redwood deck must have filled his imagination. This landscape would be dad’s creative masterpiece. This vision of course required more hard work than could be expected from any one person. Which is where my brother and I entered the picture.

My younger brother age 10 and myself age 13 were recruited for trench digging, cement mixing, pipe laying and grass planting. It was hard work but it was our first taste of construction and I loved it. Doing stuff with dad was cool!

Work- early impressions

As I entered high school I quickly learned that having some kind of job meant I could buy cool stuff… basically cars and things for cars. Summer jobs included farming with the family, work with a logging company (owned by my friend’s dad), and lots of heavy equipment use. As a senior, one job was helping a friend prepare the foundation for a spec house. I enjoyed that a lot. The contractor offered me a permanent job, but dad said no. College first. Grudgingly, I agreed and off to school I went. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.


College was new and fun but I had to work hard to get decent grades. I found I was good with numbers and earned a degree in accounting. As a profession, accounting did not appeal to me. Casting around I ended up with a job working for a builder in the San Francisco area. I did estimates and prepared bids but what I really loved was going out to the jobs and experiencing the actual creation of a project.

Out on my own-first job

After a couple of years, I managed to get my Contractors license and struck out on my own. This is where things began to come together. My first contract was remodeling a commercial building where the owner was a complete nut about durability and maintenance. This customer owned a high-volume public space and absolutely would not tolerate anything breaking. Parts were expected to work as they should under the most stressful conditions and he demanded that everything be designed to last forever.

I was asked once to set six different types of sample toilet partitions and can remember watching in disbelief when my customer set upon them with hammers, marking pens and pocket knives to tear them up. My client was of course a total eccentric and could afford all the seemingly crazy demands he made, but his work did last a long time and the experience got me to thinking about ways I could improve everyday building practices to make my buildings last longer.

Durability and 100 year specs

After working several years for Mr. Indestructible, I was totally indoctrinated into the durability context. I wrote a set of building specifications that could be used to “build” longevity into virtually any project and even built several homes this way. Many of these early specifications, such as the application of metal flashings to protect the tops of outdoor beams, later became best practices in the industry which I am very proud of.

I was happy building “hardened” homes but they were expensive to build and I soon recognized that even indestructible homes were not “maintenance free”. They would still have moving parts that would need adjustment and lubrication, filters that would need changing and accumulations of debris that would need cleaning. Sadly too, building one hardened home at a time was not going to have a very big effect on the world. So I gave up the quest to build the maintenance-free home but kept all the accumulated knowledge I had gained and now will share it with you.

Reaching more people

It was important for me to somehow affect a bigger market, to find a way to help more homes and more homeowners. But I didn’t have a clue how to make that happen.

Attention seemed to be the key. I began to make the connection that whether a home was well constructed or not, it required a certain amount of attention (maintenance) to keep it working properly. Poorly constructed or neglected homes would of course need more. But the reality was that in most cases, the home got none.

It occurred to me that if I could identify the critical key elements of the structure that needed regular attention, then I could focus on servicing those things and possibly extend the life of the home. Theoretically, EVERY home could benefit from that. Now that really turned me on! I began to shift my attention away from construction and towards strategic maintenance.

Do the work for the customer

During my early contracting years when I was building and remodeling single family houses, it was clear that although most people loved their homes and had huge financial investments in them, they paradoxically didn’t take care of them properly. It occurred to me also that if they took better care of their home, they might love it even more. Not only that, the home would last longer, be more efficient to operate, be safer and in the process might also become more valuable.

The problem seemed to be time and expertise. Most of the homeowners in my area (Palo Alto) are quite busy and successful in their own specialty. But these folks really don’t have the time to take care of their home properly, and even if they did, they did not have the know-how to do so. The answer was obviously to go out to the home and do the work for the homeowner.

How long do things last?

For the next year I studied up on preventive maintenance systems. Information was gathered about airline industry and food industry maintenance service programs. Then I looked at critical service strategies used to avoid catastrophic failures at NASA. I studied insurance claims data and identified the primary causes of failures in the home. They are water leaks and neglect. I read studies about the expected duty lives of appliances, heating systems, various roofing, plumbing, water heaters, paint and every other part of the building.

Stewart Brand

I drew inspiration from many places, including a book by Stewart Brand called How Buildings Learn. This book is a treatise on how seemingly fixed buildings evolve. How for instance they start out in one configuration, then slowly morph into different and often unrecognizable variations as time and successive owners have their way with them.

I used this information and my experiences as a builder to produce a master list of to-do items for the typical home. Items  where regular attention is needed in order to keep everything working as it should. From there I started working on each actual task that needed to be done, including how and when it should happen.


About this time, one of my remodel customers asked me if I would come out on a regular basis and maintain their home for them. Right then the light went on. If one client wanted this kind of help, surely others would too. A business idea was incubated and shortly after Home Preservation Services was born.

Image of HPS home office front door in Los Altos CA what is home
Our humble HPS home offices

Home Preservation (now HPS Palo Alto Inc.) was formed in 1993 to provide homeowners with version 1.0 of services needed to properly care for their home. HPS slowly added clients and in 1997 one of them, Jonathon Axelrod and his friend Brad Husick proposed formalizing a business plan for major expansion. The resulting plan, which called for mass marketing the service did not prove feasible. But their big-picture vision was extremely helpful in refining the basic service offerings. Brad’s mentorship and always-positive attitude was especially helpful and motivating when things got difficult. 


In HPS today, our main service is called “Stewardship.”  The core service consisting of quarterly visits to the home to execute checklists of strategic maintenance tasks has never changed. HPS Palo Alto, Inc. is located on the SF Peninsula not far from Stanford University and now manages several hundred homes. If you live in the Silicon Valley and want proper care for your home HPS is the company to rely on.

If you have taken the time to read all the way through this. Thank you!

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