What is home

What is home? In its most basic definition, a home or residence is an assembly of materials that enclose a weatherproof space for human living.

image of foundation and framing of a new home, what is home
New home under construction

Of course, your home is much more than that. Home becomes the context of our humanity. It is the loom on which we weave our lives. The home itself may just be a structure or shelter, but the location, design and execution of that assembly and the atmosphere within it brings individual meaning and quality of life to those of us who live in them.

There are many things a home could be but at core it should be a safe place for the self. A place where an individual can feel nurtured and come alive. This manual may not be able to help with your current feelings of attachment to a particular place, but it will certainly help you have a better place, no matter how attached you may feel.

The Home Preservation Manual is a guide to becoming a better homeowner. If you are a homeowner already, you know that becoming one was not easy. You likely had to work very hard, save diligently and make huge sacrifices and efforts to find and purchase just the right one. So, congratulations 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, if followed, help you and your family receive maximum enjoyment from living in the home, while also securing the highest possible financial returns from your investment in it. Now isn’t that what homeownership is all about?

Becoming a homeowner is often quoted as the American dream, but homeownership is also an enormous responsibility and 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. Can you believe that? Your home is likely the single biggest purchase you’ve ever made and yet you likely have not been provided with many useful clues about how to properly take care of it. So again, this website is for you. It can provide the information you need to help you take better care of your home and in the process help you have more fun, spend less money and secure a nice return on your investment.

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, and since I am so busy taking care of my customers on a daily basis, I have been a bit slow to get this site up and running. It is a real joy for me to hear the positive stories from happy homeowners who are either using the information from this site or directly experiencing the services provided by my company, HPS Palo Alto Inc.

Warnings: Because I do this website mostly by myself, with no proof readers or editors, you will likely find typos, misspellings and possibly even dreaded grammatical errors. Since I am human, and this is a learning process, you may also find factual errors. If you do, I will appreciate your kindly letting me know so I can make the corrections and learn something in the process. You should also know that in many ways this site is also a work of fiction as some of what you will 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 enough that you will want to come back whenever 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 deliver the critical maintenance services that are described in this website, to homeowners who could not perform them on their own. To accomplish this as a business, HPS adopted the philosophy of prevention, and then created a systematic approach to performing the actual work. This system has proven successful now for hundreds of homes and their homeowners in our area.

HPS operates in the surrounding area of Los Altos and Palo Alto, California, the very heart of Silicon Valley. I believe our clients are some of the very smartest and most ambitious people on the planet. They know value and demand quality. They mostly come to us already knowing that their home is an enormous asset that should be taken care of properly, but more importantly, HPS clients are also aware that their time is valuable and limited and they do not have the tools or skills to do the job properly themselves. Outsourcing it to a qualified professional service provider like HPS makes sense. What always comes as a surprise, even to these most seasoned and astute homeowners is how much work there is to do. 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.

This website explores ways of preventively caring for your home in order to achieve blissful homeownership. This is not intended to be a “how to” site for fixing specific items (although we may touch on some of the more important tasks) 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.

My life and this site are essentially both products of a lifetime 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.

I like to build things. Not just anything. I like to build stuff that lasts. Good stuff. Stuff worth keeping and taking care of. I don’t really like taking care of stuff because I’m a bit lazy, but I know that doing so is good and helps me keep the good stuff I like… so I developed a discipline to do it. I figured a lot of other people were lazy like me, so I started a business in 1984 to help them take care of one their most valuable things, their home. 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

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.

I still wanted to somehow affect a bigger market. I wanted to find a way to help more homes and more homeowners. I didn’t have a clue how to make that happen.

Maintenance 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 durable construction and towards strategic maintenance.

During my early contracting years when I was building and remodeling single family houses, I experienced quite clearly 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 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) were quite busy and successful in their own specialty. These folks really didn’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.

Stewart Brand

For the next year I studied up on preventive maintenance systems. I learned about airline industry and food industry maintenance service programs, and critical service strategies used to avoid catastrophic failures at NASA. I studied insurance claims data and identified the primary causes of failure in the residential structural environment. (Water and neglect.) I learned about the expected duty lives of appliances, heating systems, various roofing, plumbing, water heaters, paint and every other part of the building. I drew inspiration from many places, including a book by Stewart Brand called How Buildings Learn. A treatise on how buildings start out in one configuration when they are newly constructed then slowly morph into different and many times 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 items in the typical home where regular attention was 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.

HPS

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.  

Today, the primary service is on version 5.0 and is called “Stewardship.”  Still, 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 fine home, but can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, HPS is the company to rely on.