Seems strange that a vacuum, a refrigerator, bicycle, even a 4 inch house plant from Home Depot, comes with a manual or at least a set of instructions (place in indirect light, water only when soil is completely dry) but a homeowner is pretty much on his own when trying to operate, maintain, and protect his largest and probably most complicated investment.

An unhandy homeowner, whether a new home owner or with the mortgage nearly paid, often has no clue as to what is wrong, what could go wrong, what will keep it from going wrong, or even who to call to fix it.

As with so many things today, the Internet comes to the rescue. We found dozens of websites from a simple search for "home maintenance". Several of those we reviewed provided excellent information that can fill in for that missing home owner's manual. Each of the three listed below has its place and we recommend checking them out and then book marking them for future reference. - Home Maintenance Guide. This site, which is primarily a data base and referral system for people seeking to hire home inspectors, still provides a lot of information especially on home maintenance and the prevention of problems. There is a new home owner list of priority tasks that need to be performed when taking possession of the house; many are common sense suggestions such as changing the locks, or knowing where the shutoffs for major systems are located before a water pipe bursts. Others, such as checking the safety of stair construction, may not automatically occur to the novice homeowner.

There is also a short list of tasks that should be performed routinely and a schedule for doing so. These are especially helpful; not many people realize that they should activate ground fault protectors (those funny looking electrical outlets in kitchen and bath) every month so that they don't freeze in an open position, or that automatic garage door lifts should be tested regularly to insure that the emergency reversal system is working properly, a major safety concern.

The site suggests putting an early warning system in place for major components of your home and offers a comprehensive guide for such monitoring as early detection may avoid major repairs or at least give a homeowner adequate warning to get estimates and schedule repairs on a non-emergency basis. It lists tell-tale signs of trouble with the exterior, structure, interior, attic, electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems (by type, including wood burning stoves) and clearly defines when to call in a pro. Is the paint bubbling on the outside of the house? Forget, at least for the moment, a painter; this guide will alert you, quite properly, to first check the moisture buildup inside the house.

There is also a guide to various kinds of household pests with a broad guide to the type of treatment required. This section would be more helpful if they had included pictures for identification purposes.

If a major improvement or repair projects is contemplated, check out the Cost to Repair guide which gives a unit price for a number of projects such as re-roofing, replacing a toilet, installing a deck or building a retaining wall or a garage. The prices given are in wide ranges and not suitable for costing a job, but are helpful as a quick reality check when daydreaming about a major rehab or as a cross-check of a builder's estimates. is the web site of Service Master, the disaster recovery people. The user must wade through a certain amount of corporate promotion but there are some excellent features. The Appliance Center provides troubleshooting advice for most major appliances. Clothes washer tub fills but machine doesn't run? There are two simple suggestions to try which might save a repair call. The range of possible problems for each appliance is comprehensive and there are generally several do-it-yourself solutions to try for each problem listed. also provides emergency tips for fire and smoke or water damage and vandalism. These are, as might be expected, along the line of "what to do while Service Master is on its way" but still might help avoid additional damage to the house and its contents.

Another handy feature is a calculator which will compute the amount of material needed to fence a yard, carpet a room, even mulch the flower beds. For example, type in the dimensions of a bathroom and it will come back with figures for the number of four inch, eight inch, or 12 inch tiles needed to cover the area.

The best site we found, however, was one provided by Michigan State University's Extension Division. Here you will find a bare-bones page containing nothing but an alphabet button set. Each letter will lead to a number of topics which are extensively cross referenced with many of the hundreds of topics showing up under several different categories. Disposal of hazardous household waste, for example, popped up both under H for Hazardous Waste Management and C for Chemicals. There is also keyword search function so is actually pretty simple to locate the information needed. It was interesting just to scroll through the topics under a few letters of the alphabet to see what kinds of information popped up. The site is comprehensive but it is also a bit quirky.

There is information here on removing stains of almost every kind from nearly every conceivable surface; ink from Formica�, motor oil from concrete, candle wax from carpets; suggestions for caring for bathroom fixtures; guidance in reclaiming a dozen or more types of items after a flood; advice about maintaining small appliances and keeping pests in line; and directions for cleaning virtually everything, The individual reports, even for simple procedures, are very detailed (seven steps for vacuuming Venetian blinds for heaven sakes) and straightforward.

We will periodically take a look at some of the other great sites that are out there for the homeowner, home buyer, and even the home renovator. How did we ever live without the web?