Going paperless: creating a digital version of your house using Evernote, Penultimate and Skitch

When I started going paperless, it wasn’t my only intention to get rid of paper. It seemed to me by converting things from paper to digital format and having that information available anywhere, I could improve the efficiency and speed with which I could get things done. This notion has proven particularly handy after I created a digital version of my house.

What does that mean exactly? It means recreated certain aspects of my house in digital format so that even when I am away from home, I can use that information to help speed things along. Consider, for instance, buying a new sofa. Will it fit through the main hallway? If you are out looking for a sofa and you’ve forgotten to measure the width of the hallway, you have to return home and measure it–or take a chance and guess. But I don’t have to do this. I’ve digitized my house in such a way that I can pull up the measurements in Evernote and see just how wide the hallway is. The same is true for our bedroom, family room, kitchen, office, or any room in the house.

It sounds complicated to create a digital version of your house, but it really wasn’t that difficult. I’ll describe how I did it using just a few basic tools, and then I’ll list some suggestions for how this might be useful for you.

1. Tools you’ll need to create a digital house

  • A tape measure for measuring things1.
  • A camera of some sort (the one in your mobile device works perfectly well for this).
  • Penultimate app, which I used for sketching out rooms and measurements
  • Sktich app, which I used for annotating my photos
  • Evernote, for storing the data in a notebook, which I call “Digital house”
  • (Optional: floor plan software for creating more professional-looking floorplans. I used Punch! software for the Mac for this.)

2. Pick a room in your house to begin with

I started with my office because that is the room that I tend to make the most use of and would get the most immediate benefit from having data in digital format.

3. Measure the basic dimensions of the room

I used a tape measure and measured the dimensions of the walls, doors and windows of the room. I did this using Penultimate, in a notebook I called “Floor Plans.” Of course, you can do this on paper as well, but I am trying to be paperless. And besides, Penultimate is free and integrates seemlessly with Evernote. Here is the initial sketch I made of my office floor plan:

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4. Measure other important elements of the room

I tried to think about what kind of information would be useful to have if I was away from the house. For instance, it might be useful to know how tall the ceilings are, or how wide your desk is. Windows sizes can be particularly useful if you are shopping for curtains or considering replacing the windows entirely. On the floor plan above you can see I’ve captured the width of my windows but not the height, nor how far they are from the floor or ceiling.

5. Take photos of each surface (wall of the room)

Once I’d sketched out the floor plan of my office, and jotted down the various measurements, I took pictures of each wall and then key those photos to the sketch I made.

6. Annotate your photos with measurements and other information

Armed with the photos, I began to annotate them with the measurements that I’d recorded. Here is an annotated photo of one side of my home office based on the measurements I’d taken in steps 3 and 4 above as it appears in Evernote on my iPad:

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Here, you can see that I’ve tried to capture those measurement that I thought would be important to have if I was away and needed to make some decision. For instance, if I was looking to get a picture to put on the wall above my printer2 but wasn’t sure if the picture in question would fit, I could simply call up this drawing and see that if the picture was smaller than 4 feet, 7 inches, I’d be fine.

This proves helpful in other ways, too. Know the dimensions of your walls makes it easy to calculate how much paint you’ll need if you decide to repaint. And because nearly all of these measurements are unlikely to change (unless I do a major remodel), the numbers are good for a long, long time.

7. Repeat steps 2-6 for each of the other rooms you want to include

I also included hallways and stairwells, as their widths and heights are often critical when it comes to getting large furniture through them. Usually, I’ll include the width of the stairwell, as well as the width of it’s narrowest point (for instance, railing to wall instead of just wall-to-wall) because that information could prove useful. I’ll usually include measurements for furniture in the annotated photographs because that is as convenient as any place to have that information if I need it.

8. (Optional) Take all of your sketches and convert them into a full floor plan.

I did this using Punch! Home Design Studio for Mac, software that I first picked up when we bought our house several years back. This step is completely optional. The drawing you create in Penultimate will work just fine. I simply wanted something that looked neat and clean. Here is an example of what one floor (the main floor) of my house looks like once I’d taken all of the measurements from my Penultimate sketches and drew a floor plan with Home Design Studio:

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This is a PDF that I’ve put into a note in Evernote. That note has some additional annotations that I’ve made along the way.

One feature that is missing that I think would be really cool is the ability to embed Note Links inside images and PDFs. It would be nice, for instance, to click on the “Living Room” area in the drawing above and have it open the Note in Evernote for my living room. That note could then contain links to each note that has an annotated image of the walls, doors, or window. Maybe in some future release…?

Suggestions for using your digital house

Having this information in Evernote means having it available on the go. My Digital House notebook is setup to be an offline notebook, meaning I can access the notes and attachments in this notebook even when I am not connected to the Internet. This is particularly convenient when I am at Home Depot and neither Internet nor cellular 3G access is working for me. I can still pull up a floor plan, or a photo of a hallway and check the measurement to make sure the thing I am about to buy will fit, or that it is the right size.

Color is also something useful to be able to pull up. Having the photos of rooms means you have a good idea of the color of things, and if you are looking to find something that goes with the colors of your room, you are not guessing.

Having a digital house makes meetings with re-modelers, plumbers, electricians and other contractors much easier, especially when you are away from the house.

Floor plans and annotated photos are not the only things you can keep in this notebook. I also keep digital copies of homeowners insurance information. I keep estimates and statements for potential work being done to the house, or receipts for work that has been done. I keep documents related to the homeowners association, rules and regulations, meeting minutes, assessment statements. All of this is part of my digital house and it’s convenient to have it all in one place and accessible no matter where I am.

It does take a little time to get this information into digital format, but I’m certain I’ve saved two or three times as much time by having access to this information when I’m away from the house. No more guesswork. No more running back home to measure something, and then dashing back to the store. It’s all right there.

And I think it’s pretty cool that I didn’t use a single piece of paper in putting it all together.

(As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts are available on Pinterest.)


Notes

  1. Even better is an existing floor plan so you don’t have to measure, but I’m assuming that you are doing this from scratch, as I did.
  2. Yes, I still own a printer because there are rare occasions when I must still print something out.

5 thoughts on “Going paperless: creating a digital version of your house using Evernote, Penultimate and Skitch

  1. Thanks for the tip!
    One thing that came to my mind while reading this: It might be useful to also have a visibility of the sockets in the house (power, phone, cable / TV etc).
    I will give it a try and “scan” my home asap!

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