Girls Guide to Home Improvement

Not Just for the Guys

Has your home improvement activity been limited to choosing the bathroom tile or stenciling some ivy on the walls of your kitchen? Come on -- don't resign yourself to the "girly" tasks! You don't need to wear your goods on the outside to use a table saw, nailgun or a welder. Yeah, they're heavy, noisy, and maybe a bit imposing. But with a little training (along with a little moxie and common sense), you can make your home your castle. And there's nothing quite like accomplishing a project in your home that not only looks great, but makes you feel great, too.

Home improvement

Get your game plan

It's hard to shop when you don't know what you want or need. So look through home and garden magazines, and catalogs, browse the Web, and keep track of anything that inspires you. Start a file or even a shoebox to store pictures of appealing designs, and use them when starting projects. Don't limit yourself to getting inspiration only from other home projects. Use art, decor, the outdoors or even clothing to generate ideas.

Set a timeline

Some projects need just a couple hours a weekend for a few weeks to be complete, while others will require months. To keep yourself on track, make a project timeline. Plan for the hours to be spent on the job itself -- as well as the time spent perusing, shopping (and returning -- see below), toting and prepping for the task.

If this becomes something you're doing because you want to but don't have to, consider investing in a software program specially suited to the task. They can help you plan your project's look as well as assist in budgeting both time and money.

Make a list

Consider everything from the painting accessories, type and size of hinges to trim and towel bars. Jim Mathews, owner of Mathews Contracting LLC in Seattle, advises looking online first when searching for fixtures, tile, carpeting, appliances, cabinets, flooring and lighting, but, he adds, "The obvious downside is that you can't actually touch the products." He says to get your ideas out there in the stores, and buy either locally or online -- wherever you can get the best deals.

Don't forget to include purchasing, borrowing or renting the proper tools required for a professional -- really
professional -- looking project.

Create a budget

If you're comfortable with a little flexibility in your budget, build in a little wiggle room, but still keep on paper an upper end figure you will absolutely not go beyond. Remember to factor in all the costs. Are you taking trips to the dump? Do you have all the tools, brushes, protective gear, patience and persistence required?

Girl's guide to home improvement Get quotes from local equipment rental companies. Tile saw, jackhammer, pressure washer and carpet cleaners, some savvy showy shopping may keep costs (and clutter) low. Don't be afraid to borrow a tool or a friend to help with daunting projects.

Also, helpful friends require sustenance, so don't forget to budget for meals out when one is too tired to cook. And then there are the beverages... like soda, water, tea and of course, many cups of coffee.

You should also make sure to check with your local building department to see if your city, county or state has special building regulations, or requires permits or permissions. Often following the permitting process can be a hassle -- and a slow, slow process -- so find out what you need to do, how long the while thing will take, and how much it costs before jumping into your project.

Finallly, factor in extras like taxes, delivery charges and installation fees for various goods and services.

Don't feel dumb asking for help

Come on -- you're not expected to know where everything in the store is located, nor how to use every tool or supply. (Not to mention that the smaller and/or more obscure the item you're seeking, all the more you will need help to find it.)

Don't give up after the first "I don't know." If the associate/salesperson doesn't know the answer to your question or is simply too busy to help, ask someone else. (Along these same lines, if they claim not to have a product you'd expect them to stock, ask another salesperson... just in case.)

Sooner or later (hopefully sooner), the do-it-herselfer may find that she's more knowledgeable about where to find things than the aproned sales associate.

 Learn all about it

Not quite ready to use a tile saw? Unsure about fixing a fixture? More than a little worried about being zapped by electricity? "Big-box home" improvement shops like Home Depot and Lowe's not only have large and diverse inventories, but also offer some good clinics.

Home improvement for herFor example, the Home Depot offers both in-store and online clinics so you can learn how to do a variety of home improvement projects yourself. Locally, they offer weekly clinics with information on usually 3 to 4 different projects for adults (and a new one for kids) each calendar month. They also offer "Do-It-Herself Workshops" -- a free, one-night workshop every three months. Check for a schedule and more information. Lowe's stores also offer classes which change on a monthly basis. Find out more at

Stay in your friendly "neighborhood"

If you're reading this article, you probably aren't 100 percent confident of your own construction abilities. That's totally normal. But while you will probably need to go a little outside your comfort zone to get anything more than very minor home improvement projects done, you don't necessarily need to take it to extremes -- for example, going to specialty (read: pricey) supply stores when you're looking for the basics.

For example, for the construction newbie to get good results, you may want to steer clear of the lumber yards and stick to home improvement warehouse stores. Why? Mathews says, "The lumberyard people won't deal with you unless you have a certain amount of expertise." So if you can't fake knowing board feet from bead board, shop at a place where the customers aren't all general contractors.

Consider green alternatives

When you're improving your home, try your best to add environmentally thoughtful fixtures, wall, roof, and floor coverings. Check out renewable products and those made locally.

Salvage useful fixtures, draperies, lights and appliances. Consider donating useful -- but let's say, ugly -- faucets, fans, hardware, cabinets and even flooring remnants to your local builders emporium or charity.

Keep your receipts

Your home improvement receipts will help you get full refunds on unused items that you return -- and those little scraps of paper can help you save money, too.

Home improvement projects can increase the value of your home, but the IRS needs documentation to give you any tax breaks. Label your receipts with a description of the product/projects and keep them safely on file or in a shoebox. (Check with a qualified tax advisor if you have any questions on deductions and recordkeeping.)

Finally, if you need to get more of the same products, you already possess the vital information -- product numbers, descriptions, cost -- to make it a relatively easy transaction.

Buy extra and return what you don't use

Are you worried that you may not be buying enough materials to get the job done right? The solution to that problem is simple: Buy more than you need. Whatever you don't use (subject to the store's policies, of course) should be returnable if in its original packaging. Bring your receipt along with the goods returned to be sure you get back the price you paid, not the lowest sale price.

A couple more tips on returns: Check your store's return policies when you buy the extras. Some places require the goods back in a certain number of days, while some merchants will charge a restocking fee.

If you purchased your supplies from a big home improvement store, you may want to save up extras from a few shopping trips before braving the returns line. And to keep the trip as short as possible, avoid the peak hours (weekends and after 5pm).

You're not alone

For more DIY help and information, check out these sites geared especially to the girls:

Have it your way

Whether we're talking plumbing fixes or installing a new window, women are just plain good at rolling up their sleeves and tackling home projects. According to a report released by Home Depot, more than eighty percent of the women surveyed said they prefer accomplishing home projects themselves. Why? They like seeing and admiring their work, making a personal statement -- and enjoy saving money while actually increasing the value of their homes. But that's not the big reason: Nearly three-quarters surveyed said they do it just because it's fun!

Women taking charge of remodeling and repairs around the house -- that's what we call a real home improvement!

by Cait Braeden

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Julie D. Martin

Julie D. Martin

Sales Representative
CENTURY 21 Home Realty Inc., Brokerage*
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