Know your home, or prepare for some rude surprises


EVEN IF YOU never lift a hammer and need help to change a light bulb, you may be fascinated by those TV shows where teams of people completely transform some old structure by the end of the series season. Besides the ranks of actual do-it-yourselfers, there is a surprisingly large group of virtual do-it-yourselfers who enjoy watching other people do the work.

The enduring popularity of PBS' "This Old House" program confirms that. If everyone who watches the popular program renovated a house, whole cities would have been transformed.

In fact, Bob Vila, the star of that series in its early years, says that unlike the '70s and '80s, which were "do-it-yourself" decades, the '90s are a "buy-it-yourself" era. Vila contends that people interested in home remodeling these days need to know not how to manage a table saw, but how to handle hiring decisions.

That is the theme of Vila's new book, "Bob Vila's Complete Guide to Remodeling your Home," written with Hugh Howard and due out in a couple of weeks from Avon Books ($30).

While Vila is not everybody's favorite on-screen carpenter (Ron's personal favorite is Norm Abram; Karol's personal favorite is Harrison Ford), he does know what he's talking about, and offers some sensible advice. The book begins with a chapter about how to really look over your house to learn its strengths and (more importantly) its weaknesses.

"Without a thorough working knowledge of your home, you put yourself at risk of rude surprises," the book notes. There may be underlying structural problems that need to be addressed before any remodeling can progress. (For example, plumbing may be inadequate for a fancy master bath; old joists might not support the weight of a whirlpool tub. Termites may have undermined the porch you want to turn into a sun room.)

The book also contains drawings, architectural plans and a glossary of building terms.

Small stuff

When you think of Craftsman tools from Sears, you usually think of big things, like table saws, drill presses and great big toolboxes. But what about people who build little things, like doll houses, model airplanes, model railroad and architectural scale models?

For them, there's the new Craftsman set of Mini Tools, including a power drill, jigsaw, pad sander, plunge router, belt sander, right angle grinder and a high-speed rotary device. The mini-jigsaw is recommended for making intricate cuts in plastic or wood, and it can be converted to a scroll saw with a thumbscrew vice clamp. The saw weighs half a pound. The mini-power drill, which weighs 11.5 ounces, can drill holes as small as 3/100th of an inch.

The little tools come in a 75-piece set for $229.99, in a 50-piece set for $139.99, and in a 36-piece starter set for $119.99.

And the really nice thing about them is you can carry them all around in a teeny, tiny toolbox.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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