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Girl's guide to home improvement

Nicola Jane Ford is a freelance writer and the author of the novel Scatter, a psychological suspense mystery. She is a frequent contributor to, often writing about home and travel.

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.

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.

Not just for the guys

For 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. (Find out more in our article, Eco-friendly home decor -- go green when redecorating.)

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!


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