Do It Yourself

  • By Nina Yun CTW Features
  • Saturday, April 12, 2008 6:29pm

Wall Street got its bailout. Are you still waiting for government to knock on your door, too? Well, don’t hold your breath.

During these challenging financial times when everyone seems to be looking for a helping hand, you can help yourself. Experts are seeing an increasing trend of do-it-yourself projects and this is one trend there’s no need to avoid.

“With the economy getting tougher, there’s this shift from big renovations to smaller projects with repair and maintenance in homes,” said Jennifer King, spokeswoman for a national home improvement retailer. “It’s all about cost-effective projects that can change the whole look of the kitchen, and won’t take that much time.”

As leading research reports — such as a winter 2008 survey conducted by the trendspotting arm of the worldwide advertising agency J. Walter Thompson — are indicating, the country’s economic woes are affecting food and dining trends. The most notable development so far is that more people are choosing to stay home and cook their meals, as opposed to dining out or having food delivered.

This boost in quality kitchen time reiterates the need for homeowners to get their kitchens up to speed with their family’s needs, and to accomplish that while staying within a budget. From quick floor decor courtesy of Martha Stewart’s partnership with FLOR, a line of design-inspired carpet squares for any room of the home, to more nitty-gritty DIY projects, your DIY future awaits.

Amanda Nowaczyk, department supervisor at a national home improvement retail center, says there has been an increase in the free clinicals offered in stores on Saturdays and Sundays, especially in the tile clinic.

“More people are trying to do projects by themselves,” Nowaczyk said. “The DIY-er is coming out in people now.”

Whether you’re on a tight budget or you’re not, it’s never convenient to put your kitchen out of order. Here are some favorite DIY kitchen projects from experts who have been in the kitchen DIY trenches and have lived to tell about it.

Hardware 101

Everyone seems to agree. Nothing is easier than replacing hardware on your kitchen cabinetry. “You can completely change the look of your cabinets by replacing hardware,” King said. “You can go from a knob to a bar, or change colors and materials, go fancy or minimal. Just keep in mind it can get pricey if you’re working in a kitchen with a ton of cabinets.”

Danny Lipford, a home-improvement expert and contributor to Better Homes and Gardens magazine, says that replacing hardware it a very straightforward job. “It’s mainly having the right screwdriver and cordless drill,” he said. “I would remove one handle and hinge and then head over to your home center store to make sure you’re matching the exact footprint of the hardware, so it covers the same amount of surface.”

Lipford also suggests taking off your existing hardware and doing each replacement one-by-one, instead of taking all your hardware off at once. “You’ll stay more organized, and it’s more convenient,” he said. “If you don’t have a lot of time, you can replace hardware little-by-little instead of having to do it all at once.”

Tile Tricks

Especially with tile, exact measurements are key. Before any tile work, Paul Pacheco, a managing member for an Arizona construction company, says to measure your skills in reading a tape measure.

“I was surprised by how many people didn’t know how to measure or read a measuring tape,” Pacheco said. “Especially with kitchens and tiles, there are a lot of exact measurements like corner 1⁄8 inches. It’s important to be able to get a measurement from the area you’re working with and taking that same measurement to the material you’re cutting.”

After you’re measured out, Nowaczyk recommends a sink backsplash as a small tile project in the kitchen. “It’s a small project, but you can have a lot of fun with it, too,” she said. “Backsplashes are a good way to start, since it’s a small space.”

This project can be done over one weekend. To make it easier, Nowacyzk recommends buying the premix tile set, although she says you can mix your own by buying the powder and following the package’s directions. Also, tile saws and cutters are available for rent at most home improvement or hardware stores. “I always tell people at the clinics to add 10 to 15 percent for waste,” she said. “You’ll be needing more tiles in case of a mistake and for the different cuts and dimensions you could be doing.”

Keep in mind the material you’re working with and the size of your tile. Nowacyzk says heavy materials like granite or marble would do better on a 6-by-6 instead of a

12-by-12 piece.

With a little patience, anyone can do it, Pacheco said. He also said that adding design and other details are very manageable.

“Lay it out and play with it before you put it on the wall, though,” Nowaczyk said. “Then mark the wall and work with the pattern you’ve laid out.”

Sink Your Costs

The sink might be the most used, and perhaps abused, part of the kitchen.

“Replacing the sink and faucet is a great project someone can do on their own,” Pacheco said. “Especially since sinks need more maintenance over the years. It gets a lot of action. Things are bound to start dripping or leaking.”

Still, there are things to consider before you get your hands dirty. “Size is critical,” Lipford said. “Carefully measure your existing sink and make sure your replacement fits those measurements.”

Also, replacing a sink comes with a company of chores and decisions. By replacing the sink, you’ll need to replace the faucet and you have the option of adding your own soap dispenser under the sink or adding a new garbage disposal. Lipford also recommends buying higher quality sink materials like stainless steel.

“You save money by not hiring someone, and it’s good to invest that saved money in a good sink that won’t dent easily and will clean up real nice,” Lipford said.

According to Lipford, this project can easily be done within a day, but cautions that people will be spending some time on their back under the sink. “It’s just a few steps, but working with plumping can be tricky. You have to make sure of your water supply and drain lines, and it might take you several trips to the store, but it’s worth it,”

Lipford said. “You use your sink every day and sometimes hiring a professional could cost you around $250 for a job you could do yourself with a little time and patience.”

And it’s not just money you save from finding your inner DIY-er. Pacheco says there’s nothing more satisfying than finishing a project by yourself, and Lipford agrees. “You don’t have to go through the hassle of finding a good professional,” Lipford said. “You have complete control of the quality and look of any project you do, and you can work on your own budget and time more easily.”

One caveat concerning DIY plumbing: If you’re not a confident do-it-yourself type, in the long run you’d be better off hiring a professional. Plumbing, like electrical work, has to be done properly or you could be in for major problems.