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Home Improvement 2006  

Getting it done

  Whether you're going with a pro or doing it yourself, here's expert advice to bring your plan to reality.
Hot new stuff for the home handyman

Ask a building-products pro what's new and wonderful in the world of products for do-it-yourselfers, and, unless he has an endorsement deal that requires him to wax poetic about self-closing toilet lids, the chances are very good the first words out of his mouth will be "cordless tools."

Cordless tools themselves have been around for a while, but what's new is the variety, the power and the battery life. If you think your cordless drill is wonderful, check out cordless circular saws, impact wrenches, rotary hammers, planers, routers, nailers and screw guns. Those are just a few of the tools now available. The newest professional-grade tools are of the 36-volt variety, more than double the power of many of the products currently on the market.

"To be able to have the freedom from the cords with a reciprocal saw and a circular saw is great," says Jeff Wilson, a television host for both DIY Network and HGTV. "They come with two or three batteries so you can keep swapping them out. This summer, I was using my old Makita drill and it kept running out of juice."

Ed Del Grande, a master plumber and contractor and host of several DIY Network shows, including "Ed the Plumber," is another huge fan of the new wave of cordless tools, which use lithium batteries to power larger tools and hold charges longer.

"The newer ones will run full power until it goes off," he says. "It's not that steady declining we used to have."

Plus, he says, some battery chargers are now also radios.

"If you're looking for a new battery," he says, "just follow the music."

If there's a drawback to a big power tool with a big battery, it's the weight, says Thomas Winter, receiving manager at Lowe's Home Improvement in Sandy Springs, Ga. For the general homeowner, he recommends a bare minimum of 12 volts of power but prefers at least 14 volts. You can use that level of power for any project, from hanging miniblinds to building a deck.

Another popular item in the area of tools is the laser level, Winter says.

"It's fairly universal," he says. "You can lay tile or hang pictures with them."

Some are single-position, providing one line, while others shoot additional lines of light left to right, floor to ceiling or even around corners. Some also have stud finders and tape measures built in, and some will stick to the wall or hang from a pin for hands-free use.

Here are some items from other product categories the pros mentioned:

Painting kits. Ten years ago, there were artists' schools for faux finishing, Del Grande says. The first time he saw it done, he says it was like watching someone paint a canvas. Now, there are kits for do-it-yourselfers with textured rollers that make quick work of the project and look pretty darned good. "I never thought a DIYer would come close," Del Grande says, "but it looks pretty decent, unless you're comparing it side by side, and then the difference would be obvious."

Flooring. The biggest advance in flooring in recent years, Del Grande says, is pre-finished hardwood floors.

"You don't even have to empty the room to put them down," he says. "The finishes are put on in a controlled environment, and they're just gorgeous."

Installing hardwood floors is still a job that's primarily tackled by professionals. Not so with hardwood laminates, which provide a reasonable substitute at a much lower cost. Plus, most people can install the laminates themselves.

Interior designer and author Sharon Hanby-Robie says she was "against the stuff five years ago," but with improvements in the product -- it now looks more like wood and it's quieter -- she's a convert. "I've done so much of it throughout the entire home," she says. "It's amazing. It's doing a much better job of looking like wood than looking like a piece of plastic."

-- Posted: April 12, 2006
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