New products for the do-it-yourselfer
Allen practically gushes when the conversation turns to ultra-light spackling
"You put it on your putty knife and it feels like the weight
of whipped cream," he says. "It's almost not there. It dries faster
and you can paint over it almost immediately. If you're in the middle of a painting
project, you put it on, paint over it and go on."
Allen is a guy who knows about spackling and that sort of thing.
He is, after all, executive editor of home improvement and gardening books for
the Meredith Corp., the folks who bring you Better Homes and Gardens. He's constantly
checking out the new products that make it easier, faster and cheaper to do
home improvement projects.
If you haven't done a home improvement project in awhile, Allen
says you're in for a treat as you shop for supplies. You'll especially want
to spend some time in the glue aisle, he says.
"There has been an explosion in adhesives," he says.
"There are all these different glues that truly are stronger and dry faster.
They can virtually replace nails."
Another area that's taken off, he says, is cordless tools. If you've ever replaced
all the knobs on kitchen cabinets, you know how hard a job that is with a standard
screwdriver. Contractors figured out the value of these power tools a few years
ago, he says. These days, that's all they use. They have keyless chucks to change
drill or screwdriver bits easily, and variable speeds with clutch mechanisms
for better control.
A master plumber and carpenter who writes the syndicated newspaper
column, 'Ask the Builder,' Tim Carter is a huge fan of cordless tools. For the
best results, get tools that are 18- or 24-volt, he says.
"The explosion of cordless tools is mind-boggling,"
he says. "They are excellent, with higher voltage and more power."
Both Carter and Allen had good things to say about the recent advances in laminate
flooring. They have gotten "better and better" at looking like real
wood. They have excellent durability and snap together instead of having to
be glued down, Allen says.
"Most people don't do renovation as a hobby," he notes.
"They do it for a reason. They haven't dealt with flooring in the last
20 years. There's a tremendous savings in time and in the ability to do it yourself."
Even better, he predicts that the advances in flooring will spread
to wall and ceiling surfaces.
Now, the same concept is being rolled out for residential carpet.
Long a staple of commercial carpet, Milliken is rolling out the Legato Carpet
System, a system of interlocking panels for DIY installation.
Available only at Home Depot, it runs $70 a box (which covers
35 square feet) for two in-stock colors and $84 a box for eight special-order
colors. It's convenient, Carter says, but very expensive. You can get nice carpet
installed for less. The advantage is that if the Legato carpet gets damaged,
you only have to replace one square.
Allen's company has put out several books on paints in the past few years, and
he says there are constant innovations in that field. The general rule of thumb
is that you're paying for the amount of solids in the paint. The more solids,
the truer the color and the less paint you'll need to cover the wall (and the
more you'll pay for the paint).
"Buy the expensive stuff," he says. "It may cost
$20 a gallon, but you only do one coat with the primer. You generally pay more
for labor anyway than materials. So if you're doing it yourself, you're already
saving. So go ahead, buy the more expensive stuff and get better results."
Watch out, he says, for textured paints. They're more expensive
than they seem. They have grit in them and you have to mix them a lot while
you're painting because the grit settles to the bottom. Otherwise, the further
you get in your painting job, the less textured the wall finish is. When you
get to the bottom of the can, it's full of grit and you wind up throwing out
a good portion of the paint.
While you're in the paint aisle, check out a handy little piece
of plastic called a paint can collar. Slide one of these babies into an open
can of paint and you'll never have to deal with paint dripping down the sides
Allen says the innovation he sees is in the increasing variety of plumbing options
that are available. If your project allows you to use PVC pipe, it's much lighter
and easier to install than copper or cast iron, but that's a building code issue
that will vary by county. Something that's on the way is flexible aluminum-coated
pipe with hand-fit compression fittings. It's from Canada, and it's a lot cheaper
than copper pipes, he says.
"With cast iron, you had to melt lead and pour it into the
joints," Carter says. Today, no-hub rubber clamps are available for the
joints, which makes it easier for a plumber to use than PVC.
Keep in mind that using PVC for drain lines will be noisier than
iron. If you've ever heard water draining when someone flushes the toilet or
drains the tub upstairs, it's because there's PVC pipes in the walls, Carter
One other cool item is the tub liner. If you don't want to replace
your current tub, you can have a liner made to match. Along the same lines as
a bed liner for a pick-up truck, it's a "grassroots business that's been
growing very slowly," Allen says. The liners are very specific to the model
and year of the tub. If you can get that information, you can get a liner made
"that fits as good as you can possibly get it."
For the outside of the house, Allen has high praise for low-voltage exterior
lighting. They add safety to stairways, they give homes great curb appeal, and
because they're low-voltage, "you don't have to be an expert in electricity"
to install them, he says. If you use solar-powered lights, you just stick them
in the ground. The only drawback is that they're just as easy to pull out and
thieves love them.
Doors and windows remain a big-ticket home improvement item, but
they've improved from an insulation standpoint. While it's not new, consumers
often overlook the potential savings available with windows with low-e glass.
An ultra-thin metallic coating on the glass reflects heat, saving significant
amounts of energy.
On a night when it's 0 degrees outside, the temperature inside
a house with regular double-pane glass would be about 35 degrees. With soft
coat low-e glass, it would be about 62 degrees, Carter says. If you put in windows
for a second story or higher, make sure you get tilt-in windows. That way, you
can clean them from the inside.
Neither Allen nor Carter is terribly impressed with the new engineered
decking materials. They may last a long time, but they still don't look like
wood, they say. There may be reasons to use them, though, especially if your
deck will be subjected to a lot of sunlight or salt water spray.
Finally, while you're marveling over all the innovations, don't overlook the
"oldies but goodies" that can make all the difference in the world.
A simple plastic extender lets one person carry a 4X8 piece of drywall or tile
board by himself.
Allen is particularly fond of the basin wrench, a tool designed
for the times when you're lying on your back in a kitchen cabinet trying to
get at the faucet. Designed to go behind sinks, it has a rotating head at 90
degrees to the handle.
"People say, 'Oh gosh, it's $15,'" Allen says.
"It will save you banged up knuckles and years of hearing your son say
the swear words you used. It's so much better to have the correct tool."
-- Posted: April 7, 2003