Skip the pro and strap on a tool belt

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November 11, 2006|By Joanne Cleaver | Joanne Cleaver,McClatchy-Tribune

When it was time to take out some walls in the 1960s-era ranch house that Rhett Bainter bought from his parents, he and his friends were the ones who swung the sledgehammers and hauled the mess out to the trash bins.

When the tile guy working on the bathroom floor needs someone to hand him a square, Bainter does it.

When it's time to paint the kitchen, he'll be the one wielding the brush.

"If I'm not working, I'm here helping," said Bainter, 26, of Milwaukee.

He's not sure exactly how much he's saving on the $150,000 project, which includes adding central air conditioning, replacing windows and expanding the garage. But he figures it's thousands of dollars.

The DIY - do-it-yourself - category is picking up some of the slack in the renovation market, say national home improvement retailers and suppliers. New materials and products are making it easier for even shop-class dropouts to achieve passable results.

The moribund residential real estate market is likely to be a boon for aspiring DIYers, said Justin De Santis, a consumer marketing analyst with the Chicago office of research firm Mintel International, which recently wrote a forecast of the $460 billion DIY market.

Local hardware stores and national home improvement chains are likely to polish their products, classes and marketing to DIYers, he said, and stores in urban markets will see "more of a focus on smaller projects that urban apartments are more likely to focus on, such as wallpaper and flooring, bathroom sinks and upgrades."

The homeowners most likely to strap on tool belts are middle-class types who have enough money to pay for high-quality materials and who would rather put in sweat equity than have a contractor install cheap stuff, said Chris Jensen, executive editor of the trade magazine Hardware Retailing.

Many municipalities require that licensed professionals do plumbing and electrical work, and that structural work must comply with local building codes, but that still leaves a lot of room for ambitious homeowners.

Painting and staining walls and woodwork is the No. 1 do-it-yourself project, Jensen said. That's partly because it's easy and partly because it's easy for a pro to rescue a botched job.

Installing wood or tile floors, finishing basements and adding crown molding are top projects nationally, said Yancey Casey, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc.

He reports a burst in tools and innovations that make it easier for homeowners to tackle more complicated parts of their projects. The MultiTASKit, for instance, is a "third hand" tool that enables a DIYer to install crown molding.

Traditionally, it's a two-person job.

Ready-to-assemble cabinets started to take off this year, say retailers and researchers. The sides, top, bottom and interior shelves come as a kit, with doors provided by the manufacturer or ordered separately from a cabinet shop.

Custom Service Hardware Inc., a wholesaler of ready-to-assemble cabinets, is selling twice as many cabinets now as it did a year ago, reports chief executive officer Frank Rasmussen. Midrange contractors are ordering them to save time and money. The company also is beginning to market to consumers, hoping that they will ask their contractors about the cost-saving kits - or maybe put them together themselves.

IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings company, renowned for its low prices and expectation that customers will assemble what they buy, has been rapidly expanding its assembly services. It provides services including assembly of the cabinets and IKEA-friendly local contractors who will incorporate the company's products into a renovation.

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