When you first pick up "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Home Repair," you may not be overly excited; it may not give you that "gotta-have-it" feeling. But don't set it aside too quickly.
With some quiet consideration, you may find, as I did, that home-improvement author Judy Ostrow's new book has some sound and savvy nuggets of knowledge. Did you know, for instance, that because window screens are made of woven wire, you can repair a hole by weaving the loose edges of a patch over the edges of the hole? I didn't.
And this: "If you're going to take apart a faucet, clear an area where you can line up the pieces in the order you remove them." Then, "if you need to take parts to the store to find replacements, make a list of the parts and the order, so you can put things back the way you took them out."
If you're handy already, you're probably thinking: Only an idiot needs to be told that -- hence the title of the book, which is one of more than 450 Idiot Guides.
Add this to the "Dummies" series of books, and it's obvious publishers are hoping for a lot of dim bulbs. But when it comes to simple home repairs, I think the audience is big enough, starting with me. I'm supposed to know about houses, but, sad to say, I've always found it easier to commission the help of a handy boyfriend or husband than to learn how to fix a squeaky floor board. With a book like this, though, I could start acting like the feminist I claim to be.
The book is divided into five parts: getting to know your house; repairing surfaces and openings; plumbing and fixtures; wiring, appliances, heating and cooling; and safety and upkeep. The actual names of the chapters are annoying: "Skin Deep," "The Circulatory System," "Mission Control," etc. There are many other cutesy chapter headings ("Doors: An Open and Shut Case"), but happily that’s where the high jinks end. Although some dummy-type books are a veritable circus of chaotic cartoons and caricatures, this one is mostly straightforward, serious and helpful.
Among the features are clear line drawings, definitions of words that only we idiots need to have defined, lists at the beginning of the chapters that tell you what you’ll find, lists at the end of chapters to tell you what you found and small boxes of info called "What Pros Know." The latter are amazingly astute. For instance, if you go out to buy a cordless drill, no matter what the power, price or features, if it doesn’t feel good in your hand, don’t buy it.
The final gift I got from reading this book is an awareness that I need what the author calls "A Workbook for Your Home." She suggests a three-ring binder with a spine 3 inches wide or more, filled with clear plastic sheet protectors into which go the owner’s manuals, receipts, booklets, electrical schematics, service records and so on that pertain to a home. I have my items scattered in various folders called receipts and house. But if my Yosemite vacation and my karaoke-infused wedding reception warrant their own binder, surely my house deserves the same respect.