- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

There was no need to hire a contractor to do what she could do herself, Vienna resident Kim Armstrong had decided.

The single homeowner joined about a dozen women in the Merrifield Home Depot store last month to learn how to fix the cracked walls in her town house and other home-improvement tips.

“It’s easier to figure out how to do it yourself rather than have a painter or someone do it for you,” Ms. Armstrong says.

Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc.’s quarterly Do-It-Herself workshops, offered since 2003, are part of a growing trend of teaching women about house repairs and maintenance, such as how to drywall and do plumbing, electrical and installation work.

“A lot of times, the jobs aren’t that complicated,” says Mike Ballard, department head for kitchen and bath at the Merrifield Home Depot. “Most projects for the home, the normal homeowner can do if they have the time and are willing to do it.”

A national survey conducted for Home Depot in April 2003 found that 80 percent of women plan on doing a home-improvement project within the next year and that nearly 70 percent of women want to learn more about home maintenance and repair. Roper Public Affairs & Media of New York conducted the survey among 534 women.

In 2003, Eden Clark and Heidi Baker helped co-found Los Angeles-based Be Jane Inc., an online community, to provide a way for women to learn that information through developing and licensing products and services catering to women in the home-improvement market.

“We’re the average Jane. We learned home improvement on our own when there was no source to turn to,” Ms. Baker says.

Ms. Baker fixed up the rooms, plumbing and electrical systems in her condominium, and Ms. Clark improved several rooms in her home, both teaching themselves how to do the work along the way.

“‘Wow, I can do this’ is a feeling I can convey to other women,” Ms. Clark says, adding that after women complete their first home-improvement project, they realize “they can take on other projects from there.”

Sixty-seven percent of women describe themselves as do-it-yourselfers, according to statistics provided by Be Jane from the 2003 American Express Home Improvement Index. The women are married or single. They are first-time homeowners or homeowners who are widowed or divorced — and they are the largest demographic behind married couples, Be Jane says.

Female-headed households are expected to increase to 31 million by 2010, about 28 percent of all households in the country, according to a Fannie Mae study conducted in 2003. Nationally, the number of households headed by women has grown 400 percent since 1950, the study says.

More women are buying homes without waiting until they get married, says Julie Sussman of Centreville, co-author of “Dare to Repair: A Do-It-Herself Guide to Fixing (Almost) Anything in the Home” with Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, who also lives in the metropolitan area.

Ms. Sussman came up with the book idea after deciding to relieve her husband of the “honey to-do lists” she compiled during his business trips.

A novice at home repair, she researched the bookstores for a how-to book geared toward women. Not finding any, she asked Ms. Glakas-Tenet, who she knew worked on her own home-repair projects, for assistance on the book.

Through their research, the two found that many women could not afford contractors or were afraid to bring them into their homes, or they had to spend most of their days at work. The women wanted to save money or had an interest in doing the project themselves.

Even if they did not have that interest, learning what is required in a repair could help prevent them from being “taken by a contractor,” Ms. Glakas-Tenet says.

“We recognized if we wrote it without leaving detail out, this would allow women to step into a role in home repair that traditionally they have been afraid to step foot into before,” Ms. Glakas-Tenet says.

Home-improvement shows and workshops offered by stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot are other sources of home-repair information.

“Women always have been enterprising and very handy and very knowledgeable when it comes to home improvement. I think it’s always been popular. It just hasn’t gotten its due,” says Bob Baskerville, president of Do It Yourself Network, in Knoxville, Tenn., a Scripps Network cable station.

That recognition came after the introduction of a home-and-garden show in 1994, Mr. Baskerville says. Today, half of DIY Network’s viewers are female, he says.

“There are just as many men as women interested in this,” Mr. Baskerville says.

The host of one of the DIY Network’s home-improvement shows, Lynda Lyday, a licensed contractor living in New York City, tells the trade secrets she learned as a union apprentice and as a contractor for the past 20 years.

“I discovered it really isn’t that hard if you know what tools do which job and if you learn the know-how,” says Ms. Lyday, host of “Talk2DIY Home Improvement.” “You have to investigate the steps to do that.”

Home Depot provides step-by-step and hands-on instruction at its in-store workshops, along with explaining the supplies and tools needed. The instructors are male and female associates of the store. Half of the customers the associates work with on a daily basis are women; the same holds for Lowe’s.

“It used to be not that number,” says Don Harrison, spokesman for the eastern division of Home Depot. “It goes back to this trend by women in general of taking more control of their lives, just asserting their own independence, whether they’re single or married.”

Brenda Martinez of Woodbridge, who attended the Merrifield Home Depot workshop, says she wants to keep up her own house.

“I think it’s a good for women to empower themselves with this knowledge. We want to know the same things men know about fixing things,” she says.

Eighty-five percent of women are or will be solely responsible for maintaining a house, and 61 percent of female homeowners say they enjoy home-maintenance and repair projects, according to a Sears, Roebuck and Co. survey commissioned this year of 603 female homeowners.

Eighty-three percent of women said working with tools made them feel independent, and 50 percent said that they feel empowered, stated the same Sears survey, conducted by research firm of Mathew Greenwald & Associates Inc. in Northwest.

“They really need to arm themselves with the tools and knowledge to keep their homes in good working order,” says Joan Chow, vice president of marketing for home services for Sears in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

“Having that knowledge and education makes them feel independent and confident in themselves,” Ms. Chow says. “There’s been very few resources available to them. Now, we’re getting to the point where they can get this advice.”

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