Do-it-yourself fix-it books can help keep costs down on home repairs; Popular Mechanics Home Appliance Repair Manual, editor in chief Allen Bragdon. New York: Hearst Book. $19.95 Do It Yourself and Save Money!, by the editors of Consumer Guide. New York: Harper & Row. $14.95.; Home Repairs Every Woman Can Do, by Tom Philbin. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc. $3.95.
Now that I have joined the ranks of property owners, I find that home repair books are high on my reading list. Since I now appreciate what it means to keep a home in good shape, I read them voraciously, and I find they are useful. I've learned that I must vacuum the refrigerator coils regularly. I find it is easy to replace an electrical outlet. And the homemade window washing liquid I now make is much cheaper and more effective than the store brand I used to buy.
There is no way to review the plethora of books on home repairs; whole sections of bookstores are devoted to books on all aspects of home care. This is a look at three books, with apologies to the many others that offer sound advice.
"Do It Yourself and Save Money!," by the editors of Consumer Guide, is a plainly wrapped book with more than 500 plainly helpful tips. The fat (nearly 2 1/2 pounds) volume offers do-it-yourself advice concerning furniture, walls, electricity, plumbing, structural work, appliances, cars, and nearly any other miscellaneous category. There is also an informational section on tools. This book is comprehensive enough to rate a 26-page index.
Each do-it-yourself job includes an introduction listing what tools and materials will be needed and about how long a repair will take. Instructions are explicit, and details that might not have crossed your mind are mentioned (for example, close all drains when repairing a leaky faucet so that no parts are lost).
Tom Philbin's "Home Repairs Every Woman Can Do" is much slimmer and not so comprehensive, but it gets across the basics. It touches on plumbing problems, furniture scratches and stains, electrical, problems, door and window troubles, repairs on the home's exterior, and other minor household traumas. Its major fault is that there is no index in the back for tracking down instructions.
The book explains how things work, what is probably wrong, what sorts of tools are needed to repair the defects, how much those tools will probably cost, and how to go about making the repair. Most of the repairs are for simple jobs, such as fixing a plugged-up sink or replacing a broken electrical plug. The explanations are not weighted down with confusing details.
The "Home Appliance Repair Manual" from Popular Mechanics is a detailed book on how to make the minor repairs of problems from which more than 80 percent of all appliance failures result. A section on "everything you need to know about electricity" gives a basic background for neophytes, and it is written in a layman's language. But this book is for serious do-it-yourselfers, not for someone whose idea of tools is a hammer and a couple of odd screwdrivers. The equipment involved in making repairs requires an investment.
Comparing solutions in the books is one good way to see which is most helpful. Suppose some tiles come loose in the bathroom. "Home Repairs Every Woman Can Do" does a good job of listing how to remove a damaged tile, clean the wall surface, and replace the tile. It seems simple and makes sense.
"Do It Yourself" is a bit more thorough, and hence a bit more complicated. It advises using a putty knife, notched mastic spreader, small mixing dish and stick, sponges, clean towel, scissors, safety goggles, power drill with carbide bit, glass cutter, cold chisel, and hammer. whew! One wonders if all the preparedness really makes that much difference, but perhaps it will mean a tile that stays put longer.
What about a broken appliance? "Home Repairs Every Woman Can Do" gives very basic advice. Check to see if the appliance is plugged into the wall plug and the appliance plug. Examine the plugs to see if they are in good shape, and repair them if necessary.
"Do It Yourself and Save Money" again has more thorough advice, thus perhaps averting a visit from a professional. It covers such repairs as loss of power, faulty thermostat cotrols, defective fans, dirt, and noise. For someone comfortable working with appliances, the directions are probably sound.
But the "Home Appliance Repair Manual" is by far the most comprehensive in dealing with appliance problems. It describes how appliances produce heat, how motors work, how to prevent motor breakdowns, and how to do basic repairs. There are drawings of each appliance, illustrating all parts disassembled. Ways to test switches and timers are suggested. Troubleshooting charts are given for some appliances.
The book warns of situations that could be dangerous or that should be handled by an electrician. For a person who knows nothingm about electric appliances, this repair book is instructional and workable. For those already versed in repairs, it is a good reference manual.
Are do-it-yourself home repair books really worth the investment? Few of my friends who actually do most of their home repairs own these kinds of books, although one part-time contractor does. One woman gets explicit instructions on how to make repairs when she buys the materials. Another man goes to a library and familiarizes himself with repair processes by thumbing through repair books.
But I am a literalist and wouldn't trust myself unless I had diagrams and instructions right in front of me. I enjoy these books as a w ay to familiarize myself with easy odd jobs.