Holiday Gift Guide: 4 Tips for Encouraging Home Improvement

Most home improvement gift guides are all about tools. Which is all very fine and nice, since people need tools to complete home improvement projects. But anyone who has tackled any home improvement job will tell you that the most intimidating part of the task is just sitting down to plan everything. Why? Because building a deck, installing a skylight, or insulating the attic can often appear complicated — especially if it’s the first time you’ve attempted such a project.

Instead of fretting over the whole gargantuan process, untangle the complexity through planning. Planning breaks it down into a smaller processes that are easier to comprehend. It can also point out potential headaches and help you solve those before you start.

So, if you, a friend, family member, or significant other are thinking about any home improvement jobs this coming year, this holiday gift guide will present some key planning and organizing tools to prevent a nervous break-down and help you get your project going.

1) Ideas and Planning

First off, get some ideas together. You can spend weeks leafing through books and magazines or surfing websites – OR you can try out the Houzz Interior Design Ideas app for iOS or Android. Houzz is a community of more than 20 million people, including home owners, designers, and builders with drool-worthy photos to give you all sorts of ideas.

DesignMine for iOS (sorry, no Android) is another idea/inspiration app that lets you create design boards with images, share your ideas with friends and family, and then find local professionals to help assemble it. It’s like Pinterest for home improvement nerds!

For planning the project, another iOS-only app is Home Improvement Planner (HIP). It helps you plan and organize what happens where and when during any renovation, and — most importantly — it helps you track price quotes and budgets.

I will admit, that when it comes to building design software, I’ve always preferred using paper over design software. I have no logical rationale for it, that’s just how I do things. Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t good, really-useful design software out there. Check out Kevin Purdy’s article on home improvement software over on Lifehacker.

2) Organizing Measurements

While I prefer drawing designs on paper, I will admit that I can’t keep my scribbled project measurements organized properly (let alone legible). There are also those times when you’ll stumble across something in a store that will answer a design problem, but you don’t have your measurements with you. Luckily, My Measures & Dimensions for iOS and Android can handle all of that. Take a photo, and then add notes, angles, and measurements. Keep the info with you when you go to the home center.

The problem with measuring is that the devil is always lurking in the details. How do you figure out the cubic yardage for crushed pea gravel? How do you calculate an arch? How much brick will this take? Honestly, this stuff will drive you crazy. Double Dog Studios wrote Home Improvement Calcs to help you keep your sanity — especially if you love the DIY ethos. It has calculators for concrete and bricks, electrical, framing HVAC, floor covering, insulation, drywall studs, area, angle, and volumes.

3) How-To Time

If you’re planning to tackle a home improvement project yourself, the second most important thing you’ll need (apart from an idea or a plan) is knowledge of how to do the job right. Not only are how-to guides all over the web, there are good options at your local bookstore. Black and Decker has been publishing concise home improvement books for years and has an easy-to-use series of how-to books. Likewise, Fox Chapel Publishing’s Creative Homeowner imprint also produces a useful illustrated line of guides. Both are worth adding to your own DIY library.

Home improvement stores like Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards offer free classes for most projects. But, if you’re looking to learn a technique for a special project, check out your local community college or trade school. Depending where you live, some offer construction how-to classes on nights and weekends with tuition fees running between $50 to $300.

4) Give the Gift of Get To Work!

Let’s say you’re trying to nudge a certain someone to move a home improvement project past the planning stage. Let’s say you’re also seeking a more productive hint than physical violence. You’re in luck! Most home center stores offer gift cards. After all, nothing says “wash and stain the deck” like a gift card towards a new pressure washer. The same goes for tools, lumber, paint, insulation, and other materials. A gift card from Home Depot, Lowes, or Menards fit’s under your tree a lot more easily than a stack of lumber.

Getting a new set of tools under the tree might sound perfect for an up-coming home improvement project. But unless your project’s been planned and organized, those tools won’t be as much help. Whether it’s the final finishes, insulation, wiring, or framing, this home improvement gift guide should give you some ideas to begin developing your own design so you can take your time to work out you project in advance. Knowing what to expect along the way and solving your home improvement design challenges before they become problems can be the difference between an effortless success and a slogging nightmare.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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