Book Review
Title: "Spend-A-Little, Save-A-Lot Home Improvements: Money-Saving Projects Anyone Can Do"
Author: Brad Staggs
Publisher: Betterway Home, 2011; 160 pages; $16.49

One of the biggest mental hurdles that stand between would-be homeowners and their homes-to-be is the prospect of home repairs and home improvements. When you haven’t owned a home before, it seems as though anything that goes wrong will cost a great deal of money.

I’ve seen people expect that switching out a faucet or a light switch will run them untold thousands of dollars, out of sheer ignorance. They simply lack any facts in which to ground their expectations in reality. (Plumbers make a lot of money but not that much.)

Against this backdrop, many a new homeowner (and some longtime ones, as well) will greatly appreciate the licensed contractor Brad Staggs’ new book, "Spend-A-Little, Save-A-Lot Home Improvements: Money-Saving Projects Anyone Can Do."

That title may seem like marketing "fluffery," but is actually pretty accurate, in terms of the book’s contents, as well as its user-friendly tone and approach. Staggs states upfront that his ultimate goal is to cultivate readers’ confidence in taking on projects around their homes by equipping them with knowledge.

And the look and format of the book falls right in line. The chapters are color-coded based on which of five content categories the subject matter falls into: exterior; HVAC; energy efficiency; preventing little problems from becoming big ones; and eliminating little domestic annoyances like squeaky floors and sticking doors.

The vast majority of the book consists of numbered, step-by-step instruction lists alongside helpful, large color pictures depicting the step being described in the accompanying text.

In my experience, a massive proportion of the home improvement projects homeowners consider tackling themselves do fall within the categories and tasks covered in this book, rather than the roof replacements, sump pump installs and full-house-jacking-required foundation overhauls that the average homeowner dreads.

(The big repairs comprise a much smaller proportion of home improvement chores.)

The more common projects are relatively small but hold the potential to pack a disproportionately large impact on the enjoyment potential — or cost-savings potential — of living in a property, once they are completed.

The first chapter, "Starting Outside," covers all sorts of minor roof, gutter and drainage woes, and how to detect, diagnose and repair them.

Chapter 2 addresses heating and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems, and offers one- and two-page primers for everything from recording your last filter replacement to detecting and curing hot and cold spots in your home.

Chapter 3 is a literal jackpot of quick and easy DIY home improvements that even the least do-it-yourself-inclined homeowner (that would be me, folks) can do on her own to reduce energy waste and the corresponding energy bills, from wrapping the water heater in an insulation blanket to installing a programmable thermostat, step-by-step. (And no — this is not one of those technical manuals that seems to omit the most critical of steps; "Spend-A-Little, Save-A-Lot" seems to cover the entire sequence of each of the projects.)

Chapter 4, "Preventing Molehills From Becoming Mountains," covers a wide variety of very common household issues that can spiral out of control if not nipped in the bud (how’s that for mixing metaphors?). Staggs shows you how to seal up concrete cracks large and small, cracked mortar in brick walls, and how to recaulk a tub or shower.

Then, he closes the book out by showing you five different ways to stop your squeaky floors (at my house, we just decided to deem them our sneaky-teenager-alert system), repair window screens and adjust a door that sticks.

Again, Staggs fully delivers on the simple but important promise of the title of "Spend-A-Little, Save-A-Lot." I’d imagine there are a whole host of new homeowners who would love to receive this book as a housewarming gift; while it is not a massive, comprehensive home manual, that very fact helps keep the intimidation factor at bay, and it certainly covers a large number of projects people care about.

Even if your housewarming was years ago, if you’ve been intimidated at the prospect of tackling smallish home improvements on your own, this book might be for you. Just make sure you flip through the table of contents first to be sure the projects you have in mind are covered.

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