Book Review
Title: "What’s a Homeowner to Do?"
Author: Stephen Fanuka and Edward Lewine
Publisher: Artisan, 2011; 432 pages; $17.95

Nearly every mother will attest that at some point in her parenting career, often while still pregnant, every worst-case scenario that could ever possibly happen to her progeny (or progeny-to-be) has run through her mind.

Laid-back moms take a deep breath and dismiss such fears as fanciful.

But many others take the Scout-inspired "be prepared" approach, taking serious measures against kidnapping by tagging their kids with GPS-enabled trackers; against school admission drama by sticking their toddlers in enrichment classes ranging from Kinder Kung Fu to Mandarin; and against the ills of being whatever the opposite of well-rounded is (ill-rounded? squared?) by enrolling them in hip-hop dance, golf, Latin and Hebrew school — all at the same time, all before they reach grade school.

This is yet one more way in which buying a home has parallels to birthing — and raising — children. Years before they ever buy, when they’ve barely begun padding their down-payment nest eggs, buyers-to-be report tossing and turning, waking up with night sweats, concerned about all the calamities that might befall their home.

What if a hurricane hits? An earthquake? What if they’ve been completely spoiled by apartment living, neglect to spend 10 hours every weekend working on their house and let the place fall into ruin?

What about all the more mundane, and more-likely-to-arise events that go along with homeownership: Will their effort to unstick a window send them to the hospital, or their do-it-yourself efforts to replace a single roof shingle spiral into a bigger leak than they had before?

These nightmarish concerns of homebuyers everywhere are precisely the issues addressed in the meaty little tome, "What’s a Homeowner to Do?" by DIY Network star/contractor Stephen Fanuka and co-author Edward Lewine.

If you’ve ever bought one of those little gift books that has a year’s worth of daily inspirational messages, this book will remind you of one of those — on steroids. It’s a small-format book filled with 442 tips, diagrams, and easy-to-use, bite-sized tutorials for do-it-yourself home improvement, maintenance and safety projects.

Fanuka, the star of the show "Million Dollar Contractor," teams up with Edward Lewine (who writes a couple of home improvement columns for The New York Times Magazine) to comprehensively catalog and address precisely the sorts of items that keep buyers and homeowners awake at night, offering their insomnia-soothing home improvement knowledge in a highly digestible format.

Throughout, they flag items that homeowners need to maintain on a regular basis to avoid disasters, parse out which items owners can do themselves (and which they should refer to the pros), empower them to ask the right questions and have the right conversations with those pros, and walk them through simple instructions for doing it themselves, where applicable.

The book starts out with a "green manifesto" that briefs readers on all the ways in which their homes impact the environment by offering them a long bullet point list of choices they can make to green their homes. It then moves on to cover the down-and-dirty, do-it-yourself tutorials with a chapter on how to assemble and use a basic toolkit, including what not to do (e.g., get "mesmerized by fasteners").

Then, the book proceeds to offer hundreds of mini-lessons categorized by area of a home, from the exterior, to windows, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and such subjects as carpentry, doors and locks, walls, basements, garages, yards, and safety and security issues.

Many of these lessons, which run from how to locate a roof leak to how a door lock works, come complete with the authors’ "Tricks of the Trade," pithy one-liners with uber-handy suggestions, workarounds, troubleshooting, insider secrets for handling common issues and even warnings for avoiding common complications.

And the range of topics the authors cover maps directly to the range of concerns real homeowners have, from maintaining their roofs to installing baseboards, cabinet doors, landscape lighting and supports for adjustable shelves.

Often, these sorts of tips books can be tough to use for readers who have a high need for information — those who want to know why they should do things a particular way, or why they should trust the proffered advice.

But interspersed throughout the book’s tips on what to do to your home are highly interesting briefings on "how" things in your home work. In short-and-sweet plain English, Fanuka and Lewine answer questions like "What’s so important about rain gutters?" and "How are wooden stairs constructed?"

If you own a home and feel at loose ends when it comes to knowing what you should be doing to keep it in tip-top shape, "What’s a Homeowner to Do" is an accessible, yet smart, primer and reference guide you’ll turn to time and time again. If you’re still in house hunt mode, definitely put it on your housewarming registry — it’ll save you some sleepless nights, and maybe even some money!

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