Arrow-right Camera

Fix Up Your House: It’s The American Thing To Do

Thu., March 30, 1995

Americans are busy with the paintbrush and power tools. Almost 90 percent tackled some type of home improvement project in 1993 or at least reported purchasing home improvement products.

The statistic comes from a 1994 survey of 5,000 households taken by the Home Improvement Research Institute of Lincolnshire, Ill. The trade group found that heavy users, or people buying 10 or more home improvement products, totalled 35 percent. In 1987, the first year of the biennial survey, heavy purchasers represented 23 percent of respondents.

Painting is the most popular home remodeling project, as it has been for many years. Installation of lighting fixtures is one of the biggest growth categories.

“Current sales of home improvement products to consumers are $87.7 billion,” says Judy Riggs, executive director of the institute. “By 1999, we expect sales to rise to $112.5 billion, which represents an annual growth of approximately 5.1 percent. This is faster than retail sales, which are expected to grow 4.8 percent between 1995 and 1999.”

The large warehouse home centers with their in-store clinics, wider range of home decorating products and prices lower than the old neighborhood hardware store are making it easier for more Americans to become do-it-yourselfers.

“Home centers around the country are getting more heavily into decorating products by expanding their product lines in wall and floor coverings and carpet,” says Elizabeth Brent, deputy executive editor at National Home Center News in New York. “Some are even taking on interior designers to serve as resources for customers seeking information about do-it-yourself projects such as choosing and installing lighting fixtures and ceiling fans and remodeling the kitchen and bath.”

Besides the greater variety of products, home centers have added more displays in which everything needed to accomplish a specific project are grouped together. There is more information guidance and help in the form of demonstrations, often on video, and in-store do-it-yourself clinics.

“Many stores have set aside space to hold these classes in a separate area, and they advertise them and hold them on weekends or in the evenings,” Brent says.

Popular topics include power tools for women, basic wallcoverings and, every spring, how to build a deck. The store clinics are only one of the avenues of information.

“Manufacturers have redesigned packaging and instructions to take consumers step by step,” says Riggs.

Furthermore, people are exposed to information from a greater number of sources these days, including television home improvement shows and videos and do-it-yourself magazines and books.

There are at least 14 magazines devoted to woodworking with a readership over more than 3.5 million, says Jim Chiavelli, publisher of Home Furniture, a new quarterly devoted to the craft of furniture making. In 1988, there were five or six woodworking magazines with a circulation of barely 2 million.

“The tremendous growth of woodworking as a pastime is also fueled by television shows such as ‘The New Yankee Workshop’ and others,” Chiavelli says.

All these media efforts are putting consumers at ease with the idea of tackling their own home improvements. Typically, people start their do-it-yourself career with a simple project such as changing a washer in a faucet.

“Then they take increasingly more complex home repair and remodeling chores over a period of years as they gain confidence,” says Lonnie Fogel, spokesman for Home Depot, headquartered in Atlanta. “A few years down the road, some might actually be doing a major job such redoing a bath, rewiring, or even building a small addition.”

At Home Depot stores around the country, sales of do-it-yourself products related to design and decor are growing faster than products related to structural improvements, says Fogel.

“That includes wallpaper, paint, fabric, kitchen and bath products,” Fogel adds. “There is a lot of interest in kitchen remodeling projects such as cabinet replacement, new counters, and in laying down carpet, tile and hardwood flooring.”

The market seems to be relatively recession-proof. In fact, Home Depot’s experience is that localities with weak economies sometimes produce bigger sales in design-related products such as wallpaper and paint.

“It goes against the grain to think that somebody who is unemployed or underemployed will want new wallpaper,” says Fogel. “But that’s exactly what we see. The answer seems to be that for a relatively few dollars and a lot of labor, you can make a big impact on the way your home looks.”

Riggs says that women are very involved in product selection, but they do not typically do the actual work. In 1993, 31 percent of home improvement product purchases were made by women, but only 17 percent of the installations were done by women. The 17 percent represents a statistically insignificant rise of 2 percent over 1987.

“We will have to wait until the next survey to see if that increase is sustained,” says Riggs.


Click here to comment on this story »