Using A Mouse To Fix Your House

I've never been good with my hands, especially when it comes to building or repairing things. In fact, every time I face a home repair task, I wish I had paid closer attention to my high school shop teacher who warned that one day, I would regret not understanding the differences in nail weights. Fortunately, there's still hope. Thanks to CD-ROMs, do-it-yourselfers of all kinds--from 10-thumb wonders like me to veteran weekend carpenters--can find valuable assistance for home improvement chores.

LEAKY FAUCETS. Neophytes can choose from plenty of electronic primers, which are basically digitized versions of how-to books. However, CD-ROMs, with their massive storage space, have it over books in that they can complement written material with videos and animation that show repair procedures step-by-step.

The best of the lot is The Home Repair Encyclopedia from Books That Work. The program covers situations most homeowners are likely to face, such as how to fix a leaky faucet. Although the software relies more on simple animation and narration instead of video, the instructions are concise and easy to follow. Available only for IBM-compatible PCs running Windows, the disk also features money-saving advice, such as setting the hot-water heater at 120 degrees--hot enough for long showers without wasting energy.

Another program that tries the one-stop approach is Computer Associates International's $45 Simply House. Unfortunately, I found it somewhat difficult to navigate. Rather than relying on a traditional menu, you work with a graphic of a house. To get to the how-to advice, you click on an object, and after a brief animation, the program asks if you want more information on related topics. The animations are silly and get in the way of obtaining information quickly. For example, when you click on an exterior window, King Kong looks through the panes. A way around is to do a keyword search, which may or may not find the appropriate information. In fact, most of the space on the CD-ROM seems to be used for the quirky animations rather than how-to advice.

PAPER VIEW. For more experienced tinkerers, there are programs geared toward specific projects. One of my favorites in this class is IVI Publishing's Hometime Weekend Home Projects. Based on the Hometime series on public television, the CD-ROM features extensive use of clips from the show. The disk covers more than 60 weekend jobs such as hanging wallpaper, installing kitchen cabinets, and building a deck.

What's available for the seasoned craftsperson who doesn't need hand-holding? How about pure computer-aided design (CAD)? As any architect can attest, well-designed plans are the key to successful projects. One of the easiest programs to use is Broderbund's 3D Home Architect, available on floppy disks and CD-ROMs. To draw a mock-up of a room, you simply click and hold the mouse to "drag" the walls into their proper positions. The program has more than 200 common pieces of furniture and fixtures and 50 sample floor plans. So if you wanted to see what a fireplace in the den would look like, the software can put one in your draft and then take you on a virtual tour through the new room. The CD-ROM adds 100 articles from American HomeStyle magazine on new home and remodeling designs as well as 50 video clips from The Home Pro, a show seen on The Learning Channel cable TV network.

Such CAD capabilities aren't just limited to interiors. Books That Work's 3D Landscape offers the same advanced design assistance for gardeners. The $50 CD-ROM comes with a searchable database of more than 400 trees and plants to help planners choose suitable greenery. What's more, the software can "time-lapse" landscapes to show how they would look as plants mature. The program is even smart enough to predict how shadows will fall. Such programs might inspire even me to buy a shovel or a saw and see what kind of do-it-myself projects I can develop around the house.

High-Tech Home Help


HOME REPAIR $30 Best all-around "how-to," covers the

ENCYCLOPEDIA basics from removing stains to replac-

BOOKS THAT WORK ing roof shingles

HOMETIME WEEKEND $45 Based on the PBS Hometime show,

HOME PROJECTS features videos of projects like installing

IVI PUBLISHING tiles or putting up drywall

3D HOME $70 Makes it a snap to draw professional-

ARCHITECT looking floor plans and view them from

BRODERBUND any angle


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