You're about to put your house on the market, and your agent has gently advised you to update the light fixtures, paint the walls and maybe add some crown molding to the living room.

Or, you've just bought your first house and it needs the same kind of little spruce-ups.

They're not projects big enough to call in professionals, even if you could find ones willing to do little jobs and could afford to pay them.

But you have no idea how to do the fix-ups yourself. None. You don't own a saw, have never installed a light fixture and when you read a how-to book, you stop dead at "make sure the line is plumb" and wonder: How do I do that?


Taunton Press has come out with a series of how-to books they're calling "Do It Now/Do It Fast/Do It Right." The books are clearly written and illustrated for the absolute newbie, reasoning that if you're looking in a book for how-to help, then you should get step-by-step help, not just an outline.

So the books include photos of the exact tools and hardware you might need, down to close-ups of different sizes of screws. They include diagrams on how to hold a handsaw, how exactly to pry off a baseboard and which wire is which in an outlet.

And there are more novices doing home improvements than ever, said publisher Jim Childs, which spurred the creation of the series.

Taunton, a publisher of many home and garden books for amateurs and professionals, as well as the magazines Inspired House and Fine Homebuilding, was looking at its market demographic data and one fact jumped out: Gen-Xers are buying their first homes at an age about three years younger than baby boomers did.

This suggested to the editors that there were plenty of new homeowners out there who might have little experience with home repairs and little money to hire pros -- but lots of energy to tackle the projects themselves.

They decided to tailor the books to that late-twenties to early-forties homeowner, after noticing that most of the how-to books on the shelves seemed to be written for someone older.

"They didn't show a lot of women, they didn't show a lot of ethnic groups, they didn't show couples doing projects together, which is a very popular thing," Childs said.

"We also noticed that a lot of what was being published, you know, the projects weren't really all that inspiring. We felt that, given that, it would be interesting for us to put out books that had stylish projects that you could see coming out of an Ikea or a Pottery Barn, but that someone could do in a weekend, with very carefully scripted, step-by-step photography."

The first four books in the planned 12-book series are already out: "Lighting Solutions," "Trim Transformations," "Storage Solutions" and "Paint Transformations." Two more, on patios and walkways and on container gardening, will be out in early spring. Each book includes basic instructions and 10 to 12 projects, illustrated with about 350 photos. Each book costs $14.95.

How much do they explain? "Lighting Solutions" begins with an extensive section on working safely with electricity, with photos on how exactly to strip the insulation from a wire, how to twist two wires together and how the wire connector is supposed to fit on the twisted wires.

Then comes the fun stuff, such as projects on how to replace a chandelier with a recessed light and wiring a walkway for landscape lights.

"Storage Solutions" shows how to install modular shelving systems without tearing chunks of wall out and even how to build a bookcase.

"Paint Transformations" might finally answer the question of why your paint jobs never look professional.

Each book in the series is peppered with margin notes and photos such as "What Can Go Wrong" and "Cool Tools." Childs said the editors field-tested book prototypes. Even the models in the photographs helped with fine-tuning. Some of the workers pictured are building pros, but others are amateurs -- and they really did the work that's pictured.

The editors are so confident in the series they vow that most of the projects can be done in a weekend or less.