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January 17, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH

Information really is at your fingertips, whether thumbing through pages or tapping at the computer keyboard. This column will help direct you, both at the bookstore and on the Internet, to sources that will make life easier in and around the home.


Troubled treasures: Nigel Hutchins' "Restoring Old Houses" ($22.95, Firefly Books, 1997).

Take a chance?: You've been looking at that really old, really stylish house in that quaint part of town but just can't push the "sold!" button. The roof needs work; the floors need work; the bathroom needs work. And what's that musty smell? Maybe a tract home isn't such a bad idea.

Think again, says Hutchins, author of this 240-page soft-cover book. With some (perhaps a lot of) effort and some (probably a lot of) cash, that creaky but potential-rich home could become what you want. Hutchins warns that getting a dream house is not for the timid. There's always the chance it could devolve into a money pit, but the rewards can be great.

Huntchins takes the reader through several old houses (dating to the 1700s) via color photos and illustrations and points out common problems. The idea is that home buyers, when judging that captivating abode, will be armed and ready to locate the usual trouble spots before deciding if it's the best place for them.

Calling all contractors: There's little do-it-yourself advice, and Hutchins concedes that pros will probably have to be brought in if the home is ancient or in bad shape. But his enthusiasm is affecting; he loves the character of these older buildings and hopes the reader does too.

Hutchins adds much historical info that can be enlightening and entertaining. He is biased toward houses of the East Coast and Canada (that's where he's from), because they tend to be much older than what's on the West Coast, but much of his advice still applies to the faded glories in these parts.


Sound familiar?: The This Old House Web site (www.pathfinder. com/TOH) is connected to the PBS program and magazine of the same name. What's good about them shows up here; just ignore the magazine subscription pitches.

Advice and dissent: This well-constructed site offers many useful sections. The best are the Encyclopedia and a bulletin board that gives regular folks a chance to applaud or challenge advice and offer their own.

The Encyclopedia tries to be encompassing. High-resolution photos accompany detailed advice on dozens of jobs/problems that spring up around home and garden. From painting to deck-making, lawn-seeding to electrical wiring, there's a good chance you'll find it here.

Clicking on "Secrets of a Perfect Pathway" brought up two images of an attractive brick path. Pointers include buying bricks that have been rated SW (for severe weathering) and making sure you dig down at least 2 to 4 feet to a soil base free of organic material. If not, your pathway may become unstable after a few months.

Speak up: The bulletin board lets visitors dive in, using their experience to help others. Topics are all over the map, including soundproofing; marble, stone and tile; baiting termites; and handicap access in the workshop. Your situation unique? You can start a mini-board and invite comments.

Another popular section revisits renovation projects showcased on the TV program and in the magazine.

Warning: This site has heavy traffic, and it may take a while to download on busy nights and on weekends.

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