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Everyone knows neighbors who would rather go to Home Depot on a Friday night than to a movie. Relatives who prefer to paint their walls than paint the town. Co-workers who like to talk bolts more than Bills.

Do-it-yourselfers. They're everywhere.

Next door. Down the street. In the basement. On the roof.

And not just men. When The Buffalo News recently asked female readers to share do-it-yourself experiences, there were too many responses to include in a story that ran last week in a special Home Improvement section published by this newspaper.

Whether it's because homeowners can't find - or afford - a professional to tackle a task or because they've been bitten by the incurable do-it-yourself bug, men and women are strapping on their tool belts and getting to work.

And the projects range from faux-finishing a wall to restoring an old home.

Take John Allen, 45, a mechanical engineer with an itch for fixing up his Queen Anne home in the Allentown district.

Since he and his wife, Cynthia, bought the 2,500-square-foot-home in 1991, Allen has rewired the electrical system; updated the plumbing; insulated the house; gutted the first floor; stripped the siding to expose the original clapboards; replaced rotted boards, and painted the trim and accents (he hired a contractor to paint the base).

Tired of picking up roof shingles from the street after a storm, he decided to do something about that, too.

Most major project: Replacing the roof of his home. The one with dormers and multiple elevations that took Allen 40 feet in the air.

How long it took: Four months, working weekends and evenings until 8 p.m.

Cost involved: $2,500 in materials. (Professional estimates had ranged from $6,000 to $8,000 for the roofing job.)

Steps involved: Bought general carpentry book. Decided to add a third layer over existing shingles in upper section. Stripped rotted shingles along the 3-foot lower section. Replaced plywood. Installed new metal gutters. With assistance, lugged 100 bundles of new shingles - weighing close to 70 pounds each - to the attic. Cut two holes through attic roof for lifting out bundles. Installed new shingles.

Hardest part: Carrying shingles to the attic.

Results: A new roof. New gutters. No more flying shingles during a storm.

Advice to other do-it-yourselfers: "If you are thinking of replacing your roof but are afraid of heights, don't do it yourself," Allen said.

No fear, no limits

Or take Susan Epstein, a Depew hairdresser, who has repaired her truck and car; tiled a backsplash; replaced a kitchen faucet and garbage disposal; installed a chimney cap, and more.

"I have no fear and no set rules for the male/female roles. My two girls have, I hope, the attitude and strength to think the only thing a woman can't do is be a Daddy," said Epstein, 40.

Her last successful project: Replacing hot water pipes.

"I have a house with a slab floor and no basement. I had a hot water pipe break inside the slab, so with the help of my very, very nice brother-in-law, who is a carpenter by trade not a plumber, we replaced it," she said.< How long it took: Six days, working every night after work.

Cost involved: About $400.

Steps involved: Discovered the leak. Called a plumber. Got estimate of $1,500. Plumber left on vacation. Decided to do it herself with assistance. Called brother-in-law, who agreed to help. Figured out how much copper pipe was needed. Laid out pipe. Cut pipes using tubing cutter. Used blowtorch to make sweat joints (the soldered connections used to link pieces of copper pipe). Used cold chisel and hammer to open up 2 1/2 -foot-wide section of floor in bathroom doorway. Set in new pipes. Built wooden box cover flush to floor to provide easy access to pipes in future.

Hardest part: Breaking through the concrete.

Results: "You would never know I have hot-water pipes running against the walls of my house because we covered them with custom baseboards," Epstein said.

Advice to other do-it-yourselfers: "Everyone should at least try. Whether you are male or female, every project is universal. But when you are starting a project, it helps to have a backup. And if the job is too big, call in an expert," she said.

The decorative angle

Michelle Sercu's do-it-yourself projects are more decorative but impressive nonetheless. She and her family live in the Town of Tonawanda.

"We just moved into this home July 1, and I am basically done with the house," said Sercu, 34, a floral designer at Michaels Arts & Crafts.

"I do faux-finishing, woodworking and I am the biggest bargain-shopper in the world," said Sercu, who recycles everything from wood scraps to old furniture.

She ragged the walls of the dining room. Ragged and washed the bathroom walls, using layers of paint to create the perfect shade of plum accented with gold and silver. Installed peel-and-stick tiles on the Florida room floor. And made window treatments - quite the feat considering she doesn't know how to sew.

Her secret: fabric glue and grommets.

Her most successful project in the new house: The Retro Room she created for daughters Erika, 6, and Stephanie, 7.

How long it took: Three days, including time spent ripping up the old carpeting.

Cost involved: $75.

Steps involved: Painted one wall green. One wall pink. A third wall yellow. And the fourth, purple. Added flower-power and smiley face accents with paint or 3-D stickers. Used glitter paint for accent. Painted built-in shelves. Made curtains from disco beads. Created entertainment center under top bunk. Hung disco ball. Furnished room with bean bag, purchased for $5 at clearance sale, and other essentials.

Hardest part: Waiting for the paint on one wall to dry so she could start the next. "I had different colors meeting in the corners so the walls had to be completely dry," she said.

Results: It's retro, all right.

Advice to other do-it-yourselfers: "Don't throw anything out. I even garbage-pick at my own mother's house," she said.

Inventing a way

Ethel Ciesla, 61, took some time away from remodeling part of the kitchen in her Hamburg home to talk about the projects she has worked on through the years.

"I started way back when the kids were little by reupholstering furniture. It turned out beautiful, and no one could believe I did it," said Ciesla, who also has two patented inventions under her belt - a jewelry wall unit and a tablecloth hoop skirt.

She currently is making new cabinet doors and widening a catch-all cabinet to create a pantry.

Biggest project to date: Redesigning her powder room. She did all but the electrical work.

How long it took: One year. "I had to think things through," she said.

Cost involved: $800.

Steps involved: Gutted bathroom. Cut out one wall to accommodate new vanity. Updated plumbing. Installed toilet and vanity. Painted walls. Hung border. Carpeted floor.

Hardest part: Sanding down the walls, especially the arch she made for the mirror.

Advice to other do-it-yourselfers: "Don't be afraid. Jump right into a project and allow yourself time to think as you go along," she said.

Updating, safely

Chris Brown, 35, a computer networking systems analyst and vice president of the Allentown Association, is another do-it-yourselfer. He bought a 115-year-old Victorian home nearly six years ago.

The 2,200-square-foot home had not been tended to in years. With an impressive list of home-improvement projects to get to, Brown called in the pros for plumbing and electrical work but tackled other major tasks himself.

Most challenging project: Ripping away the plaster and replacing it with drywall where necessary.

How long it took: Three months, fitting in sessions between work and other commitments.

Cost involved: Approximately $1,000 in materials.

Steps involved: Assessed existing walls to determine where plaster could be repaired and where it needed to be replaced with drywall. Added insulation to certain sections. Ripped down plaster on walls and ceiling. Put up drywall. Sanded, sanded, sanded. Primed and painted.

Hardest part: The ceiling. Not only was it in the worst condition, but you had to be part-acrobat to get to it, Brown said.

Results: "The drywall looks great; it's flat and smooth. The remaining plaster has its own unique character that represents 115 years of work by hand, either the original construction or the maintenance through the years," he said.

Advice to other do-it-yourselfers: "For owners of older homes, leave the plumbing and electrical chores to the professionals. That's where I draw the line," he said.

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