Do-it-yourself clubs offer help with home projects

Lewis and Rebecca Taylor were confident when they recently bought a fixer-upper, even though they're not particularly handy. They knew they'd have plenty of help updating the kitchen, tearing out carpeting and redecorating the house, which was built in 1965.

The couple belongs to a do-it-yourself club whose members agree to spend one day a month helping each other with home improvement tasks.

"I don't think I would have bought this house if I weren't involved in this group," said Mr. Taylor, of Eugene, Ore.

Do-it-yourself clubs are forming around the country as homeowners try to make improvements on a budget. The clubs provide additional labor and know-how when homeowners tackle big projects.

"Using the talents of your friends and neighbors to assist with each others' home DIY projects is becoming popular. Consider it an expertise barter," says Abby Buford, spokeswoman for the home-improvement store Lowe's.

"For instance, someone may have experience with minor plumbing repair and another may love to paint," Ms. Buford said in an e-mail. "It can also be a social venue, giving friends time to be together while assisting with each others' homes."

The clubs -- generally created by friends or neighbors -- vary in how they are organized. Some have strict rules requiring attendance at every get-together. Others operate less formally and may only involve participants sending an e-mail requesting help with an upcoming job.

The Taylors' group, dubbed the Monthly Improvement Collective of Eugene, consists of five couples who meet 10 times a year, twice at each home. The host couple plans projects, makes sure tools and supplies are at hand, and serves breakfast and lunch.

The group has built retaining walls, replaced flooring and installed a fence.

Working with friends makes home repair more enjoyable and less overwhelming, Mr. Taylor said. It also saves on money on tools, since you can borrow instead of buy.

"I'm somebody who doesn't particularly enjoy improving my house," said Mr. Taylor, 35. "But when you make it a party with friends, it's really cool. You do things you never would have done by yourself."

Amy Brendmoen of St. Paul, Minn., agreed. When it was her turn to put her club to work, she and her husband, Jeff Neske, asked them to tear out their backyard, till a vegetable garden and build a trellis.

"It was a daunting project," she said. "There's no way we could have gotten it done" without help.

Brendmoen started the club last year because she and Mr. Neske were finding it too difficult to work around the house while keeping an eye on their three children.

"One of us would watch the kids while the other one did the project," she said. "We used to enjoy doing projects together."

With friends, they formed the Amish Envy Club, so named because it's modeled after Amish barn raisings.

"We're envious of the smarts of the Amish," she added. "They're onto something."

Their club includes four couples and meets four times a year. Members bring their children to the work days and take turns overseeing activities for them. Past projects have included roughing out a basement and painting.

The challenges of home repair have fostered strong bonds, said Ms. Brendmoen, 38.

"There's a real fellowship," she said. "There's something about working together that adds a certain richness to the day."

JUST DO IT

If you'd like to start a DIY club:

- To find members, put notices on bulletin boards at hardware stores, clubs, churches, etc., and on a DIY-related Web site, suggests Deborah Snoonian, senior editor at This Old House magazine. She also suggests e-mailing your neighborhood association, and contacting the local preservation society to see if a club already exists.

- After it's created, determine what type of projects the group is willing to tackle. Establish a schedule for work days and set rules for attendance.

- Create a list of tools owned by members.

- Develop a plan for child care, if necessary.

- Hold annual meetings dedicated to discussing ways to improve the club.

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