Handywoman Workspace Handywoman Workspace

Just a few years ago, many women sat back and watched their male counterparts take on the home repair projects. Women waited around for a male friend, family member or the professional handyman to undertake a repair job, which may have been simple enough for them to do on their own. But times have changed, and what used to be a "guy thing," such as caulking the walls and windows, is now being tackled by women. Women who are single or married are taking charge of the home improvement projects. Very often, the modern woman doesn't want to rely on a man to do the job for her when she can do it herself.

According to a Nationwide Survey conducted by Sears, Roebuck and Co. entitled "Her Home: How Women Homeowners View Maintenance," 85 percent of women have been, are currently or expect to be solely responsible for maintaining a home. In other words, they are becoming or have become the head of the household. "From the record numbers of single women buying a first home to divorcees or widows, more and more women are finding themselves responsible for a home," said Georgeann Georges, vice president of Sears' Home Services Unit. "Given that a woman's home is frequently her most valuable financial asset, women need to arm themselves with the knowledge and tools to keep their homes in good repair." According to the survey, both single and married women homeowners are actively involved with home maintenance, know a lot about it and want to learn more.

A survey conducted by Roper ASW for Home Depot indicates women are showing more interest in projects like carpentry, plumbing and electrical work than they did five years ago. The Roper ASW survey showed that eight out of 10 women have at least one home improvement project on their "to-do" list for the next 12 months. The survey also found that women are tackling projects to enrich their home's interior and exterior décor.

For women looking to get involved in their own home maintenance and improvement projects, the first thing a do-it-herselfer will need is her own workshop/workspace. The workshop is her own personal space, where she can store her tools and hardware, have organization and comfortably work on large projects and furniture. Building a workshop requires time and patience, but at the end it will be worth having your handy supplies at your fingertips and a place for do-it-yourself projects. There are two ways to go about creating a workspace: start it from scratch by building your own workbench, cabinets and drawers, or buy already made "workstation kits" that may include a workbench with drawers or a portable tool chest.

Before beginning to create your handywoman workspace, you must pick a place that will be convenient and comfortable to work in year-round. Depending on where you live, your workshop might be in the garage, basement, shed or barn. Once you have decided where your workspace will be, draw a blueprint. With a blueprint you can sketch how the room will be set up, as well as how other items occupying the space - such as a refrigerator, washer or dryer - will be arranged. Consider adding more electrical outlets; you wouldn't want to injure yourself on extension cords strected across the room. Also, consider where your lights will be set up to provide adequate lighting. When planning and designing your workspace, think about how much and what type of insulation you will need, especially if you will need to soundproof the area. You will also need proper ventilation and a cooling and heating system to prevent fumes, dust particles and heat from accumulating in the room. You'll want to keep your handywoman workspace from being unsafe or looking cramped and cluttered from tools and equipment.

The next thing to tackle is cleaning, painting, repairing holes in the walls and throwing away junk that may have accumulated in a basement or garage space. A rule of thumb is to throw anything away that hasn't been used for at least five years.

If you decide to build your workspace in the basement, make sure it has been treated for humidity, in order to avoid rotting wood and rusting tools. To prevent your workshop noise from disturbing those who live with you, it's important to soundproof a basement by installing insulation to the ceiling and walls.

If your workspace will be going in the garage, plan to use the garage only as a workspace, unless you have a larger garage that can accomodate both car and workspace. If you decide to park a car in a one-car garage where all your equipment is set up, the space will be quite cramped. Also, if your car is not covered, it can become damaged from dust particles in your workspace. Before you set up in a garage, you will need to prep the area by installing insulation, applying a seal to the floor and caulking the cracks.

Sheds or barns are great for setting up a workshop because those structures are separate dwellings, and you won't have to worry about any noise disturbance in your living space. These buildings must be insulated properly and have access to electricity. Avoid running electrical wires from your home to the shed or barn, as this can pose a fire hazard.

Once you have finished planning, repairing and cleaning up your workspace, lay down some padding to relieve stress on your feet and back from standing as you work and move around. Padding is good for noise absorption and insulation, as well as preventing stains from dust and paint getting on to the floor. A cushioned workspace can help minimize damage to equipment and falling objects. The type of padding you choose will depend on what you have available or what you want to buy. You can lay down mats, carpet or cardboard.

You may need to hire a professional electrician who can set up outlets, surge protectors or any other wiring needed, as well as ventilation, lighting, and heating and cooling systems. These must connect to an existing circuit breaker, or you may need to install a new circuit breaker for your workshop. Depending how you planned your workshop, make sure to install individual outlets for your large power equipment with ground fault circuit interrupters to prevent electrical shocks from occurring. Plan your outlets every three to five feet apart to minimize the use of extension cords. Too many extension cords can tangle up and create a situation in which you could harm yourself, or cause frustration as you try to tug them around. Make sure you or your electrician installs the outlets high enough to have access to, as equipment or projects on the ground can block outlets that are set near the floor.

After the wiring is done, consider how your lighting will be set up. You will want to prevent is your lights from going out if a circuit is tripped from using your equipment. Lighting experts recommend fluorescent overhead lights, which are energy efficient and inexpensive. Portable lights are very bright, providing enough illumination to specific areas such as shelves and cabinets where shadows are cast, and can be dragged around with you as you move. Track lighting is useful if you want to redirect light from one area to the next.

As you work on your home improvement projects in the workspace, your equipment will generate heat and dust particles, causing you to become irritated and hot, or have difficulty breathing. With proper ventilation and a cooling and heating system, you can create a breathable, relaxed, and workable environment. A ventilation system can be set up through your ducts to collect dust particles and vent them outside, although this can be rather costly. An inexpensive way to properly ventilate your work area is to buy a fan that draws fresh air in from the outside and expells stale air out from the inside. Open up all windows and doors to help ventilate a room. A cooling and heating system is necessary when temperatures in your area tend to change drastically and when to much heat is released from using power equipment. A cooling and heating system can also protect your tools and equipment from rusting and becoming damaged due to climate changes.

Organizing your tools, equipment and daily living items will be the next step to take after all your electrical wiring and lighting is set up. Start by inserting strong, large hooks or brackets on walls where you can hang large items to free up floor space. Large peg hooks can be inserted into the wall to hang up long extension cords, hoses, ladders, bikes, a lawn edger/trimmer, rake, shovel or handsaw. Once your floor space is cleared up, place your workbench, along with any power equipment such as a band saw or table saw, close to your outlets, leaving enough space to move around as you use the equipment. Remember, you want to be the one moving around, not your equipment or workbench.

When it comes to organizing your handywoman tools, keep them together so you can easily find them. You can organize your handheld tools by hanging them on a pegboard. You can also hang them on the wall using appropriate size hooks or nails, or you can use a rolling tool chest to put them away. The way in which you choose to organize your tools depends on the amount of space you have and what your budget looks like. Buying a pegboard or hooks are inexpensive. Tool chests can vary in prices.

Shelves or cabinets are convenient for storing away such items as paint buckets, car care products, lawn care products, laundry room products, or whatever you feel needs to be put away neatly. Shelves are good for items that are used frequently, while cabinets are suited to items that you want to keep inconspicuous. Shelving and cabinetry can be purchased in wood, plastic or metal, depending on your budget and what you are planning to store.

Your workbench is the most important item in your workspace, because it is where you will be doing your work that can't be done inside your house. You can buy a workbench or you can make it from scratch. Accessories such as clamps, vises and drawers can be added to your workbench but are not necessary. When deciding on the type of workbench you want, make sure it accommodates your height so you can be comfortable while working. Be sure the bench is heavy so it won't move or slide around. Your workbench needs to be strong enough to hold anything you place on it and large enough to accommodate furniture projects, such as refinishing a table or chair. You may need someone to help you move the workbench to your desired location.

A woman's workspace is never complete without safety equipment and a first aid kit. It's a good idea to have at least two pairs of safety goggles available to prevent fumes, paint or dust particles from harming your eyes. You should also have gloves available for different projects: a pair for gardening and another pair to carry heavy items. Latex or non-latex gloves come in handy for projects that require painting. Use a gas mask to avoid inhaling any hazardous fumes. Also keep a fire extinguisher that can put out liquid and electrical fires. Don't forget to have smoke detectors. If your workshop is in the basement, make sure to have at least two smoke detectors, one at the entrance leading to the living space and the other around your workspace. Don't place them near the sanding area because sanding can cause smoke fumes to rise.

It's not necessary to spend a lot of money on building a workspace. You can start small and work your way up as you do more home improvement and maintenance projects. Don't be afraid to try things yourself! You can learn a lot from Internet research, books and workshops available at your local home improvement stores. Remember: your home is the queen's castle, and the workspace is where you do your "girl things" to maintain it.

*Mathew Greenwald & Associates for Sears, Roebuck and Company, Release July 2004
*Roper ASW telephone survey for Home Depot, April 25-27, 2003.

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