Don't build an airing cupboard - clear out your gutters instead, says Jeff Howell
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The Independent Online
MOST home improvements are nothing of the sort. This is a shame, because people put a great deal of time and effort, not to mention money, into trying to make their homes nicer, better, and more valuable. But, as most home owners discover sooner or later, ten thousand quid's worth of DIY does not turn a pounds 60,000 property into one worth pounds 70,000. It turns it into a pounds 60,000 property with some extra bits stuck on. On occasion, it can even reduce its net worth to pounds 57,750, the difference being the cost of paying a builder to rip out the DIY stuff and dump it in a skip.

On the other hand, a grand's worth of routine maintenance every year could keep a home in first class condition, such that it will fetch the top market price for similar properties in the area. This means things like overhauling the gutters and downpipes, repairing cracked or rotten window sills, replacing slipped or broken slates, and keeping the external joinery clean and painted. Unfortunately these are "dirty hands" jobs, and might not appeal to your creative home-making urges as much as the latest fad being marketed down at the DIY superstore. DIY marketing promotions will try to persuade you to put up some dado rails instead of oiling your hinges, and to coat your brickwork with a magic colourless waterproofing solution rather than clean the autumn leaves out of your gutters.

Maintenance, clearly, has an image problem, compared with "home improvement", which is sexy. I suppose if DIY is the new Rock 'n' Roll, as was recently suggested in these pages, then cleaning out the drains is the equivalent of playing third cornet with the Brighouse and Rastrick Colliery Band. Serious rockers want to be up there at the creative edge, playing air guitar and rag rolling the kitchen ceiling.

In more sober moments, DIY-ers build airing cupboards, with hardboard walls and louvred doors. Nobody knows why they are called airing cupboards - they are usually built as tight-fitting camouflage boxes around hot water cylinders, so tight that there is never enough room to air much clothing or bed linen. When plumbers dismantle these cupboards, as they have to whenever work is required on the cylinder, they always unearth odd socks, which they then use as golf club covers.

The airing cupboard, by the way, will have a carcass of planed or "finished" timber. DIY cupboards and wardrobes always have a carcass of planed two- by-two. No professional carpenter would dream of using this - it is more expensive than rough sawn or "par" timber, and its dimensions are odd. This is because the two-by-two (inches) measurement is that of the sawn section; the planing reduces it down from that, and often by different amounts in the two directions, depending upon the amount of twist in the wood. But builders' merchants keep a special stock of two-by-two planed for the Saturday morning DIY crowd.

What else do DIY-ers do? They screw their floor boards down, that's what. To stop them creaking. This is a bad idea, probably got from the Readers Digest DIY manual. Professionals use cut nails or, more correctly, floor brads; these make it easy to lift and re-fit the boards when doing plumbing or electrical work in the floor voids. Screws, or worse, two inch ovals, are hard to get out, and usually result in split boards. And you know why the replacement boards are always thinner and narrower than the original ones? See planed timber, above.