Three Rs: Readin', Ritin', Remodelin'

Question: I'm wondering if there are individuals, companies, schools, where one might have plans drawn for remodeling or additions at a more reasonable rate versus going through a contractor. The idea being that possibly the individual, company or student-type organization may charge a lesser fee. Do you know of any?

Answer: Offhand, I don't know of any professional way to get cut-rate prices for plans. I would suggest, however, that before contracting for your work that you talk with a number of contractors and get comparative prices. I'm not suggesting that you go out and pick the brains of every contractor on the block, but it's almost a sure thing that you'll get some ideas from each contractor who bids on your project.

However, if you do your homework well and know what you want before seeing a contractor, the actual drawing of the plans might cost a minimal amount. And the way to do your homework is to go through the many home magazines and how-to books that are available in supermarket and home center newsstands. (Garage sales are often a good source for old home magazines.) Visit the library and go through home-improvement books that give the basics of design and remodeling.

And one idea you might not have considered is going to school to learn how to create the designs and draw the plans yourself. Check with the high schools in your area if they are offering adult evening classes in home improvement, cabinet construction, interior decorating or other pertinent subjects.

UCLA Extension offers homeowners courses in kitchen and bathroom design. The cost is $135 for six three-hour sessions. These courses are offered during the day this quarter, but the schedules change.

William Peterson, the instructor, says an evening course in these subjects is offered each summer in the San Fernando Valley. To get a catalogue (and subsequently be placed on the mailing list for future catalogues), write UCLA Extension, 10995 LaConte St., Attention: Interior Design Department, 4th Floor, Los Angeles 90024.

Q: We have worked hard on our garden, and it will look great this spring. But we have a fenced area adjacent to it where we keep our dog. Needless to say, that yard doesn't look so great, but the big eyesore is the doghouse, which, in addition to its weathering with age, has been chewed, scratched and otherwise mistreated by our pooch. Where can I get plans for building a doghouse?

A: Unless you're just a cut-up who likes to saw, forget the plans and go for one of the kits that's on the market. They're redwood, with a raised floor and even a scalloped facia (which our dog chewed off during the first 15 minutes of the house's life) that gives it a finished touch of class.

The large size (big enough for any bloodhound) sells for about $60 (recently on sale at Builders Emporium for $50). There are smaller, less expensive models available, but be sure the model you get is large enough for Fido to stretch out.

A kit can be put together in a couple of hours--even by the unskilled.

Note on water conservation: G & E Products, 2010-D S. Eastwood St., Santa Ana, Calif. 92705, has a water conservation kit that sells for $1, including postage. Now, when you receive the kit, you'll think it's nothing, because it's simply a clear plastic bag and a closure strip, four plastic disks, a wire that looks like a curtain hook and a little packet with two blue pills.

But here's how it works: Fill the plastic bag with water, fasten it with the closure, place the hook in the closure to hang it inside a toilet tank. According to G & E, this bag of water displaces 1/2 gallon of water in the tank and thus saves 10% on the water with each flush.

The four disks are shower restrictors (two for a regular shower head and the others in case the shower head has a ball on the end of the shower arm). They're said to reduce the flow of water by 50%. The two pills are to detect any leaks in the flapper valve in the toilet tank. There's a leaflet with other water-saving tips included. It's a conscious-raising conservation kit that could save you more each month than the original cost.

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