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2 REFERENCE GUIDES HELP TO PLAN AND PRICE HOME IMPROVEMENTS

Homeowners considering remodeling can help themselves get good results and avoid fraud and overcharges by dipping into two new reference books.

The key aspects of nearly 130 remodeling projects, from materials needed to fair prices to pitfalls, are in "Home Improvement Costs for Interior Projects" and "Home Improvement Costs for Exterior Projects." The paperback books are published by R.S. Means Co. and priced at $29.95 each.Means, of Kingston, Mass., has published home-improvement cost guides annually for 50 years, selling primarily to contractors who used them as bases for bidding on jobs. In the past few years, the books have been geared more to consumers, and this year's twin volumes are especially oriented that way - even featuring forewords by the ubiquitous Dean Johnson of "Home-time" public-television fame.

The emphasis on cost is one of the most valuable features of the Means guides. Each project, such as a sauna room or masonry fireplace, includes itemized lists of materials and costs for a standard-grade improvement. A typical contractor's fee, including materials, also is given, so the homeowner has a basic standard for comparing bids.

Finally, the estimated cost can be customized to specific geographical areas. You customize the cost by multiplying it by an area factor. For example, the basic estimate is multiplied by 1.12 to give a cost for Philadelphia. For a masonry fireplace, the materials cost $1,263.60; the basic contractor fee with materials is $4,663, but the Philadelphia cost ($4,663 multiplied by 1.12) is $5,222.56.

Hundreds of area factors, or location multipliers, are given.

"Interior Projects" covers 60 improvements, including such favorites as bathroom and kitchen overhauls and closet additions. Two pages, with a half-page of illustrations, are devoted to each project. The projectdiscussions give tips on planning and selecting appropriate materials and offer construction tips. Other valuable parts of each article are an evaluation of the difficulty, which can help homeowners decide whether to try the project themselves or hire a contractor, and a section called "What to Watch Out For," or tips for handling common complications.

A separate section of "Interior Proj-ects" discusses jobs such as carpeting, flooring and doors, where costs need to be calculated on a square-foot or unit basis.

"Exterior Projects" has 68 projects, including several types of decks, dormers, windows, garages and patios, plus a separate section on unit prices for projects such as driveways, fences and roofing.

The Means guides can be ordered by calling 800-334-3509.