Summer recreation, for many, means working around the house.

This is the time of year when owners undertake a variety of home-improvement projects, such as updating the kitchen or bath, redecorating, renovating a room, landscaping, adding a pool, deck or patio, or even building an addition.Then there's the less glamorous side of home maintenance, which may call for replacing the water, electrical or heating system, reshingling the roof or resurfacing the driveway.

"Consumers are investing time and money into their homes (and apartments) to create an environment that suits their personal taste and needs, rather than simply wanting to increase their home's resale value," said Andrea Kent, director of Retail Marketing Group for American Express Travel Related Services.

As the number of Americans undertaking home-improvement projects continues to grow, the American Express Retail Index found that close to half of those surveyed in a recent national poll of 1,000 consumers were planning some home improvements this year.

"Here in the Northeast, this area does mirror nationwide trends," said Kimberly Seymour, executive vice president of the Albany Area Builders Association in Albany, a trade group affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C.

"Renovation of the kitchen and bath stand out as the most common projects, because they are used the most and become outdated the quickest. Plus, the styles and technology are always changing."

The current rise in remodeling projects and the addition of other rooms is a direct result of the current soft housing market.

"When housing sales decline, remodeling goes up," said Seymour. "The economy is also a contributing factor. With job insecurity, people are less willing to take risks and stay put and enhance what they have. We see that remodeling will continue to be strong through the end of the 1990s, unless things change dramatically and turn around."

The American Express Index poll, which included single-family homeowners and apartment dwellers, reported that 38 percent of those making improvements expected to spend from $1,000 to more than $5,000 per project.

According to 30 percent of those polled, this is as much as what they spent on their last home improvement project, which for more than half, was less than two years ago.

When asked how they would pay for home improvement expenses, those surveyed said that they would use a combination of savings and/or cash, credit and charge cards, home-improvement or family loans.

Daniel Burke, senior vice president of retail banking for Evergreen Bank, headquartered in Glens Falls, suggested doing some homework before starting a project.

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"You should really first decide what your budget will be and how you plan to finance it," said Burke. "If you are considering using a lending institution, you should think about three things: A fixed rate of interest, the terms of repayment and what type of credit you will apply for."

According to Burke, the spring and summer are active times for banks and for promotional specials, because lenders know that's when many people will be seeking home-improvement loans.

"Homeowners will often seek a home-equity loan, so they can use tax breaks that are often associated with this type of loan," explained Burke. "You can also apply for a home-equity loan with a revolving line of credit. With a home-improvement loan, you're not borrowing against the equity in your home.

"With a personal loan from a bank, you receive a coupon-type book and up to five years to pay it back. And you don't necessarily need collateral as a second source of payment. There's also a term loan, which can be paid back anywhere from six months to five years, depending on your credit history."

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