Diva Dos and Don'ts

Take it from a pro: A girl's best friend can be a Makita, but lose the jewelry, ladies, when you reach for the power saw.

The host of the Seattle-produced Discovery Home Channel show Toolbelt Diva, Norma Vally fell into construction work the way most women do—when she and her aunt inherited her grandfather's 100-year-old house. Her cousin, Sal, a general contractor, helped her with some projects, then invited her out on a job. Thus the 39-year-old New Yorker's eclectic job history—she alternated between singing in France, modeling, and working with Sal—culminated in her career as a television remodel show host. She was first seen as the construction pro on Rally Around the House, a makeover show with a brief run. But it's Diva's concept that is closest to her heart: Vally works only with women to fix up their homes. All episodes have been shot in Seattle so far. (Visit www.screamingflea.net or e-mail diva@sfpseattle.com to volunteer to be filmed for an episode; see www.discovery.com for Diva show times.)

Vally's also writing a book, Chicks Can Fix, which aims to teach women not to be afraid of home repairs. We sat down recently to hear some of her expert advice to women—and men—homeowners.

Seattle Weekly: What's the biggest problem a woman can avoid when fixing up a house?

Norma Vally: Not anticipating the amount of time something will take. They have to know that it will take longer than they planned. Patience is important.

What's the most useful tool to have around the house?

A cordless drill. Because you'll use it on just about any project you have, and it gives you the freedom to go wherever the hell you want. I wouldn't waste my time on a little cheap one that charges with a little plug-in. They don't work. Why do you ever want to be in a position where you are undergunned?

The most dangerous tool?

Anything with a spinning blade. Take the battery out. Unplug it. Make the thing die completely. Also, women tend to wear loose clothing when they are working. This is very dangerous working with power tools. And don't wear gloves. These things can catch and pull you in. Women should keep hair tied back, jewelry off.

What is the biggest obstacle for female DIY-ers?

Brute strength can be daunting. But there are ways around that. You can call a girlfriend over to help you. If you need to loosen a bolt or screw that's been there for 200 years, spray it with WD-40 first. You can use what's called a "her-suader" on a wrench. Slide a pipe over the handle, and suddenly, you've got more leverage.

What kind of projects can you do on your own versus calling a contractor?

If you want to change out your toilet, you can change it out. But if you want to move your toilet to a different location, that's a much bigger project. Sheetrock, framing, etc., aren't easy to do at first, but you can get better if you practice. It's easy to hang drywall, but what's hard is the taping, and that won't come right away. It takes time until you can tape and put on the joint compound and make it smooth.

How do you prevent a contractor from walking all over you?

Find out as much as you can about the project. If he starts talking to you about some detail involved in a fix-it, you can say, "Oh, I know what that is." Or if he mentions something that you've never heard of, you can say, "What exactly is that? Let me write that down." If he's trying to bullshit you, you'll be more aware.

What should every person who owns a home absolutely know?

They need to know where their utilities are. They need to know where their gas line comes into the house and the shutoff valve for that. They need to know where their water main is and the shutoff valve, and they need to know their service panel for electric, and they should have it mapped out.

What have you noticed about Seattle female DIY-ers?

They are eager; they aren't afraid. They may not know a lot at first, but when they get into it, they really go for it.


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