Though the days are now getting longer, the temperatures, unpredictable weather and too few hours of daylight make repair, renovation, additions and simple home projects outdoors a difficult proposition.

So this is the perfect time of year to tackle indoor home assignments that all summer long were avoided because it was too darn nice out of doors to be stuck inside doing! The contractors who make a living at home improvement jobs know just how to keep busy through the year, orchestrating projects into a sequence of events that has them outside in the fair weather months and inside when temperatures get harsh. Choose a project, research the process and supplies needed and get advice, then consider if a contractor might be necessary for some part of or the entire project.

Get busy for your health; your weight, attitude and sleeping habits will reward your efforts. For the 9-to-5 worker, winter months mean leaving the house not long after the sky lightens and returning at dusk. That brings many to the dinner table and the television for hours every night, averaging a whopping four-to-five hours of winter television for typical viewers.

Those watchers tend to stay up late watching programs, still having to wake up at the usual time and go to work, often exhausted. Tired people eat more sweets and carbohydrates for energy, which creates mood swings, weight gain and fitful sleep patterns as the cycle begins a spiral of declining health. The recommendation: Turn the TV off and get busy with a project in the home during the winter months.

The 10 most popular winter home improvement projects begin with easier, weekend affairs and progress to big commitment designs. For those who already have handyperson skills, one project may seem much more simple than another, so the order they are listed in can be argued.

1) Address insulation issues, eliminate drafts and install energy-efficient bulbs.

Research energy-efficient appliances so that when it is time to replace a water heater, furnace, washer, dryer or refrigerator, you will be an educated consumer. Evaluate windows and doors to consider upgrading to newer products. Install heat tape on pipes to prevent freezing.

2) Reconfiguration of room furniture may involve moving heavy furniture, picture relocation, shelvings moved and touch-up repainting.

New shelving and storage is a traditional New Year's resolution item that can be added here. The greatest amount of work here is not so much the new shelves or storage unit construction, it the redistribution of "stuff" that can be an effort.

3) Painting can involve trim work, touch-ups and entire room transformations along with wallpaper options.

4) Carpeting/removing carpeting or refinishing hardwood floors can have a huge impact on a room and one's health, if the current flooring is a catch-all of dust, dirt and mold.

5) A redo of light fixtures is an excellent winter project because this darker time of year makes good lighting essential.

6) Tile work is a labor of love _ lots of labor that you will love when it is finished. Tile work takes time and adds a lot of class to any home.

7) Adding a closet involves losing some floor space in your home but there are "dead zones" in many houses. These spaces can used for valuable storage.

8) Electrical system upgrades are commonly delegated to electricians but some simple electrical work can be done by minimally experienced homeowners.

9 and 10) Bathrooms and kitchens can be a Herculean project, and oftentimes the best course for do-it-yourselfers is to find a contractor who is willing to do some parts of the work that requires more experience and oversee the homeowners work to ensure it is done correctly. This cuts costs and allows homeowners to participate in a project that turns out great.

Kitchen and bath remodels, along with basement finish work, are the most popular projects for January and February.

Large and small home centers are beginning to accommodate for the biggest change in home repairs _ the gender change. Women have become accomplished and confident home plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, electricians and painters (to begin the list).

Orilee Basile of Bruce Hall Tru Value Home Center in Cooperstown has been working the customer service desk of this neighborhood business for 12 years now. Basile observes more and more women coming in for home repair items and tools as they work on projects themselves. The women, and the men, are much more knowledgeable about products and procedures than ever before. This business, like many other independent business across the nation, have come under extreme survival pressure due to the large chain store influences, but some trends show that there is a need and a rebirth of demand for small and local operations. Genuine customer service is crucial to these small home improvement stores.

The question of when to hire a contractor requires some assessment. The first step is to take an objective look at your skills, time availability and willingness to patiently listen and learn from someone giving advice. Structural, electrical and plumbing projects may need a contractor's assistance to ensure the job is done correctly. Secondly the homeowner must inquire about building codes and the permit process. Painting or wallpapering may be considered a do-it-yourself job, but there are skill and technique involved here as well.

Contractor title terms that can be helpful to know are:

General contractor: A general contractor typically will provide a written estimate that would include the fees for subcontractors that he would be in charge of hiring as he takes on the entire project. General contractors normally schedule inspections and get building permits.

Specialty contractor: A specialty contractor is one who, as the name implies, is focused on an area of expertise such as electrical, wood, plumbing, heating, floors or roofing. An architect is licensed and designs the building to all code regulations but typically does none of the actual construction.

Designer: Designers work within a specific area of the home or property often hiring a contractor to do the installation.

Large projects that involve many areas of skill such as building a new home on property that has never had a structure on it might best be handled by a design-and-build general contractor who is able to handle all aspects of the entire endeavor.

Tom Howard Construction is just such a business. Owner Tom Howard has been building commercial and residential structures for more than 22 years and has examples of his expertise in many counties with a focus on Otsego and Delaware. His business was named Best of Best Contractor of 2007 in The Daily Star Readers' Choice Awards. Howard explains that one of the most difficult parts of his job is stepping into a project that was started by a "fly by night" person who claimed to be a contractor, submitted a bid that was unrealistically low and had no insurance. Not only is Tom Howard Construction challenged with figuring out what the other "contractor" did and what needs to be redone before it begins, but he must also convince the client that the disappointing and expensive initial start will not happen again.

Howard said he firmly believes that when a contractor submits a quote to the customer, it should be accurate and changed only if the customer, not the contractor, wishes to make changes. Winter weather does not slow contractors such as Howard down. They plan projects to have concrete poured before Dec. 1 and the rest of the building can follow in any season.

Hiring a contractor does not need to feel like a game of chance, the luck of the draw. Though eye-catching advertising is effective, it is not the way to judge a company's service. Advice from friends, neighbors and co-workers is the best way to decide on initial contact. Danger signs are contractors who want to work for cash only, are not able to provide an estimate, are not able to produce license information and avoid producing proof of insurance. The Better Home Improvement Company of Oneonta is Edward Gaisford's business. He is directly involved in all of his projects and he offers the following four recommendations for hiring a contractor because they are what has brought him 43 years of building success.

The first step is for the contractor to be more than willing to meet with the client and discuss the project.

The next step is for the contractor to supply the client with a set of plans in a time frame that has been agreed upon; sometimes this can involve several plans to offer alternatives.

The third step is for the contractor to provide a layout of the selected plan that the customer has agreed upon; again, in a timely manner.

The final step, before a contract has been signed, is for the contractor to provide a detailed estimate that is easy for the customer to understand.

Gaisford, like many reputable contractors in the region, have begun scheduling 2008 spring and summer jobs.

The New Year is upon us and it is the perfect time of year to start a home improvement project. The endeavor will leave you healthier, happier and more satisfied with the winter months because they can be the most productive time of year _ with a little bit of planning.

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