Home-improvement shows are designed to provide expert advice on the four R's: restoration, rehabilitation, remodeling, and renovation. Both amateur and accomplished handy persons learn how to tackle remodeling and restoration jobs, when to seek professional help, what products and tools are available to make chores easier, and what landscape planning can do to brighten up the old homestead.
The 1983 City House exposition, for example, featured five separate areas of homeowner interest:
* Restoration and historic preservation.
* Energy conservation.
* Services and organizations.
* Landscaping and garden displays.
* Forums and demonstrations.
William J. Stanley, special projects coordinator for the Chicago Department of Housing, declares: ''More people come to pick up tips on how to cut their increasing gas and electric bills, yet keep their older house with space and charm.''
Similar shows in other cities provide similar advice.
At this year's City House show, for instance, Beverley DeJulio explained how to reorganize to make the best use of storage space.
''First, get rid of that single closet bar and shelf; then install a double rod and three-quarter-inch plywood shelving,'' she advises. For the completely unhandy homemaker, Ms. DeJulio suggests buying ready-made metal shelving that ''requires only a screwdriver and following simple directions.''
The diminutive handywoman learned how to fix even major appliances, ''because I had four children and was a single parent.'' Ms. DeJulio encourages women not to avoid trying to fix major appliances ''unless the problem is clearly one for the repairman.'' General Electric has published a series of five manuals ($6.95 each) with step-by-step instructions for repairing stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, and dishwashers. To locate dealers who stock the manuals, call (800) 626-2000.
Master carpenter and ''This Old House'' TV star Norm Abram says satisfactory home rehabilitation ''depends first of all on the owner knowing just what he wants - and second, on not hiring the contractor with the lowest bid.''
Mr. Abram warns that saving money by acting ''as your own contractor'' is fraught with frustrations, including time expended because of unfamiliarity with the trades, from costs to reliability.
''Remember, you are paying; and you are responsible for making clear what you expect to be done,'' he says.
City House exhibits featured at least 200 displays, ranging from cast-iron stoves and solar panels to energy-consulting services, lighting fixtures, ironwork, and wood-refinishing products.
Washburne Trade School carpentry students built a cutaway frame Chicago cottage at the show to illustrate techniques of constructing a typical modest wood home between 1830 and 1880, and to show detailing, early electrical wiring, and basic house-part names.
Craft demonstrations include the painting of realistic marbling on wood; lifelike, grainy painted paneling; cabinetmaking; carpet laying; sheet-metal work; electrical wiring (and how to avoid fires and explosions from faulty wiring); and pipefitting.
Indicating the kinds of panel discussions at such shows, City House had talks on arson protection, solar systems, neighborhood rehabilitation, senior citizens' housing rights, home purchase and financing, repairing large appliances, efficient heating systems, urban landscaping, tax credits for historic income properties, rearranging living space, and the joys and sorrows of do-it-yourself restoration projects.
The American Society of Interior Designers offered free 15-minute consultations on home problems and projects involving interior redesign, remodeling, and decor.
Maury M. Garvey, a suburban Chicago painting contractor and expert on Victorian house colors, urged old-house owners who are planning to repaint with authentic colors to consult the Roger Moss book, ''Century of Color,'' or the 1890s Devoe Paint Company book with color plates.
Most Victorian houses were painted in three colors: a lighter clapboard; darker-color trim; and yellow, red, or orange window bands, according to Mr. Garvey. ''More ornate houses, such as the Queen Annes, were painted in more colors, and eaves were painted the lightest color to reflect light back into the house,'' he adds.