To D-I-Y or Not to D-I-Y, That is the Question


DIY image showing house surrounded by various tools

Not everyone has the magic touch for remodeling. The Internet is full of do-it-yourself (DIY) home renovation tutorials, but executing them well can be much harder than following along to a YouTube video.

Online referral source ImproveNet’s survey of 2,000 Americans who attempted at least one DIY project in November 2018 found that 63% have regretted at least one of their projects. Among homeowners disappointed with their results, over half (55%) said the final project didn’t look good, while nearly a quarter said the project didn’t function well (24%) or didn’t hold up over time (21%). Homeowners who worked on home improvement projects said they spent on average six hours researching their project, with the vast majority using YouTube videos or home improvement websites as guides.

DIY Projects to Avoid

Whether you are watching HGTV or looking through Pinterest, DIY looks so easy. However, sometimes even simple projects that seem like quick fixes can wind up in disaster if the DIY-er doesn’t have the right materials or experience to get the job done correctly. This, of course, is why a whole range of specialists exist—architects, designers, contractors, cabinets makers—the list goes on and on. Some jobs require special tools or hard-earned skills, while others are just plain dangerous. Not to shatter your DIY dreams, but there are certain home repair chores that are better left to the pros.

Removing Wallsfailed DIY project to remove a wall

Opening up your living spaces to create a more spacious interior is a great idea, unless it’s a load-bearing wall that’s supporting the floor or roof above. Any time you wish to alter the framing of a house, whether it’s a wall, ceiling, floor or roof, always consult with a building engineer. He or she will be able to tell you not only if the wall is load-bearing or not, but also how to safely remove the wall, and how to add the appropriate amount of support.

Note that most towns require you to obtain a building permit before removing walls, and the permit won’t be granted without an engineer’s report. Which leads to…

‘Permit Needed’ Work

If you don’t really understand how to get the permit—or why you need one in the first place—avoid the project. Many DIYers skip permits altogether, but they risk being shut down if spotted by an inspector.

It could also create problems when selling the house. Why? Because you must disclose unpermitted work when selling. This causes a chain reaction, because buyers might be unwilling to take on a home rife with potentially dangerous work. And they might have trouble financing due to the unlawful alterations to the home.

As a general rule of thumb, painting, built-ins, or simple projects such as adding a light fixture don’t require permits. However, once you are changing the footprint of a house, updating wiring, or adding fencing (because municipalities usually have height restrictions), you need a permit.  In other words, call a contractor

Floor Refinishingrefinished hardwood floor

Renting equipment to refinish your hardwood floors sounds reasonable enough at first glance—after all, you’re just sanding off the top layer of wood. How hard can it be, you ask? Keep in mind, no matter how many times you watch a video, you won’t have a feel for the machine. Sanding one spot a few seconds too long could result in drum marks on the floor that will be extremely difficult to cover up. So much for saving money…

Electrical Work

Want to install a dimmer switch or replace an old ceiling light? No problem. Upgrading existing devices and fixtures is relatively easy and safe, just be sure to first turn off the electricity to the circuit you’re working on.

However, when it comes to extending existing electrical circuits or adding new ones, call in an experienced, licensed electrician. When homeowners start messing around with electrical circuits and running new cables, there are two likely outcomes and both are potentially lethal: electrical shock and fire.

With more than 400 deaths per year resulting from faulty electricity, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation, this isn’t worth the risk.

Plumbing Work

As with electrical work, there are certain plumbing jobs that any competent DIYer can tackle, such as replacing faucets or showerheads. But there are other jobs that require the expertise of a professional plumber.

A homeowner should not attempt to expand or modify a home’s water supply lines or hot water heating system. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could easily start a flood or fire. And be aware that even a little leak can cause a tremendous amount of damage if it goes unnoticed even for a relatively short period of time. That’s why, as a general rule, DIYers shouldn’t tackle plumbing repairs or improvements that are concealed behind walls, floors or ceilings.

Tilingnice tile work

This one is not an absolute don’t, but a great-looking tile job does require a lot more planning than just slapping squares on the floor or wall, then admiring your work. Even if you lay out the tile, measure and measure again, you will need to cut edges and around things such as faucets—and prepare to scale a steep learning curve cutting tile. Which is why it pays to save yourself the trouble and hire a professional already.

Roofing

Every year perfectly sane individuals decide to test gravity—and their good luck—by climbing onto their homes to nail down a new roof.

Installing roof shingles may not seem all that difficult—especially with your handy, dandy nail gun—but climbing up and down ladders with supplies and tools, and scaling a roof is exhausting and dangerous work. Not to mention that it requires experience and skill to install a weatherproof roofing system, which includes flashing and vents.

So, leave roof installations to the pros and stay off of your roof, especially if it has a slope steeper than 4-in-12, which is about a 20° angle.

According to the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts, falls were the leading cause of nonfatal injuries, mostly from roofs or ladders while cleaning gutters or fixing roofing. 

custom molding as part of DIY home remodeling projectMolding

How many inspiring HGTV episodes have you seen where “quickly” adding crown molding transforms a space? But heed a word of caution here: No walls in a house are perfectly straight, not even in new houses. And no amount of caulk will smooth over these imperfections, either. All in all, it’s not for the amateur DIYer.

So for inspiration, TV or YouTube is a good start. But beyond that, a little knowledge can cause a great amount of harm. Certain jobs are too risky, others too complicated, and some too pricey as the equipment will cost as much as hiring a contractor. As a basic rule of thumb, if you don’t own/have experience with 90% of the tools you need for the project then you should hire a pro.


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