11 Ways to Protect Yourself From DIY Disasters

Before you bite off more than you can chew, know the bounds of your home improvement prowess.

Young woman on ladder putting up wallpaper, low angle view
Juice Images/AlamySometimes even the easiest DIY projects can lead to frustration if your home has major surprises in store for you.
By Teresa Mears

It looks so easy, and the idea of saving hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of dollars is enticing. Surely you can repair those cracks in the wall, right? Or caulk around the bathtub. Or install a new toilet. Or change a light fixture. Or, emboldened by the seeming ease of repairs on home renovation TV shows, tear down a wall in your house.

Maybe you can handle all these do-it-yourself projects -- but, then again, maybe you can't.

"The road to the hardware store is paved with good intentions," says David Pekel, president and CEO of Pekel Construction in Milwaukee and a master certified remodeler. He is often greeted at his office on Monday by frantic calls from homeowners who failed in their DIY weekend projects.

There are many projects that virtually any homeowner can accomplish, but others should be left to those with experience. Either way, it's important to plan and understand a project before you launch into it.

Just know this: "It takes twice as long as you think it's going to and generally costs twice as much," Pekel says.

Kelly Whalen and her husband thought that redoing the carpet, painting the paneling and ripping out some built-ins in the outdated family room of their 1970s home near Philadelphia would be an easy project.

But once they got started, they discovered asbestos tile under the carpet, which required removing the tile. That, in turn, damaged the paneling and an unknown layer of paneling underneath. They ended up gutting the room, adding new insulation, putting up new drywall and adding some wiring. A project that looked simple at first glance ended up taking six months to finish.

"The moral of the story is never think paint and new flooring will fix a room in an aging house," says Whalen, who shared the details of her project in several posts on TheCentsibleLife.com. "Be prepared for a full gut job."

Even professionals run into unexpected problems once they open walls, including ductwork or plumbing they didn't realize was there and substandard work done by previous renovators. If you've ever watched "Love It or List It" on HGTV -- a show where homeowners are advised on whether to renovate or sell their homes -- you know that every one of those home improvement projects runs into snags that mean extra costs and more time. And those are teams of professionals doing the work.

Andy Prescott, who publishes the blog artofbeingcheap.com, does whatever repairs he can on his rental house and his own house. Plumbing is the one exception. Doing his own plumbing does not save money, and he learned this the hard way.

He once replaced the flushing mechanism on a rental house toilet and thought he'd done a great job. But he didn't attach the hose tightly enough, and a leak ruined the downstairs carpet. That cost $1,000 to replace.

The next time he replaced a flushing mechanism, at his own house, he made sure the hose was tightly attached. But the toilet still leaked. He ended up taking the toilet apart and redoing the job four times, but he couldn't stop the leak. "I finally gave up and called the plumber," he says. "Not only did it cost me $150, but my family didn't have water in our house for two days because we had to turn the water off to stop the toilet from leaking. No more plumbing for me. I stick with only the most simple repairs now."

Here are 11 tips for avoiding your own DIY disasters:

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Just don't look for "expert "advice at big box stores...In the middle of winter customer asks plumbing "expert" ."where are the humidifiers? Answer...Those are summer items all we have now are DE humidifiers.

April 29 2014 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem starts with the employed construction methods in America. Sticks and paper and regulations.

April 29 2014 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you can't fix a toilet you have no business holding any tool in your hand.

April 29 2014 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Buddy, if you cannot even install a shutoff valve, don't even think about plumbing.

April 29 2014 at 8:34 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


April 28 2014 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply