DIY: the Dos and Donts

Maintaining a house is hard work, and can end up being costly. Homeowners looking to save some cash will often attempt to fix problems themselves, whether it’s a leak in the water heater, a broken light fixture, or an over-abundance of six-legged house guests. There are whole communities built up around Do-It-Yourself home-owning, but is it always a good idea?

This week, we’re turning to the experts to get their professional opinion on DIY do’s and don’ts—and disasters.

Why We’re Asking

DIY can be a great way to save money, but attempting it on the wrong project can drain your bank account in the long run. Nobody knows home improvement like the professionals, so we want them to weigh in on the benefits and risks of DIY strategies. Hopefully some timely advice can save a homeowner or two from making a huge mistake.

So tell us, experts:

When is it a good idea for a homeowner to use DIY strategies?

What things should homeowners never attempt to DIY?
Have you ever had to save a homeowner from a DIY project gone wrong?
If you could over-see a homeowner’s DIY project, what advice would you offer?

DIY is gaining in popularity, so it’s time to talk about the risks and benefits!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!

  • Tanya Stock 04/16/13

    Very simply, never when you have no idea how to run a table saw or an other conventional equipment that is the tool of the trade. However, one can learn and many improvement stores run courses on such. Even our local Community College offers courses that could teach people how to safely run any conventional tool to meet a need of a small scale project.

    But absolutely never when it comes to Electrical and Plumbing. Those two fields have specific codes, training and licensing that comes with the profession and should be always hired and used when in need for those improvements.

    I am all for DIY’ing it when it comes to minor home improvements but when it comes to actually moving into complex areas that require experience, training and knowledge, it is a no go.

  • Pablo Solomon 04/16/13

    Never do anything to do with natural gas or propane. Make certain that you get a service/installation company that is licensed and bonded. If necessary check with your local supplier or governmental agency to get a list of qualified companies. And at the first hint of a gas leak get out of the house as fast as you can and do NOT flip any electrical switches on the way out– the spark can ignite an explosion that can blow up your house and half the neighborhood. Do not use your cell phone in the house. Go outside or to a neighbor and call your gas company or 911 and they will send emergency crews to check it out. If you have a propane tank, shut off the valve to the house–same for your city gas if it is away from the house. But stay out of and away from your house until it is given the all clear by professionals.

  • DeAnna Radaj 04/16/13

    Agree w/John that plumbing, electrical, most of the mechanical workings of your home, window installation & roofing should typically be left to the professionals as too much can go wrong & you can make the problem much worse & more expensive than if you’d just contacted a professional in the first place.

    Yes, I have been called in to “rescue” a design project gone wrong (horrific lighting plan w/everything on ONE switch & flooring choice). Watching an episode of Income Property or Holmes on Homes does not qualify you as a contractor or interior designer. I always teach/preach that DIY is GREAT however, you should ALWAYS consult w/a professional before starting to get a good guideline of codes, what adds/detracts value from the home & advice which can save you time & money. Then, armed w/this knowledge you can go forth & DIY!

  • Ed Burris 04/16/13

    I know lots of of homeowner would like to put in there own water heater. However I don’t suggest it. You have to connect gas lines which without the proper knowledge of using the right materials and gas detectors your house could blow up. You also have to connect the flue pipe if not done right carbon monoxide is a quiet killer and therefore you might not even wake up. Please install a carbon monoxide detector if you do. Each connection on a flue pipe needs 3 screws in it to keep it together. Today a real estate company called me. Someone tried installing a Water Heater the inspector came to the house and stopped all work because the flue pipe wasn’t even on the heater. The gas line was installed improper and they had no die-electric unions on the water heater. The foreclosure company got fined and we had to reinstall everything. DIY a sump pump if you want to try a easy plumbing job.

  • Greg Chick 04/16/13

    Having a DIY site with 2 million views and thousands of questions & comments on “what do I do now” , I think I am qualified to say most people know less than they should when they start. The DIY stores “sell” the “no tools required” type thing and people think that since the stores sell the parts, that they should be able to install them correctly. This is not true. The home centers should NOT be selling water heaters and wall heaters. Many things the stores sell have no place in retail sales. Proof is the questions and statements made on my site. Plumbing is complicated, so why then do I have this site? to promote the home centers sales? NO! I get calls weekly from people in the middle of a mess. Unknowing diy’ers cause themselves great expense. I as well have proof, even novice, single moms can save the expense of a Plumber by doing DIY. Many do it right & and thank me profusely and even tip me in my Pay Pal tip jar.

    The complexity of the task is the issue, the hind sight is the reality. My advice, know what possibilities exist before getting too deep. My site is free, I sell nothing there. I just want to save people from getting over their heads and/ or save them money. The examples are endless, the need to DIY is as well. What to do? I am a professional contractor and have been over 35 yrs. The homeowner should do some things, and not other things. Yes, draw the line on gas appliances. Why? If something explodes, the insurance Co. can refuse to cover losses because the homeowner had no place doing the job. Read the fine print in your insurance policy. Get qualified installers, licensed professionals, permits required etc. This is the answer to the question, what happens if?

  • Joseph Molluso 04/16/13

    Actually, The number one problem in the pest control industry are customers who do the work them selves. To apply pesticides in homes you must be licensed. With being licensed comes knowledge. Pest control professionals must have great pest identification techniques , and must take into consideration the surroundings where the pesticides and rodenticides are being placed. For example, if their are any pets or small children around if the material is improperly applied it could lead to a very unfortunate vet or hospital visit. We are all professionals for a reason — We are all licensed for a reason. We have the years of knowledge and experiences that money couldn’t buy. Save your self the stress and always hire a professional.

  • Rainbow Plumbing & Heating Inc. 04/17/13

    If the home owner is going to unclog a toilet or a lav sink then just proceed with caution and get plenty of drop cloths. The clog in the bathroom sink might be past the trap , and if you don’t know what a trap is, then just call your local licensed plumbing professional . If the homeowner can’t plunge away the clog in the toilet within 4 attempts, then they should call their local licensed plumbing professional before the walls and floor get covered in the brown mess.

  • Kris @ 04/17/13

    For most people, “do-it-yourself” should be limited to simple home repairs such as carpentry, painting, and other tasks where skill is less important than labor. On the one hand, there are many things in life we can do ourselves, but simply choose others to do the work because it more convenient – things like mowing the lawn, changing your car’s oil, and doing your taxes. On the other hand, there are those things that are beyond most people’s scope of effort – things like plumbing, electrical, and heating. So you need to use good judgement when thinking about performing dangerous tasks. And you need exercise good common sense when thinking about performing tasks which are not dangerous, but require skill.

    On the other hand, I’ve done basic electrical & plumbing tasks in my home. And I’m not repair professional. Not so say that everyone should try to take care of these types of tasks on their own. But some people can do it. I’ve changed outlets, re-wired ceiling fans, changed leaky pipes, tasks that don’t require a lot of specialized knowledge. But can be done if you are a “handy” type of person. For me, the challenges were the cost of obtaining the tools needs (and if you only do something once it can be costly) and the time involved in learning how to do the repair properly (and if you only do it once then you’ll probably makes lots of mistakes).

    So for me it usually boils down to one important question – the obvious question would be “can” I do it. But for me, as with most people, the better question is “should” I do it. For cosmetic repairs and tasks, the risks are minimal. For repairs involving risk or danger, the risks are definitely NOT worth it.

  • Nancy 04/18/13

    Some people want to tackle DIY projects because they think they can’t afford to have the work done by a professional. My advice is to get quotations from a professional well established company that specializes in whatever you need replaced/upgraded or fixed. You will probably learn much more about the process and all of the additional prep or parts you didn’t realize you might need. After learning more about how a professional would tackle your project is the time to weigh the pros and cons of attempting it yourself. All of us have different skill levels and experience and in some cases a homeowner might be able to do the work, but my experience has been that once you understand the costs involved most people will opt for the professional. Please understand, none of the work you do on your home is covered by your homeowners insurance, ever. If you act as your own General Contractor any damage, repairs or damage as a result of your efforts will have to be paid for totally out of your pocket.
    I do encourage people that like to paint, or do yard work to get the right equipment and do these things to brighten up their homes. Maintaining your home by keeping it clean, keeping the gutters clean, your furnace filters clean and re-caulking around doors and windows will save you money by extending the life of the materials that make up your home.

  • Matthew Kettner/MLK Construction LLC 04/18/13

    NEVER attempt to fix your roof or gutters. Please leave this to the professionals. There is a reason that many states require special licensing for roofing. As well as separate the type of licensing to residential, commercial and industrial.

    Although a leaky roof or clogged gutter at times may seem easy enough for you to seal something or remove debris from a gutter, this mistake can sometimes cause unwanted hassle and grief. That can ultimately end up with the situation becoming worse.

  • Doug Murrell 04/18/13

    There are plenty of courses out there for the do it yourselfer and I believe if taken and taught by the right person someone who is talented can do a lot of there own repairs. I taught people in school for the sole purpose so that they can do it themself. Proper training is the key and that they have the talent to do so.

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