Duct-tape disasters and other DIY no-nos
Many homeowners opt to tackle home-improvement tasks themselves to save money and to have the satisfaction of getting something done. But a DIY job gone wrong may cost far more than bringing in an expert.
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When homeowners strap on a tool belt or grab that roll of duct tape, they can get into a lot of trouble. Even the simplest-seeming projects can go horribly wrong. An entire YouTube category of "DIY disasters" bears witness to the world of do-it-yourselfers in over their heads — here's a compilation with ukulele music and a laugh track.
If you want to hear DIY horror stories, you have to ask the remodelers who rescue them, people like Fred Spaulding, owner of Quality Home Improvements in Houston and secretary-treasurer of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. When asked about the worst DIY errors he's seen, Spaulding tells the story of being summoned to figure out why a home's circuit breaker kept tripping.
He tracked the problem to the attic. There, he found a ceiling fan dangling in midair, suspended from its electrical wires. The fan had been left hanging when the homeowner and his friends replaced the roof weeks before. They'd dropped it into the attic while stripping off old shingles. "This way they didn't have to disconnect it," Spaulding says. (Bing: How to repair a shingle roof)
They finished the roof and forgot the fan.
Meanwhile, the fan kept running, winding up the cable that held it, which wore the insulation off the wires. As the bare wires twisted and touched, they shorted, tripping the circuit breaker. Once the power shut off, the fan cord unwound, only to spool up again, wearing the insulation further, after the homeowners turned the power back on.
It’s amazing, Spaulding marvels, that the mess hadn't sparked a fire.
When DIYers get stuck or are running out of time, it's tempting to take a shortcut and face the consequences later.
"Typically, they think, 'I’ll just knock that out in an hour,'" says Lawrence J. Heuvelman III. He owns One Home Cinema in Antioch, Ill., specializing in lighting and home theaters.
"Then they've got a whole weekend into it," Heuvelman says. "And then they take a day off work. The wife's upset with him because he didn't finish it on Sunday. He gets to the point where he doesn't know what to do next and has to go ask some buddies."
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This happened to a friend of Heuvelman's, whose rushed home repair left a gaping hole at the spot where electrical lines entered the home. She covered the hole with plastic and stuffed it with insulation, but cold air was still leaking in. So she sprayed insulating foam into the hole from outside.
"Picture this," he says: "A 5- to 10-inch-square hole of drywall is missing around this pipe. So they just foamed the heck out of it."
His friend called for help when a large, solid, yellow bubble of foam broke through the drywall into a finished room in her home.
It may not surprise you to learn that a lot of the worst shortcuts involve duct tape. It's cheap, easy to use and sticks like crazy — at least at first.
Spaulding has seen duct tape used:
- instead of glue to join vent pipes together (the tape loosens over time).
- in place of the paper drywall tape on a home's interior (it lifted up under the paint, exposing drywall seams "all over the inside of the house," he says.
- to install a shower head instead of the requisite wood blocks and metal plumbing straps (the shower head wobbled once the tape loosened and it had to be reinstalled).
"I think they know these are shortcuts. But they just don’t think they’ll ever get caught," Spaulding says of homeowners. "They think, 'It'll last until I leave the house.'"
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The real cost
Fixing a botched DIY job can easily cost more than the hoped-for savings. Tim Sweeney, owner of Sweeney Construction Corp. in Madison, Wis., said he was helping a client repair a self-inflicted catastrophe. Remodeling an upstairs room, the homeowner hired contractors for some jobs and did some himself, including installing a supply line between a second-floor toilet and the wall.
Maybe a component was defective, or maybe the owner made a mistake. Whatever the reason, the toilet sprang a leak while the house was empty. The family arrived home after eight hours away and found the upstairs bathroom flooded. A deluge was raining onto the first floor. The downstairs laundry and kitchen were destroyed, including cabinets and floors. The repairs cost almost $100,000, only some of which was covered by insurance.
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Sweeney sympathizes with the DIYer, though. He has been in trouble himself, although it was minor. Having tackled what promised to be a simple wiring job in his home's bathroom, he finished and turned on the light — surprise! — the fan started up, too.
Sweeney is a second-generation builder, but he's not an electrician.
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"I knew enough to be dangerous," he says, pointing out that all people, even pros, tend to be unrealistic about their skills.
My dad is a licensed contractor, so I have always relied on him for all of my repairs. Well, after I got married my husband (the computer nerd) insisted on taking over as the “fix it man” we needed a new water softener, and of course he insisted on DIY and refused to allow my dad to help. It took my husband almost a week to complete the job because it kept leaking each time he would turn the water back on. During this week we had to shut the water on and off each time we wanted to shower or do the dishes.
I learned my lesson…. Next time I’ll just have my dad do the work while my hubby is away on business.
Common sense and the ability to follow instructions seems to be completely lacking in a lot of people.
It has been a joke for years. Men won't ask directions. So why would you think he'd as HOW? My dad used to get so mad cause people always tried to repair their washer, dryer, oven, freezer, dishwasher etc and screw it up beyond recognition. He'd tell them on the phone, DON'T try and do it yourself or it may cost more. Since my dad never charged much for service calls, it would be parts. Women ask and if they ask their husbands, they may get a wrong answer. I would NEVER allow either of my husbands to touch my vacuum cleaner. I'd fix it myself, every time. Once my husband 'THOUGHT' he could fix it and we had to buy a new one and the store guy looked at mine and asked him " what you tried to fix it yourself?" That's what happens. I have jobs all over my house that were started over 20 years ago and never finished. God, give us women patience!
did a lot of repair and remodeling over the years and seen alot big mistakes in diy projects
alot of the problem anymore is media coverage people who have no business picking up a hammer watch a show were they make it look easy and thnk that it should be no problem then they try to tackle it and things usually go horribly wrong then they have to call in someone like myself and they can't figure out why I have to charge so much to fix it like I should be nice because they were and idiot and should have called a contractor in the first place to get it done riight. on the same subject some of the ideas that come from some of theses show that people think are so cool and look so easy are most of the time a nightmare
I have seen wiring run through metal heat ducts, toilets plumbed to the gutter lines that dump in the street, gas water heaters installed in closets without a vent flue, second floor additions with no permits, you name it.
If you don't know how to do it, you might want to actually study up, get advice, and maybe hire a small contractor with a good reputation just to be on call when there are questions or advice is needed. Don't just dive in first and think later.
The combination of poor planning, lack of experience, no permits, and a lot of materials and trade practices that you are not familiar with can turn out not just bad, but deadly.
Empath has got it right - obviously some people have no business even picking up a hammer let along trying to perform home repairs properly. Contractors over-charge and the vast majority of times use cheap materials and don't do such a great job. The contractor himself makes a fortune, and pays the laborers $8/hour so the guys actually doing the work don't give a crap half the time.
If you've got a bit of common sense, and are not too bad with your hands, it's much better to do the work yourself. Excluding major jobs of course; just use some common sense - if you think something is beyond your abilities, hire a contractor. Otherwise, in many cases, it pays to DIY.
The next biggest motivator is getting the job done right. The next biggest motivator is not paying twice what the job is worth to a contractor who's using cheap labor and charging premium prices. I could go on forever here. Making examples that highlight the mistakes of people who have no business owning a hammer let alone doing anything more complicated than changing a light bulb doesn't really present a solid argument for calling the so called "pros" for relatively simple home improvements.